Robin Thicke meets women's lib: Playwright Nick Payne on his new play Blurred Lines

Playwright Nick Payne describes how the women's movement became the inspiration for Blurred Lines, his new play at the National Theatre

In 2012, I had a meeting with the National Theatre's Sebastian Born and Ben Power. They talked about the National's plans to erect a temporary, "pop-up" theatre while the Cottesloe theatre is closed for refurbishment. They were after work that might somehow be different; work that might be made in a different way, perhaps. It was an open invitation of sorts. They asked me to go away, have a think and come back to them with perhaps an idea or two.

Up until this point, I had more or less worked in the same way. I would write a play, submit it to a theatre and, if they liked it, they would programme it, and then I would work with a director to make it better. But I wondered if working in the Shed might be an opportunity not only to work with a director in a different way, but also to generate the content of a show in a completely different way.

As I continued to mull, there were two ideas that I couldn't shake off. The first was that I'd love to work again with the director Carrie Cracknell. The second was that I'd love to try to somehow find a way to explore and dramatise some of the material discussed in Kat Banyard's brilliant The Equality Illusion.

National Theatre to tackle sexism in new play 'Blurred Lines' named after Robin Thicke's hit

I had read Kat's book when it was first published, and was moved and appalled in equal measure, but simply had no idea how to go about exploring the material in a fictional context. Indeed, I had no idea whether, as a man, I had a right to explore this particular material. Among other things, Kat's book is a startlingly concise, piercingly clear wake-up call-cum-rallying cry to both men and women about the punishing ills of gender inequality.

I felt intimidated and daunted by the scale and the scope of the material. I worried that I wouldn't be good enough; that I wouldn't be able to do it justice. But after a series of conversations with Carrie, we committed to the idea that this was the show we wanted to make. We felt very strongly that we wanted an all-female cast and, when and where possible, an all-female creative team. We also knew that we wanted to generate the content of the show through a series of exercises and improvisations involving our frankly brilliant all-female company.

Set designer Bunny Christie and Nick Payne Set designer Bunny Christie and Nick Payne So that's what we've done. And it has been one of the most extraordinary working experiences I have ever had. The company have been constantly and unashamedly bold and imaginative, and continually honest and open. At times, I have felt like an imposter. At other times, I have been completely bowled over by the breadth and depth of their experiences. The eight women who I have spent the past four weeks working with have a grace and a wisdom and a brevity that is well beyond the likes of me.

Working on this show has also made me consider very carefully my place, as it were, within feminism. If indeed there is a place for me. I have worried and agonised over whether I have a right to call myself a feminist. In her excellent book Feminism is for Everybody, author and campaigner bell hooks eloquently and concisely defines feminism as "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression". Hooks goes on to say: "I love this definition... because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialised from birth on to accept sexist thought and action."

When I have wobbled over whether or not I have a right to call myself a feminist I have returned not only to bell's book (among others) but also to a single, painfully simple question: do I believe men and women are equal? Bluntly, if you are a man and you have a sister, or a grandmother, or a wife, or a girlfriend, or a daughter, or a mother, I don't know how you can ever possibly answer "no" to this question. It is a wholly illogical response to a simple but staggeringly important question.

And yet, gender inequality persists. In researching Blurred Lines I have spoken to a number of individuals and a number of organisations on a variety of topics. But one of the most unshakeably persistent issues that has, and continues to, haunt and sadden me is that of violence against women. I have found the scale and the constancy with which men attack, both verbally and physically, and rape the women closest to them deeply, deeply troubling.

One the most persistently harmful myths regarding rape is that rapists are strangers, unknown assailants who attack and sexually assault their victims apparently at random. This is a gross distortion of the facts. Last year, 85,000 women in England and Wales were raped. Of these, a staggering 90 per cent knew their perpetrators. Globally, 30 per cent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.

Men are not born or primed to rape. The intensely saddening truth is that vast numbers of fathers and husbands and boyfriends are choosing to rape; they are choosing to inflict these cruel acts upon the women closest to them. Is it possible to comprehend why these men are choosing to be violent? And, perhaps more importantly, to comprehend how we might go about stopping them?

When it comes to stopping them, we might first look to our judicial system. But even if our police forces and our judicial services were capable of rapidly and effectively dealing with these violent men (which, sadly, they aren't), that would only be solving part of the problem; it would be tackling the symptom but it would not in any way be tackling the cause. In her brutally exhaustive Rape: a history from 1860 to the present Professor Joanna Bourke asserts, "rape and sexual violence are deeply rooted in specific political, economic and cultural environments". One such environment, and one that I will now briefly focus on given that this article is appearing in a national newspaper, is the media.

Take, for instance, the recent gleeful mauling of cook and author Nigella Lawson. Our national press used the case of R v Grillo & Grillo as an opportunity to ridicule and demonise the "domestic goddess" in light of her apparent drug use. But why? In what way is this news? Why did a private dispute between Nigella Lawson and the Grillo sisters find its way on to our front pages? To be absolutely clear: I am, of course, in no way suggesting that the ritual humiliation of Nigella Lawson is directly responsible for acts of sexual violence. I am suggesting, though, that such needlessly vindictive, sexist coverage is worryingly emblematic of larger trend. As one report recently demonstrated, our national media is responsible for "providing a conducive context for violence against women to occur by condoning, tolerating and normalising the abuse of women".

But, you might say, none of this is new. Well done you (white, middle-class, twentysomething playwright) for finally waking up to the unjust world we live in. No doubt, you and all the other well-meaning, left-leaning menfolk will now put a stop to these centuries-old injustices. Even if you didn't feel the need to be quite so sarcastic, you would be right. I am a fraud, a failure and a hypocrite. I did, for instance, as a teenager, view pornography, both in print and online. But I haven't done for years and (for fear of sounding pompous or earnest) I never will again. I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that I have been part of the problem, but I repeat: I never will be again.

Sexism and misogyny are like a virus; their influence is corrupting and insidious. But unlike some viruses, the antidote is deceptively simple: men, including myself, need to take full control of the way we treat women. We need to recognise our failings, accept that we are to blame for the appalling ways in which women are being treated, and we need to stop it. Feminism isn't about so-called man-hating or any of the other nonsense that gets amateurishly slung at it, it is very simply about building and establishing a world in which men and women are treated equally, regardless of race, class or nationality. It is a simple idea with a complex goal. It will likely be fraught and frustrating to achieve, but that's okay. Because we need to do and be better. As Virginie Despentes puts it in her brilliantly blunt King Kong Theory: "Feminism is a revolution, not a rearranged marketing strategy... Feminism is a collective adventure, for women, men and everyone else... A worldview. A choice. It's not a matter of contrasting women's small advantages with men's small assets, but of sending the whole lot flying."

'Blurred Lines', National Theatre: Shed, London SE1 (nationaltheatre.org.uk) to 22 February, tickets from £12

Kat Banyard: Ban surgery ads that prey on women's fears  

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?