Lydia Adetunji speaks about writing 'Calculating Kindness'

Lydia’s first full-length play Fixer opened at the HighTide Festival in 2009. It was revived at the Oval House in 2011 and is published by Nick Hern Books. Her second, Compliance, was written while she was Pearson playwright in residence at Paines Plough, and won the 2011 Catherine Johnson award. Recent work includes Bread on the Table, part of Metta Theatre’s Mouthful at Trafalgar Studios, The Foreigner, a monologue for the Staffordshire New Vic’s Hoard festival, and In This Place, written for Pentabus. She is currently under commission to Birmingham Rep Theatre.


Q: Tell us a little bit about Calculating Kindness and the process of making the show?

A: The process started with a series of conversations with Laura Farnworth, the director, where we put together a very loose framework for the story. Those ideas were then explored further in a workshop with actors - they devised and played around with various scenarios. After the two weeks of workshopping, I went away and wrote a draft of a script ready to go into the rehearsal process, where it developed further with cuts, changes and new material. That's different to how I usually work - normally by the time actors are involved I've already written a script. 


Q: What particularly interested you in George Price?

A: I'm fascinated by the way he threw himself at fundamental questions about what it means to be human. The level of commitment - to go from being a militant atheist to someone who wrote complicated treatises on the correct dates of Easter is such an extreme journey. 


Q: Do you feel a personal responsibility, writing about a real person?

A: I'm very aware of a responsibility to the person I'm writing about. But it's not a documentary - it needs to work as drama, and so I guess it's about trying to capture some essential quality about the character. It's acknowledged in the piece itself that there's always a tension between reality and the demands of fiction in any exploration of a life story.  


Q: Dramatically, what have you found is the best way to explore the story?

A: We knew from the start that we didn't want to create a traditional sort of biopic-style piece, with a straightforward chronology and explanations for everything that happens to the character. Price was obsessed with finding meaning in patterns. We've tried to work some of his fixation with coincidences and sequences of events into the structure of the piece. And so it becomes about a man revisiting the events in his life and trying to work out why things happened the way they did.


Q: Have you found anything unexpected or surprising during the development?

A: It's been great to be able to read through the Price letters (held in the British Library), and would recommend that anyone interested in his life and work who gets the chance does the same. He's a very good letter writer - funny and observant.