Q & A with Julia Bolden, Writer of Alternate Slices

Q & A with Julia Bolden, Writer of Alternate Slices

ALTERNATE SLICES is a brand-new play about the choices we make, and the way they affect our lives. We talked with the show's writer, Julia Bolden, about the show's inspiration, direction and themes.

Q: What is Alternate Slices really about?

A: It’s about wanting to have your cake and eat it. It’s about how, whatever choices we make in life, we wonder how things might have turned out differently. It’s about how the grass often looks greener or the sky bluer on the other side. And it’s about how, in theatre, you can actually experience what it’s like to live different lives. and compare the pros and cons of each.

Q: To what extent have you collaborated with the director?

A: Richard McNally pledged to direct it on the basis of a few pages tried out in a workshop a couple of years ago and his input has made it a much better script than it would have been (had I even completed it at all without his encouragement!). In bringing the play to the stage, Richard thinks about the whole picture, whereas I am obsessed with little details, so we make a good team. It was his idea to split the stage in half to make it clear which scenario we are in at any given time and to use a hat to distinguish between the Finola who has just returned from Peru with Nick, and the Finola who is decorating her new home with Matt. These elements were incorporated into the script early on. He also came up with solutions to a number of important plot points and pushed me to raise the stakes. We read scenes aloud together at various stages of development and he would tell me what didn’t work and get me to keep trying until I got it right. But the best moments for me were whenever we read a recently added sequence and he said “that’s my new favourite bit!”

Q:  Have the actors played a part in developing the script?

A: We worked with different actors in the first couple of workshops and their interpretations of, and responses to, what I wrote initially, helped to shape the play. Later, we had a readthrough and two workshops with the actual cast, with gaps between each for me to do rewrites. This process enabled me to identify points where I wasn’t yet achieving the effect I was trying for, or was complicating things too much, as well as getting feedback from them. They have been particularly helpful in getting me to cut unnecessary exposition and iron out potential inconsistencies in their characters, across the different scenarios. They also improvised some offstage action, under Richard’s direction, generating references that informed the script, and I added a few lines that they suggested.

Q: Where did you find inspiration for this play?

A: I found it in my passion for plays which explore alternative outcomes, like Alan Ayckbourn’s Sisterly Feelings, in which two sisters compete for the attentions of one man, branching into four versions, depending on which gets to spend time with him; JB Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, where a casual remark leads to tragic consequences, or is avoided; and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, where real life relationships are pitted against stage ones. I also love films in which a chance event or conscious decision generates a different sequence of events, like Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors and About Time.

Q: In what ways is your play different and original?

Firstly, unlike the examples above, the action of each parallel reality all takes place in the same room, simultaneously, rather than branching off.

Secondly, unlike a time travel drama, there is no going back and changing what happened, both alternatives are there from the start and both are equally “real”.

Thirdly, a lot of parallel reality fiction/drama revolves around the butterfly effect premise that, if one moment in time is altered, everything that comes after it will branch off on a significantly different path. In this play, I have explored the opposite; what if, despite the life-changing outcomes of a seemingly small choice that one character made two years ago, the three characters involved still find themselves in the same room at the same time on this same day, having similar and yet fundamentally different interactions?

Q: How do you hope the audience will respond to the play?

A: Obviously, I hope they’ll love it! I hope they’ll be carried along and not get too hung up on keeping track of who’s with who, especially when the action switches rapidly back and forth between scenarios or sequences belong equally to both. It’s full of little connections and particular phrases repeated in different contexts, of the sort that elicit gasps of delight from me, in the theatre, so I hope these will have the same effect on others. I hope they’ll be surprised, at times. I hope they’ll identify with the characters and their relationships and think about choices they have made in their own lives and how they feel about them and where they have led. And I hope they’ll come out debating whether Matt or Nick was a better partner for Finola and expressing differing opinions on what each character should or shouldn’t have said and done, and what might happen next.

Alternate Slices is being staged at the Corpus Playroom from the 24th to 28th July, at 7.45pm. Tickets are available to buy here.