In Frankie Meredith’s powerful and comical one-woman play May Queen, set in Coventry on May Day 2022, sixteen-year-old Leigh has been chosen as Queen. When the festivities are disrupted, Leigh is forced to reflect on herself and her city’s past. We spoke to Meredith about her play, her inspirations and her relationship to Coventry.
Can you tell us about May Queen and the main themes explored in the show?
May Queen is the story of one feisty Coventry teenager, Leigh, and her rise to (and subsequent demise as) the city’s May Queen! It is a whirlwind journey into a young women’s comical but complicated world. It explores what it feels like growing up in this Midland city, your relationship to where you are from and the pressures and expectations there are on young women today.
What was your creative inspiration for writing the play in the first place?
The story very much came out of Coventry and my relationship to the city where I spent a lot of my teenage years. I wanted to explore how a young person identifies with where they are from and the experiences that shape that. Peppering the (hopefully) funny play are questionable moments of how Leigh is treated by the men in her life. There is a moment of trauma that ultimately sparks our May Queen’s downfall but we watch as Leigh pulls herself back up and out of despair and uses her past, and the women before her, to overcome this grief.
May Queen is set in Coventry. How did you find the experience of writing about a place where you spent time growing up?
I love writing about familiar things, whether they are people or places. It was a lot of fun to revisit places in Coventry that I hadn’t been to since I was 18, and remember what it felt like to be there at that age. It is a city that has gone through a tremendous amount of growth the last few years and I’m really proud of it. It’s so important to have stories from every part of the world and I’m glad I got to set one so rooted in Coventry.
What are the creative challenges when writing a play for a solo performer? And why did you decide that May Queen was best delivered as a monologue rather than through another dramatic form?
It actually started life as a play with a cast of 3 actors, and many characters which still exist in the play as it is today. I worked with director Balisha Karra and dramaturg Sarah Dickenson, who helped me through many drafts, but we ultimately decided that it was Leigh’s story we were telling, so it should come from her. It is unusual to get to see a story from the perspective of a young woman – teenage girls are often thought of as ‘silly’ or not taken seriously, but I think they are the most powerful and exciting people out there, so I wanted to give them a voice. We play a lot with her storytelling and the way in which women tell stories, not necessarily in the traditional narrative structure. I hope it is fun to read as well as seeing it performed.
What advice would you have for companies looking to stage the show?
Originally commissioned and written for the Paines Plough Roundabout, I very much had that circular space in my head as I was writing it. It really lends itself to being in the round, or if not the round just being very close up to the audience. We are re-staging it in Coventry at the Belgrade in a few weeks. The B2 studio space has been turned into the ‘round’ for the first time which is really exciting.
What is it that motivates you as a playwright?
Putting voices on stage that you may not otherwise get to hear. My recent plays have included stories about teenage girls, the first female parish council, a gay couple trying for a baby, and at the minute I’m writing a play about a mythical creature from a lake – so really giving a voice to one that wouldn’t get heard otherwise.
For more information about buying the script of May Queen, visit Concord Theatricals UK.