York’s Riding Lights to present Maryland, Lucy Kirkwood’s howl of a protest play addressing sexual violence against women

Amaka Okafor, from the Royal Court premiere, will join the Riding Lights company for staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland in York

YORK’S Riding Lights Theatre Company will present two staged readings of Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland, a 30-minute “howl” of a protest play, written in response to sexual violence against women.

Amaka Okafor, from the original Royal Court Theatre cast, will be joined in associate director Bridget Foreman’s cast by Laura Pyper, Mark Holgate, Cassie Vallance, Kesiah Joseph, Patricia Jones and Meg Blowey at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, rehearsing for two days for script-in-hand performances at 6.30pm and 8.30pm on November 26.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 17 murder of Sabine Nessa and the sentencing of policeman Wayne Couzens for Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder, Kirkwood decided that a “provocative” play “had to happen now”, as she told the Guardian.

The Skins screenwriter and Chimerica and The Children playwright duly wrote the agit-prop Maryland “very quickly” as a “passionate and furious act of resistance to draw attention to the shocking numbers of women who repeatedly suffer violent abuse throughout Britain. The play is not specific; it addresses issues of police behaviour and a culture of violence against women and girls”.

Director Bridget Foreman

“I hesitate to even call it a play when it is simply a howl, a way of expressing what I feel about a culture of violence against women,” Kirkwood said in a quote she gave to the Royal Court. “But I am sharing it because I wonder if it might express a little of what other people feel about it too.” 

After sold-out performances in London, the Royal Court offered Maryland copyright-free for theatre companies to perform in solidarity and protest until November 27. York company Riding Lights was quick to take up that opportunity.

“It is not our intention to make a particular link with any of the women in York whose stories have achieved a terrible notoriety,” stresses Riding Lights’ acting general manager, Bernadette Burbridge.

“We don’t wish in any way to add to the pain of families and friends whose suffering will never resolve.

Riding Lights cast member Cassie Vallance

“Violence against women is a persistent canker in society and this is a moment in which Riding Lights can seize the offer from the Royal Court to speak loudly through art.

“To amplify this cry of protest as loudly as possible, we hope these performances will be sold out and that audiences will include as many men as women.”

Welcoming Riding Lights mounting Maryland at short notice, administrative co-producer Professor Gweno Williams says: “It’s an issue that I’m passionate about and I’m delighted that Lucy’s play is being put on in York after the writer and Royal Court decided it should be released to theatres for a month. My goal in co-producing these readings is not just do some good by publicising what’s happening but also to bring about change.

“How extraordinary it is that this brand-new script by an outstanding contemporary playwright has been made available UK-wide for copyright-free performance by any professional theatre company for a limited number of weeks after the Royal Court run ended on October 23.

Laura Pyper: Maryland cast member for the November 26 staged readings

“Maryland expresses passionate outrage about current repeated patterns of random violence against women, including women of colour.”

Describing Maryland as “an overview rather than a specific case”, Gweno says: “It was written by Lucy in two days and it’s incredibly strong piece that’s been called a howl of rage.

“The cast comprises six women and one man, and the play is structured partly as a Greek drama with six Furies, with the drama alternating between the ancient Furies and a contemporary scene in the aftermath of a rape.”

Tickets cost £5 on 01904 613000. The two audiences will be invited to make a recommended donation of £7 or more to Survive, a York charity that supports survivors of sexual abuse. Donations also can be made via survive-northyorks.org.uk.

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