`Waking' is at the Soho Theatre Company, 21 Dean St, London W1 (0171-420 0022), to 29 Mar
Abigail Morris is very excited, and, she worries, possibly mad. Not certifiable, you understand, it's just that as Soho Theatre Company's artistic director, she's in the thick of negotiating a pounds 6m deal with the National Lottery to turn their new five-storey home into a theatre and simultaneously opening Waking, a new play by Lin Coghlan, in their brand- new temporary theatre. On Monday morning, she has only five minutes to talk - Tom Piper, her set designer, is rejigging the set because they've realised the sightlines don't work. And the power supply has gone dead.

Morris is generally circumspect when it comes to making pronouncements but she's had such a enjoyable time in rehearsals that she's breaking her own rules. "Lin's writing is so lovingly honest. She captures people's inability to say what they want. It's so beautifully observed, you love the characters but you see all their faults very clearly." This lack of sentimentality, she believes, is rare. "Too many writers try to create people who are `sympathetic' but this is not so manipulative or one-sided. I think a play about three generations of men trying to connect is very moving."

Coghlan, meanwhile, is ducking the question thrown at her by every journalist she meets: "How does it feel to have your first play done?" In fact this is not her debut. She trained as an actor and toured the country in Theatre- in-Education and Young People's Theatre, but as the devising element grew, she found herself more and more involved with writing. Five years on, she wrote her first play, Fantastic Forgotten Voyage, for Theatre Centre and hasn't looked back.

Unfortunately, that sort of work is often ignored. Waking began as a Young People's Theatre commission but Coghlan has developed it through Soho's hugely enterprising writers' workshop initiatives. Nonetheless, she's assertive about its roots. "People think that Young People's Theatre is what you do while you're getting ready to write your first play," she remarks ruefully. "It has very low status."

Modesty forbids her from pointing out that her status is on the up and up. She was a joint winner of the 1995 Thames TV Writer's Award, wrote The Night Garden while on a residency at the National Theatre Studio and is under commission to a Romanian theatre company and the Bush in west London. Clearly, rather a lot of people are waking up to her.

Comments