Why Feathers?

Our producer, Michelle Neil, wrote a small piece on the production’s Facebook page recently entitled: ‘Why Feathers?’ discussing her reasons for staging the play. It got me thinking…why did I write Feathers in the first place?

The first draft of Feathers was created simply because I had to write something, anything, in fact, to pass my MA, spring boarding me into the world of performing arts and financial malaise.  At 23, I was terrified I had nothing to say of any consequence. I moaned to my lecturer, who laughed.

“Eliza, have you ever had your heart broken?”

“Yes…”

“Then go forth and dissect the human heart.”

For me, nothing in literature gives us such a unique insight into the human heart as Ovid’s Metamorphoses – a narrative poem of love, lust, violence and shape-changing. A poem in which the fundamental irony is that the characters are anything other than human by the end of each poem. The tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela is particularly raw in its brutality; a supposedly loving husband rapes and mutilates his wife’s sister; when his loyal and adoring wife discovers his gruesome betrayal, she join forces with her sister and serves up her own son to her husband in a pie. Admittedly, not the most heart-warming of familial tales. But it does explore the atavistic bond between two sisters; one willing to sacrifice her own child to seek revenge for her sister’s assault.

Like many other writers, I adapted elements of Ovid’s poem and wove them into a contemporary story: an unsentimental portrait of the relationship between two sisters’ relationship which soured.  Here, sisterly love is a mask concealing jealousy and deceit. It’s the brutal ‘punch in the guts’ simplicity of Tereus, Procne and Philomela that lends it to continuous reinterpretation.

Feathers opens as a domestic drama, but quickly takes a darker turn. I’ve tried to balance – whether successfully or unsuccessfully – the bleakness of the original with elements of dark comedy. As in life, the characters don’t find themselves on a moral journey of discovery and are largely unapologetic for their actions.

Since the first run of Feathers in 2010, the script itself has developed further. Michelle’s vision and passion for staging the play was the catalyst for this production and I’m so grateful to her for bringing Feathers to the stage again in the UK.

The play is in a sense what the director and actors do with it. Not only are this troupe of actors all supremely talented, but our director Milla Jackson, with her own extensive knowledge of Ovid, has shown me new ways of interpreting the script; and recent tweaks have been  inspired by conversations over cheesecake and sugary drinks. I don’t know if she realises it yet, but she may twig if she reads this blog…

The creative team behind this production of Feathers are all female. But its foundations lie in the work of a dead Roman chap, who created one of the most breathtaking pieces of literature in existence. It is an homage to a great poet. And if you haven’t read his work yet, you bloody well should.