Finding my way back to writing: Interview with Katharina Hone

Tell me a little about the writing that you did before beginning Space Oddity.
Writing a play and then talking about writing a play are two very different things. So, this is slightly strange, even stranger than actually writing the play. But let me begin at the beginning: this is the first play I have written. It is also the longest piece of fiction I have written in a very long time. Somewhere around first grade I was sure that I would be a writer – that or an astronaut. And then time passed and I started to write academically, formally, scientifically. And somewhere around there, I got lost. Space Oddity might be the way back.

What is Space Oddity about and what do you think audiences will like about it?
It is 2024, Dr No is the first astronaut to return from a mission to Mars. Waiting for her first public appearance, she meets a theoretical physicist and an engineer. Both were involved in her mission but have now taken new identities, calling themselves Armstrong and Gagarin. The three debate the meaning of space exploration and scientific discoveries and discuss the future of humanity, while increasingly loosing the orbit around sanity. As time and space recede into the background and chaos and disorder increase, Dr No realises that you cannot “go where no one has gone before” and still keep circling the same old ideas of progress.

I am asking some very big questions in the play. What does it mean to go to Mars? Where do we go from here? Who benefits? Can we progress, keep exploring, and keep developing new technologies without confronting our own flawed nature?

Yet, my three protagonists also get incredibly drunk, spin in circles, choreograph their own planet dance, and have imaginary pets. They have fun together and they don’t take themselves too seriously. One of them asks, “Craziness aside? When crazy is all we have left?” They seek serious answers, but they understand that the answer might not come from being all too serious.

Despite the profound questions that are brought to the stage, I hope audiences also simply have fun with the characters and keep exploring with them and spinning with them.

How did the idea for Space Oddity begin and how was the idea developed?
When the first cosmonauts and astronauts reached orbit and saw Earth as the one small planet on which we all live, the idea emerged that now we would come together as a species. We would realise our own fragility and how ridiculous our conflicts are. Many believed that space exploration would contribute to greater self-understanding and to living together more harmoniously on one planet. It almost doesn’t need to be pointed out, but: this has not happened. Why?

In the play, I am putting three people together in a confined space and apply some pressure. The three are at the forefront of exploration and of stretching beyond the boundary of what seemed impossible before. They know that going to Mars is an incredible achievement, but they are also slightly desperate. They understand that if we continue like this as a species, it cannot end well. They seek meaning in all of it, they challenge the idea of progress, and they wonder where to go from here.

How has Playpen Get to the End helped you as a writer? Would you recommend Playpen to others and why?
For me, PlayPen was a bit like gravity: a constant providing certainty and holding me in place. I don’t think I could have done it without the programme. To have workshops with the other playwrights, to get guidance on the play, to have actors spend their time on reading the script, and then to see everything on stage has been indispensable. Upon returning from Mars, my main protagonist says, “I am still trying to find my bearings. At least gravity is holding me in place.” PlayPen had exactly this role for me. It held me in place.

PlayPen has taken you through from beginning to writing a draft – what things have changed from your original idea through to the draft being presented at the end of January?
I wanted to write about science and I wanted to write about space. I grew up on a weekly diet of Start Trek Next Generation. And, as I said, I wanted to be an astronaut in first grade – that or a writer. So, I already had a few ingredients in place. Conceptually, plays like Brecht’s Life of Galileo and Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists came to my mind first. They focus on the moral responsibility of scientists.  But this turned a lot more personal when I started exploring Dr No’s journey and the doubts she is facing despite having accomplished her childhood dream and being the personification of human ingenuity and technological progress. Her doubts and her journey towards finding an answer became the guiding post for the play.

What has been the most surprising thing about the journey as a writer, writing a play for theatre for the first time?
It’s magic. There are things that I am not in control of that somehow just emerge in the process or are brought in by the different people working to get this piece on stage. There are transformations and emergences that seemingly come out of nowhere. Suddenly things hang together and connections between different characters or different parts of the play appear. It is my play, but it is also something else and to see this emerge in the rehearsals and then on stage is simply magic.

Space Oddity is written by Katharina Hone, directed by James Baker and performed by Catrin Fflur Huws, Darren O’ Connell and Jason Philpot. It will be presented as a rehearsed reading at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Tuesday 23rd January 7.45PM

Tickets for Space Oddity are available through the box office 01970 623232 or  https://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/theatre/playpen-space-oddity

The final two PlayPen Get to the End projects will be presented as follows

13th February 7.45PM 2018 – Blinds written by Caroline Clark, Directed by Roger Boyle

13th March 7.45PM 2018 – Death Comes to St Michaels written by Tom O’Malley, Directed by Caroline Clark