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5 QUESTIONS WITH SOPHIE WOOLLEY (2006)

She’s a writer, performer, tutor and actress. She’s currently touring with her one-woman-show “When To Run”, and “Terri’s West End Blog” has been given this exclusive interview with her. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Sophie Woolley.


1) What inspired your latest production, “When To Run”?

Two years ago someone asked me to write some copy for a sports brand advert about how it feels to be a woman runner. I wrote something funny and I liked it but I didn’t send it in. I kept it and that was the seed of an idea. The play is made up of interwoven monologues.


The characters are runners, apart from one who is a lazy dog walker, and running is a great setting for monologues because people think about all sorts when they run. I think it’s called disassociation in running speak – where your thoughts drift for miles.


2) What has been the working process from idea to finished piece, and who have you worked with?

I left the orginal funny piece of verse that I wrote for the advert for a year. Then I wrote 3 short character monologues where each character runs away from a different situation. I performed it at Soho Theatre at a live literature event organised by Renaissance One.

Soho Theatre actually invited me to be an attached writer when they saw me perform the monologues, and Nina Steiger – the writer centre director – became my dramaturg this year when I wrote the full length “When to Run” script. Nina had some clever ideas about breaking up some of the monologues in one scene so that we see the one event from different angles (like you would on telly or in a film) and it heightens the drama of the revelations as the characters’ lives cross over. I also did lots of running to research the play and make sure I looked a bit more like a runner!


I did just 2 days rehearsal before Edinburgh Festival where the play premiered. I got some great reviews but I wasn’t happy with the show. The writing was good but I needed some more help with my performance – I needed a theatre director. Gemma Fairlie who works with the RSC saw the show became my director and we re rehearsed the show before the England tour started. We worked on the physicality of the characters which is important because I switch very quickly between one character and the next. Each character has a different voice and accent but the physicality needs to be instantly recognisable as well as I play all the parts! Gemma really turned the show around and it’s really enjoyable to perform now, it works so well.


Renaissance One produced the tour. They did good with the marketing and we sold out the Prucell Room at the Royal Festival Hall really quickly.


3) How much of a schizophrenic experience is it to juggle four such distinctive personalities in the one evening – and how/where do you find inspiration for your characters?

I don’t feel mentally confused at the end of the show, but my brain does feel very tired at the end because I am speaking in different voices continuously for 48 minutes with no interval. So my voice goes a bit floppy for half an hour afterwards.


The teenage athlete character was inspired by girls at school; she talks the way people did at school (I went to school in Harlesden and Wembley in NW London). She is really loud and funny and easily distracted from her Olympic destiny.


The glamourous, neurotic, Docklands executive, adrenalin junkie character was developed using method acting. I moved into a Docklands loft appartment and joined two running clubs. There are lots of mirrors in my building so I can practise being vain. The building management company added a new one in front of the lift doors downstairs the other day, to give people that extra chance to check how fantastic they look before they leave for work.


The life coach whose life is clearly falling apart was inspired by Celia Johnson in the 1947 film “Brief Encounter” – she inspired the uptight 1950s accent anyway, and the repressed misery. I also read self help lifestyle/health books by people like Carole Caplin.


The dogwalker is the voice of sloth and I just slobbed around lots doing nothing for ages for my inspiration for her. The love interest is a man who looks a bit like Tony Soprano. Tony Soprano is like an anti pin-up isn’t he? I think a lot of men would like to be him rather than James Bond. I fancy him more than I do James Bond anyway!


You can listen to clips of four of the characters on my website – they were recorded before I had finished writing the script, but it will give you the rough idea anyway.


4) What do you enjoy the most about writing and performing monologues – and what first got you interested in this?

I fell into it really. I started off as a writer and through doing readings I discovered I could perform. I just naturally spoke the dialogue in my stories in character and audiences would laugh lots and I fell in love with performing. So along with writing stories for magazines and anthologies I started writing monologues for the stage. I became more theatrical and Soho Theatre has helped me a great deal with developing my work.

I’ve always really loved writing; I wrote plays when I was little and performed them with my friends. Writing is so exciting when I get into the flow of it, and I am lucky as I can perform my work as well, which means I can write my own parts.


I love making audiences laugh. There are lots of sad bits in “When to Run” too, as I have been working on how to make people cry too recently. It’s much harder but I think I’ve cracked it now. “When to Run” is a rollercoaster ride for audiences.


5) Why should people come see the show?

It’s got romance in it, heartache, danger, bigamy, murder, self-improvement and glory. Men seem to enjoy the play just as much as women – and it’s not just a play for runners, couch potatoes love it too. Also, every date is subtitled, so deaf and hard of hearing people can follow it.


Where To Run To Catch Sophie Woolley:
– Tomorrow 3rd December at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Delamere Terrace, Little Venice W2 6ND, 4pm.
– Tuesday 5th December at the Purcell Room, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London 7.45pm. Advance tickets sold out – returns only on the night.