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Morna Pearson - The Artist Woman's New Play

“It's like a children's story,” says Morna Pearson as she makes her way
up the steep metal stairs of the Traverse Theatre's Leith-based
rehearsal room after observing through a window as a group of actors
throw themselves into a dance routine, “but with dirty bits.”

Pearson is talking about her new play, The Artist Man and the Mother
Woman, which opens at the Traverse next week, and it's the most direct
she's likely to be on the subject. Such reticence is peculiarly at odds
with Pearson's dramatic voice if her 2006 debut play, Distracted, is
anything to go by. Set in a Morayshire caravan park occupied by
dysfunctional transients, Distracted served up a wild and vivid form of
Doric-accented surrealism which suggested great things for Pearson.

Distracted went on to win the prestigious Meyer-Whitworth new
playwriting award in 2007, which saw Pearson following in the footsteps
of David Harrower, Henry Adam and Conor McPherson. Given such acclaim
and the subsequent attention received by the then 27-year-old from
Elgin from major theatre companies, one might have expected a steady
stream of works to have taken the world by storm. As it is, while there
have been occasional sightings of Pearson, after five years, The artist
Man and the mother Woman is somewhat remarkably Pearson's first
full-length main stage play.

It's not that there haven't been sightings of Pearson. By the time she
won the Meyer-Whitworth Award, Pearson had already seen a new short
play, Elf Analysis, performed as part of the Oran Mor based A Play, A
Pie and A Pint season. In 2011, an adaptation of a piece by South
American writer Rodolofo Santana, which translated as The Company Will
Overlook A Moment of Madness, also appeared at Oran Mor in a season
co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland. In 2011. Skin: Or
How To Disappear, was one of the most accomplished pieces in a
compendium of shorts presented by the women's writer based Agent 160
company last year. As well as two radio plays, Mcbeth's McPets and Side
Effects, there were contributions too to Welcome To the Hotel
Caledonia, the Traverse's multiple-authored election night

While these were all tantalising glimpses into Pearson's fantastical
mind, one wanted more. If The Artist Man and the Mother Woman proves as
captivating as these, the first question that needs to be asked it what
kept her so long. As it turns out, Pearson has been far from idle over
the last decade. It's just that the rest of the world, one suspects,
wasn't quite ready for her.

“It's gone quickly,” reflects Pearson in slightly dreamy tones. “I've
done something pretty much every year, but I've always been down a lot
of dead ends as well with commissions that never came to anything. If I
had other skills I would've maybe have stopped writing, because when
you get three commissions rejected in a row, it kind of makes you
think. I've definitely learnt from that not to be commissioned on one
sentence, but to write a first draft first. What might be a good idea
might only end up being a ten minute play, so I wouldn't say yes to
anything now unless I was confident I knew what the deal was.”

While she clearly lost confidence after such setbacks, Pearson
maintains a quiet determination when she says of the rejected plays
that “They're not in the bin. They've just been put aside for a while.”

Pearson's new play takes its title from a line in George Bernard Shaw's
Man and Superman, which states that 'Of all human struggles there is
none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist
man and the mother woman.' Pearson uses this notion as a springboard to
see what happens when a molly-coddled art teacher attempts to extract
himself from the maternal bosom after discovering he works in one of
the top ten sexiest professions.

“I always start with a character suggesting things in my head,” Pearson
said, “and I had this character who'd led a sheltered life, but who
wanted to get into the dating scene. Then I quickly realised that his
mother was very important to his life so I started to focus on their

This hits on a notion that most men with artistic sensibilities have
been indulged by their mothers from an early age.

“Boys are definitely treated differently,” Pearson observes, “and I
think if my character here had been a woman then she definitely
wouldn't still be living at home. But most of the characters I come up
with are a bit unwise.”

An early draft of The Artist Man and the Mother Woman was one of the
plays originally commissioned by another company, who'd passed on
taking it to full production. It was only when the Traverse's incoming
artistic director Orla O'Loughlin arrived at the theatre that things
began to move forward.

“She'd heard of it's existence and asked to read it,” says Pearson,
“and then she thought it would be good to have a reading of it in
April. Part of that was about getting my confidence back, but I had
enough distance from it to go back to it. A few weeks later the
Traverse commissioned me, and I redrafted and redrafted it, so it's
quite a different play now to how it was originally, even though it's
gone back more to how it was in the original draft.”

Whatever happens with The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, it's
unlikely to be another five years before a new play by Pearson appears.
Already ongoing is Ailie and the Alien, a commission fir the National
Theatre's 2013 NT Connections series of plays performed by youth
theatres. As for her current play, while ostensibly a comedy, Pearson
admits there is a dark thread running throughout.

“Some of the subject matter could be taken further,” she admits, “but
you don't want to alienate an audience, so I hope we've got the balance

The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,
October 30th-November 17th

The Herald, October 30th 2012



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