Frankie Meredith tells us all about the premiere of her new play May Queen, now performing at Paines Plough's Roundabout.
Frankie Meredith is a Midlands-based writer, having had two world premieres in Coventry this summer.
Petticoat Council debuted at the Warwick Arts Centre in June, and now May Queen is premiering at the pop-up theatre Roundabout, a co-production between Paines Plough and the Belgrade Theatre as part of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.
We recently chatted to Frankie to find out what makes May Queen so special.
How did the commission of May Queen come about?
The commission came about because I had previously worked with Balisha Karra, one of the Co-Artistic Directors for the Belgrade during Coventry’s year as City of Culture.
We worked together on a play called Seventeen back in 2019. She got in touch and asked if I would like to pitch some ideas to Paines Plough for Roundabout. So I did that, and they liked my idea of May Queen.
I’d also built a relationship with Paines Plough through their playwright fellow in 2019, so it felt great to be able to work on something with them.
Balisha Karra Photo credit: Joe Bailey
What makes Roundabout a special place to write for?
Roundabout is a gorgeous place to write for, it’s really unique. I was actually really lucky a couple of years ago to have a seed commission with them. They got a bunch of writers and for a few days we went and watched some Roundabout shows in Stoke and then we had a couple of days to start a script back in the London offices.
That script is actually still on my laptop and may become something one day. The experience gave me a really good insight into how to work for a space like that and what kind of shows work there. Hopefully May Queen will be really special in Roundabout.
Where did the inspiration for May Queen come from?
The idea was really rooted in Coventry. It was actually originally called Cofa’s Tree, which is the historical name for Coventry, but we changed the name so it became much more about Leigh, the main character. The inspiration came from telling female stories and telling their truth. It’s got a lot to do with how folklore is spoken about nowadays, the way we tell our stories, who believes us and who doesn’t.
(L-R) Frankie Meredith, Balisha Karra and Yasmin Dawes Photo credit: Joe Bailey
What are the main themes of May Queen?
The themes of May Queen are Coventry, consent, lack of consent, folklore, growing up. I spent my teenage years in Coventry which is why when I focused on writing a play set there it had to be told by a teenage character. It’s a lot to do with growing up and finding out who you are.
What is the significance of history and folklore in the story?
There is a huge significance of folklore. It’s a lot about how women have been treated and how women are believed or not believed. It’s sort of like a modern folk tale.
What has it been like to work in a predominantly female team? What kind of space does that create?
A really safe space. Some of the themes that this play tackles are quite uncomfortable about consent and abuse. Balisha set up this gorgeous, safe space in the Roundabout circle. I kind of popped in at the beginning but then just left them to it. It was a really creative, equal and very fair, gentle rehearsal space because it had to be.
(L-R) Yasmin Dawes, Balisha Karra and Frankie Meredith Photo credit: Joe Bailey
What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
I hope audiences will take away whatever it stirs up inside them. We’ve had some quite visceral reactions so far, even during the rehearsal process.
I think some people might get a bit angry though there are funny bits too. I think it’s really important to take away how valid women’s stories are and teenage women’s stories as well.
This is a bit rogue but I was watching a Kate Nash documentary, which funnily enough May Queen’s director Balisha was also watching, though we didn’t know that at the time. Kate Nash’s fanbase is made up largely of teenage girls and she says ‘I hate that people see teenage girls as silly because they are so important, there’s nothing more important than teenage girls.’ I think that’s really true for this.
What are your connections to Coventry?
I spent a lot of my teenage years in Coventry, close to Wood End where Roundabout is currently situated, and it’s very much built up who I am today.
When it came to writing a play based in Coventry, it just felt right that it was going to be told by a teenage girl because I think that is so much of my relationship with the city. I was Coventry City Soccerette in 2010, so that’s an interesting fact. My Dad gave me a blue Coventry City elephant when I was born even though I was a girl, smashing those gender stereotypes early. Elephants are actually quite a big thing in this play as well, I’ve just made that connection.