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Lawrence Winram

“History is full of great reverses of rights” - an interview with DC Moore

7 June 2017 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Set in the grim and grimy industrial revolution, DC Moore’s new play 'Common' focuses on Mary, the best liar, rogue, thief and faker of this septic isle. Now she’s back from the belching hellhole of London and swept up in the battle of her former home. The common land, belonging to all, is disappearing. London Calling asked Moore what inspired him to write about power, violence and feminism in this dark time for women.

London Calling: What is Common about?  

David ‘DC’ Moore: If I was Al Pacino in a late Nineties film, I'd theatrically turn to you, loosen my tie and shout 'EV-ERY-THING!' But I am not. I'm Dave. So I'll say it's about the early nineteenth century. A time when the Industrial Revolution was transforming England into the workshop of the world. During this period, Parliament oversaw Enclosure Acts which destroyed the old, communal, common law rights and privileges that the majority of the country had access to. At the time of the play, more people lived in the country than cities. A way of farming and living was taken apart. There was a massive power shift towards large, aristocratic landowners. It led to a more efficient use of our land, which was a genuine improvement but it came at a large social cost. The 1% of the day made a hefty profit. The social cost isn't in our collective cultural memory because the English psyche is often centred around our victories (World War Two, that one World Cup, Bucks Fizz, Agincourt) rather than our many, many, many defeats. 

It's also about being a woman in this period and what it took to survive and prosper. Which is just as big of a topic. It’s about the struggle to maintain your own agency and freedom in a world that constantly refuses you either option.


Image Credit: Johan Persson

LC: Common focusses on female stories and female relationships. Was that particularly important to you when writing the play?

DC: Yes. I had written some male-dominated plays in the past and often got quite embarrassed during auditions for female actors that I wasn't offering them anything meaty enough. It breaks my heart that we screw over so many great actors (at every stage of their careers) because they have vaginas. This play is partly a redress for my own writing crimes but I also think it serves the story of this period because one of the many things the play is about is power. Power for women at this time is hard to come by and hard-won. That helps the stakes of the drama and keeps a raging fire under it.


Image Credit: Johan Persson

LC: What galvanised you to write this play?  

DC: The seed came when reading an Iain Sinclair book about John Clare. Clare was a 'peasant poet', born in the late eighteenth century, who became a bit of a cause celebre in London because he was working class, self educated and could write very good poetry (which were seen as contradictory realities). During his life, he worked on fencing in ('enclosing') his own local farming area and, in his own view, helped to destroy his own way of life. He saw Enclosure as much of a menace as Napoleon. Something about Clare has always haunted me, and when the National asked me to write A Big Play, it seemed like an idea to return to.
 
Then I discovered the case of Mary Bateman, a con-woman from the period who in one brilliant instance wrote 'Christ Is Coming' on eggs in acid and thrust them into hens. When they were laid and freaked people out, she took advantage of them. I realised I could make this play playful, dark and funny with someone like that at its heart.


Image Credit: Johan Persson

LC: What was it about delving into the social battle for land rights in 19th Century England that appealed to you?

DC: The appeal came from trying to wrestle a historical period to life and see it with fresh, open eyes. Deadwood (the TV show) is one of my favourite bits of art. That show completely changed my understanding of the American Wild West and the mythology that cinema and TV has built up around it. I wanted to counter the 'arc of the moral universe bends towards justice' argument that I think we instinctively feel (that, as time progresses, we get more rights and more freedoms, which I do not think is always the case. History is full of great reverses of rights). This period of time seemed to be a rich seam to mine.

LC: Although the play deals with death, murder and deceit, it is extremely funny. Does humour sugar-coat the tragedies so the audience can swallow the characters more malicious deeds?

DC: Humour is dangerous in its absence. I struggle to relate to plays where I haven't at least laughed once. I think there's a risk of chasing laughs (and cheapening your drama) but it's a risk worth pursuing. People make jokes in war zones, gulags and other extreme situations. It's a survival mechanism and this play is about survival.

Common is a co-production with Headlong and the National Theatre. It runs at the NT from 30 May – 5 August. Common is a Travelex show with hundreds of seats available at £15 for every performance.
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