A friend of mine was once offered the job of script editor on EastEnders. "Just think," breathed the producer excitedly, pointing to someone else's script, "one week you can write in this person's style, next week, someone entirely different." My friend smiled politely and wriggled out of what was being sold as a promotion, away from the slog of actually having to write the stuff herself.
Playwright Janet Goddard is refreshingly honest about the likes of EastEnders and Brookside, where she has worked for a number of years. "You don't write TV soaps in order to present your view of the world. For this play, I started with an image. You can't do that in TV. All that endless talking - the dramatic action is diminished."
For her, theatre also represents a major liberation from the constraints of soaps, where scripts are attendant upon the say-so of producers, story- line conferences and the relative power of the actors involved.
Her latest play is far more individual, thanks to PlainClothes Productions, a new writing company set up in 1989 by a group of actors who wanted more experimental and interesting work than their careers could afford. Their early productions heralded the playwright James Stock and a focus on political/historical pieces. But this is their first play from a female playwright.
The director, Jacquetta May, one of the company's founders, has been working with Goddard for over a year and, as the opening night looms, she is growing increasingly excited. Goddard asserts that her play is "funny and horrible but definitely about love", while May describes it as a story of suburban family savagery and politeness in Middle England. "It's about madness and food... blackly comic." As someone who also worked on EastEnders (playing Rachel, the one who got 'Chelle to go to college and underwent a few manoeuvres with Tricky Dicky), she, too, has developed something of an allergy to flat naturalism. "This play has a very theatrical language. There are direct addresses to introduce characters to the audience and wafts of lyricism undercut by sharp humour."
Opera designer Nigel Lowery has taken a massive drop in budget (and, one suspects, salary) and has come up with a set made entirely of cardboard; but May is convinced the script has considerably more depth than that. "The second half is less optimistic, with a more `underwater' feel, but the first half is more `presented' with an almost Dennis Potter feel."
A female, theatrical Dennis Potter? I'm intrigued.