Playwriting that pays the bills


‘It’s about worrying and science and faith and miracles and love and memory’. In one breath, Rachel Barnett sums up the themes that run through her new play ‘The Law of Inertia’. The plot centers on a man who survives and near-fatal car accident and is left with questions of luck or destiny and begins to see danger lurking behind every corner. Barnett says that she came up with the idea in the midst of running her theatre company for children, Peut-Etre Theatre, and writing for theatre for education pieces for schools across the country. She refers to ‘The Law of Inertia’ as a ‘grown up play’ and its staged reading as a important step in the writing process.

The story of Barnett becoming a playwright raises the same questions of luck or destiny as her latest work. Writing her first play which was short-listed at a national festival at only 12 years old, young Barnett vowed not to write another play until she was 20, because, as she says ‘I was too young to know anything’. After taking it up again in university, Barnett applied to the Central School of Speech and Drama for a course in dramaturgy but was placed instead in the playwriting course. Since then, she says, she’s been writing plays to ‘pay the bills’. It seems that the combination of children’s theatre, TIE writing and the occasional ‘grown-up play’ has enabled Barnett to circumvent the stereotype of the starving artist and she is the first to admit that, ‘I am incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to support myself on my writing for the last four years’.

Barnett adores the world of children’s theatre, saying that it is very communal and ‘simply lovely’. New writing, however, she perceives as often a competition between who can be the ‘most hip’ new playwright: ‘I’m a geek.’ she says. ‘I’m not cool. I wear cardigans. My iTunes playlists are all from before the 1940s. I’m not political and I’m not with-it. I’m happy. I’m not hungry. And I’m not pretending to be hungry’. If this is why she doesn’t identify as a new writing playwright, it is to her credit; Barnett exudes contentment, warmth, and a down-to-earth quality which are rare in a playwright who can actually survive on playwriting.

Her advice for young playwrights that would like to follow in her footsteps is twofold: ‘Write a play and don’t expect people to put it on. Why should anyone put on your play?’ And, ‘Have a giggle’. With these adages, maybe playwrights would have to sacrifice high-brow artistic aspirations for writing children’s theatre and theatre for education. But maybe they would be better at paying the bills. And having a giggle.

‘The Law of Inertia’ is having a staged reading at the Burton-Taylor Studio, Wednesday August 25th. See for details.


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