Sliding with Suzanne, Royal Court, London

It's downhill all the way
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The Independent Culture

At the back of the published script of Sliding with Suzanne, Judy Upton, along with other playwrights, gives her advice to those starting out. Here are some tips she omitted.

Make your characters appealing. Suzanne, a divorced 35-year-old, is sliding morally downhill on her greased bottom, her only income what she gets paid for being a foster mother. Much more of it goes on drink and drugs than on food and Ajax, and her 16-year-old foster son is not only a surrogate parent but her lover. She is never cheeky or spirited – never, indeed, anything but nasty or sulky, except for a few minutes when she wakes up in the bed of another teenage boy.

Suzanne's widowed mother, to whom she flees when the boy goes missing, is more respectable, but no more engaging. A retired shop assistant who is sweet on the coach driver next door, her only unusual characteristic is her tolerance for Suzanne's constant aggression and profanity (Suzanne can't shop for groceries without applying her favourite adjective to every product, telling her mother she's a "stupid old bat" and pointing to her backside and telling the clerk what he can do to it). When mum isn't wringing her hands, she's telling her beau that she's found a lovely Ordnance Survey map of some place in Scotland; she can't recall the name... Neither Suzanne nor her mother says anything funny, unless one counts the mother's suggestion that Suzanne join a dating-agency.

Let us know how the characters got to be the way they are. One doesn't need a socio-economic lecture or a flashback to some explanatory trauma, but one does also need to keep perplexity from becoming the audience's main emotion. Why is Suzanne so childish, so full of self-pity and hatred? Two trite speeches about being unable to get a good job (she blames class prejudice) don't tell us, nor even make us believe that she's her mother's daughter.

Avoid obvious "stagecraft". To talk metaphorically of spilling one's guts after a roadside hedgehog has literally done so isn't resonant, just predictable. And first-act-curtain bombshells not only take us back to the world of the genteel, well-made play, they make the playwright look desperate to create some reason for people to return after the interval.

Be careful with your tone. When the coach driver, ignorant of Suzanne's relations with her foster son, praises her and suggests that the mother give her money, we don't know whether to be touched or to laugh at him. We do know, however, that the goofily optimistic ending hasn't been earned by the play's style or its plot.

Get a good director interested. With a production by Max Stafford-Clark and his excellent Out of Joint company (especially June Watson and Monica Dolan as the mother and daughter), you may be able to convince people that your play was worth putting on.

To 22 Sept (020-7565 5085)

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