Penelope Skinner: More nourishing drama from a truly gutsy playwright

Penelope Skinner is our leading young feminist writer, says Nione Meakin

Britain's "most promising playwright" is considering her hopes for her work. "My main aim," she says after some time, "is to avoid working in an office." Penelope Skinner was 30 when her first play, Fucked, opened at the Old Red Lion Theatre – old enough to have discovered precisely what she didn't want to do. "It's made me appreciate that being a writer is a pretty good job and all I care about is being allowed to keep doing it."

It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to stop her; after the acclaimed Fucked in 2009, she wrote Eigengrau for The Bush and last year, The Village Bike, which played a sold-out and twice-extended run at the Royal Court and won her various awards, including the "most promising" tag from the Evening Standard.

Now the 34-year-old is premiering her new play, Fred's Diner, at Chichester Festival Theatre's temporary pop-up space Theatre on the Fly; is she feeling the pressure? "I don't know that you can think about it," she says. "It's nice to win things, but I've also not won things enough times to know I can still stand by my work and believe in it."

She asks me not to reveal too much about Fred's Diner, but it's not giving much away to say that it's set in a purgatorial English motorway café where banal conversations about sandwich fillings give way to ugly truths and violence. It's about the various ways people – especially women – are oppressed, and it's relentlessly, bleakly funny.

She has something of a predilection for this – tickling audiences with one hand while punching them in the guts with the other. It was Skinner who managed to introduce the subject of date-rape into the Channel 4 sitcom Fresh Meat. "There are some things that are only possible to talk about in the context of humour," she says. "If you go too gritty, people don't want to listen. I feel the subject of rape is often used as a dramatic tool on television. It's meant to be hard-hitting and shocking and that only helps it retain its taboo nature. But rape is horribly common. I suppose I was attempting to make it a bit more normal, to not be afraid of it as a subject matter."

Fucked looked at the complex politics of women selling sex; The Village Bike at motherhood and marital dysfunction. Does she consider herself a feminist writer? "Sometimes I think all my plays are about the same things, over and over," she says with a cautious smile. "But I'd certainly say I'm a feminist writer, yes. There's this term, 'post-feminist society', as though feminism has done its job and it's all alright now… I think things are much more complicated with the idea that equality has been achieved."

Next up is more Fresh Meat (Skinner has written episode five of series two, out later this year) and work on a TV pilot with her older sister Ginny, an artist. The pair are also working on a graphic novel together. "It's about a girl who becomes haunted by the spirit of an old lady," says Skinner, laughing at how implausible it sounds. "She thinks she has ME, but then finds out it's a ghost. We think it's going to be a sort of teenage confessional."

It was Ginny, she reveals, who designed the enormous tattoo on her arm, showing an empty birdcage with an open door. "I asked her to draw something that reminded her of me..."

'Fred's Diner', Theatre on the Fly, Chichester Festival Theatre (cft.org.uk) tonight to 2 September

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing