After seeing and loving Grotty (the theatre production currently running at The Bunker, Southwark) we were really keen to catch up with writer and actress Izzy Tennyson to learn a little bit more about her inspiration for Grotty, her career and what she’s up to next. And we were lucky enough to catch up with Izzy over coffee before she headed off to another Grotty performance (like what we did there?).
Read all about what inspired her to write Grotty, her love life, and advice on how to get in to acting and writing below.
Grotty is all about the Lesbian scene, do you still go to many lesbian nights out?
To be honest, I find them quite intense and intimidating. You need to rustle up quite a lot of confidence. I mean I have to go absolutely sloshed if I’m honest. You need to find your sub-culture within the wider lesbian thing and I find that hard which is what the play [Grotty] goes in to highlighting really – basement one Soho, basement two queer scene, basement three Dalston and having to navigate around and pinball between people. It’s quite scary and, more often than not, I tend to end up in the completely wrong place where I don’t fit in at all (laughs).
On that note, Grotty is a great description of the London lesbian scene and we found it really funny but accurate. You’ve mentioned it’s a semi-autobiography, how true is it?
Well Grotty is not quite risqué, but it definitely is quite blunt about the scene – it’s half true about my experiences. I didn’t want to write a “nice” play. I find that there’s such a good sense of humour in the community, a self-deprecating vibe. I don’t know if your straight friends ask you, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” but generally my answer is, “Lesbians are really hard work” at least. That’s where my inspiration started with Grotty as a play.
I came up with the idea about 3 years ago, it is a very fictionalised version of my experience on the lesbian scene and about people I’ve met. But it’s been done in Grotesques – I’m very inspired by work like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and American Psycho. With Grotty, I’ve fictionalised my experiences to make a version that’s more enjoyable as a theatre production.
The relationship scene in Grotty, how much of that was true – was it really that terrible?
I think the incestuous parts in Grotty are very true to my experience and the scene. It is a bit of a stereotype that we’re all dating each other but you meet a girl when you’re out and there’s always that fear that she’s slept with someone you have and when you find that out, what does that mean? I think we’ve all been there at some stage (laughs).
But that said it’s not our [lesbians] fault. For example, the play highlights that statistically there’s so little of us out there and personally I find that very scary.
Aside from painting a sadly accurate picture of the lesbian scene, what made you write Grotty?
There are a lot of plays and films out there that are about gay men or women, and they’re all very idealistic and romanticised. I’d watched Carol and Blue is the Warmest Colour and I wasn’t really relating to it. I do think Lesbians have a sense of humour and with Grotty there are some terrible jokes in it and all the women in it are problematic, including the character I play. She is disgusting, which is semi me to be honest, but I think that’s why I wanted to write it – it’s a play that we needed so we could laugh about the reality, instead looking at chocolate box relationships all the time. It’s my reality, I haven’t had the perfect chocolate box relationship and that annoyed me a little bit, which you can see in the play (laughs). I really wanted to love Carol and it had Cate Blanchett! I mean I should just love it but I didn’t relate. So Grotty is current, blunt but real and if you have a sense of humour then you’ll laugh along too at our misfortune. I laugh at myself in it a lot.
The thing about writing plays about millennials also is you don’t want it to be cringe, like for example the drug scenes in Grotty. So it was important to me to really show the truth behind it all but make it something we can all laugh at really.
Grotty ends very abruptly with Rigby (the main character) speaking with a girl, does Rigby get the girl in real life? Was that a real-life situation for you?
Well it’s sad really (laughs), I think most lesbians can relate to this – it’s based on those times you’re not in a gay bar but at another social event and you think you have a connection with a girl but you can’t tell if she’s gay or not. I mean figuring that one out is just a nightmare! (laughs) What’s said in Grotty also is that everyone’s dressing like lesbians now, it’s like the fashionable thing these days. We [lesbians] can’t own clothing, but it does make it difficult to know who is and who isn’t (laughs). My experience with the girl who inspired that particular scene in Grotty – I don’t think in that case there was a connection, sadly she has a boyfriend now (laughs). I might have romanticised that a bit more in the play (laughs).
You acting as Rigby throughout the whole play is super intense and energetic, do you just crash straight afterwards?
I’m a mess the next day, I have to eat a lot. It was fun to begin with but now it’s really draining. Basically I’m in my PJs until 3pm and then I get dressed and come to the play (laughs). It’s very consuming but really fun and I love the other actresses – they’re great to work with and a lot of fun too.
Did you help cast the actresses?
I worked with Hannah the director and Kitty the producer to cast. The piece is quite stylised and the characters are quite cartoony. We found all brilliant actors and I find them so funny, I find it hard not to corpse half way through.
What’s coming next for you?
It would be lovely to do more stuff with Grotty but we’re in the middle of the run, I’m not thinking that far ahead.
I’m writing another play at the moment about working class kids going to a posh university – it depicts the lad culture and what comes with that. It’s at a very early stage.
You have a lot under your belt, with Grotty and Brute, what’s your biggest achievement.
To be honest, I’m really proud of Grotty – there’s great theatre out there but I feel this is different and risky. I’m really pleased to be working with Damsel Productions too. Mainly I’m proud that so many lesbians like it.
If you’re not going out on the scene, where do you meet women?
Tinder is not my thing. I’m not very photogenic (laughs) so I generally avoid that. I’m quite work-driven so I’m so busy, not that I’ve given up on dating, but it’s not currently my focus to find a girlfriend. I mean, oh no, I was about to say something that will mean I’ll never get with women every again (laughs), I was about to say I like to play on my PS4 – so that’s been taking up my time (laughs). So instead of women – I’ve been gaming (laughs).
Haha, that’s ok – we love gaming also …
Haha, well some women like it but that was a secret so … (laughs)
For girls that want to get in to acting what advice would you give them?
I’m more of an actress that performs their own work, so what I’d say is if you have an idea just write it. I didn’t go to acting school; I took a stand-up course at Soho Theatre. To get my work noticed I condensed my monologues down and took them to poetry slams. Get people to see you. Exposure is the key thing – it’s important to network but try to show your work as well.
Roundhouse are really good and Soho Theatre so check those guys out. I was like a youth group whore (laughs) back in the day so definitely get yourself out there.
Where do you see yourself in the long run?
Lots of cats (laughs). No, I mean I like to write – so lots of writing. But being happy is an important thing so that’s my key goal.
Have you ever been rejected or failed career-wise?
Of course, you get rejected and knocked back, you get to final stages of a casting and then you’re just not right for it. If you want to be in this industry, failure is good because it tells you if you really want to do it and you have to take that. You have to get used to things going wrong – I’ve learnt a lot from failure. Everyone goes through a phase of “Do I want to do this?” but keep going if it’s really what you want. Learn from your failures.
I know you have to get going to get ready for the show but I’ll ask you one last question, who are your top 5 celebrity crushes?
(laughs) Let’s see – I have a bit of a talent crush on Cate Blanchett. I used to like Kristen Stewart but she sort of irritates me now so I don’t really fancy her anymore. I like Sue Perkins – she’s so funny. Who else is there… I like Mary Portas, I loved that Mary Queen of Shops programme – she’s so fashionable and chic. I’m trying to think of a film I’ve seen recently – I loved The End of the Fucking World, I loved the actress in that.
Grotty is playing in The Bunker Theatre, Southwark until 26th May 2018. Make sure you don’t miss it.