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Tortoise Writer's Notes | Mark Weinman

Posted 29 Jul 2023 by Joe Duggan

Writer and NYT Associate Mark Weinman on developing his new play Tortoise with our Playing Up Company 

Working with this year’s Playing Up Company has been one of the most fulfilling creative experiences. When Anna Niland asked me to write a play for Playing Up, I jumped at the opportunity:
“That would be a privilege.” I said, “How big is the company?”
“25” Anna replied.
“S***” I thought. “Cool” I said. (Gulp) my body responded.

The fear of the task, admittedly, was slightly overwhelming. But I couldn’t wait to get started.

The company’s creative response was to ‘Bring it.’

The luxury of the process was getting to work with the company for two weeks of Research and Development before Christmas 2017. Our super talented director, Matt Harrison, has a wonderful way of extracting such fine detail from his actors. He brings enormous energy, playfulness, huge charisma and big ideas. The company’s creative response to this…was to ‘Bring it.’

We started to explore themes that interested us and would invite the group to offer their response to these ideas and questions. They offered us physical work, writing, drawings, discussions, solo and group work. The company were driving the process. Matt and I were allowed to steer.

It was also a chance for us to get to know the company. Their personalities; their individual talents and strengths; their voices and opinions. I remember arriving on the first day and being utterly amazed by the group’s commitment. They were so up for it! But it was their support of each other that excited me most. They would listen, encourage and give each other the utmost respect in the rehearsal room, making it an extraordinarily happy and safe place to work. 

The R&D process also meant that I could tailor certain characters to certain company members. Most of the characters you see, were at some point, inspired by the brilliant offerings made by the actor you see playing them tonight. 

Tortoise is inspired by my fascination with the ways in which humans communicate with each other. It feels like, in recent times, there has been a shift in the type of contact we choose to make. Influenced by the comforts, often social and technological, in which we often indulge. 

By creating a visually stimulating piece that would reflect the popularity of online gaming, I wanted to write something that blurred the lines between what is real and what is not. 

If this play can be anything…I hope it can be some sort of wake up.

By placing a mother/daughter relationship at the heart of our piece, and rooting them in a circumstance that almost defies belief, we were able to explore examples of real human responses to dealing with grief and the ways we communicate amidst the pressures of today’s society. I have tried to tread very delicately around this subject matter. It is something that affects us all differently and I hope the play respects that. For this reason, Tortoise avoids the details of the circumstances and instead explores the potential fallout.

If this play can be anything…I hope it can be some sort of wake up. And if it makes you want to spend more time outdoors…then that’s even better. Breathe it in.

I’d like to thank everyone involved on Tortoise and wish each company member every success on their future endeavours. Be loud. There’s no limit to the noise you can make.

Tortoise runs from 11-14 July at the Bunker Theatre

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Photo: Alessandra Davison