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Philippa Lawford - Cold Water Interview

Tightrope Theatre are delighted to present Cold Water, an insightful new production coming to Park Theatre this May. Interweaving extracts from Chekhov’s The Seagull, this intimate and honest production focuses on longing, regret, and the cocktail of fear and overconfidence when first graduating and stepping out into the real world.

Cold Water is a funny and moving new play about wanting things so much you can’t do anything about them. Following the intimate friendship of Emma, who dreams of being an actor and has recently moved back in with her parents and Matt, who previously worked in the creative industries and is now a full-time teacher, this gripping new play explores themes of ambition and what really drives us.

Playing the role of Matt will be seasoned stage actor, Jolyon Coy (I Joan, The Globe; Peaky Blinders, BBC) alongside Julia Pilkington (Cowboys & Lesbians, Park Theatre; Move Fast and Break Things, Summerhall) as Emma.

Since starting her new job as a teaching assistant in the Drama department of her old secondary school, Emma finds herself slowly starting to spend more and more time in the studio with Matt, her boss. Matt is teetering on the edge of having a baby and becoming a serious grown-up. He decides to teach her everything he knows, and Emma feels her life starting to change.

Cold Water is presented as part of Make Mine a Double, an exciting new programme presenting double bills of shows that aims to give theatre makers a lower-cost and lower-risk way of producing new work in the Finsbury Park venue, as well as offering multi-buy tickets to encourage local audiences to see compelling new work. Cold Water will play alongside Sniff (14th May – 24th May), in which two strangers meet in a pub toilet in a small town that no one cares about. Liam, struggling with addiction and money troubles, and Alex, cloaked in a Hugo Boss suit and the pride of a job in Canary Wharf. However, as the door locks, and time clocks, a dark connection begins to unearth itself.

Ahead of the run we caught up with writer and director Philippa Lawford to learn more. 

Where did your arts career begin?
I was lucky that I worked out I wanted to be a director when I was at school, so I feel like I have always been doing this in some way or other. I set up Tightrope with a friend as an unofficial company while I was at university, and it has gradually grown up in the years after I graduated.  I only started writing during the pandemic as I couldn’t see a way to practise directing. 

Philippa Lawford. Photo by Jake Bush

Were there any people or performances that has a big impact on you?
When I was a teenager I was very obsessed with Peter Brook, and it was his book, The Empty Space, which first made me really excited about directing. I wrote him a letter when I was fourteen and he wrote back to me: during my time at school and university I would occasionally have tea with him or be invited to watch him leading a workshop. These were really invaluable experiences, both for the enormous amount that I learned and also for his generosity and encouragement at that time. 

Where did the inspiration for Cold Water come from?
Cold Water is set in Harpenden, which is where I grew up. I was frustrated living there as I wanted to be in London and I was afraid of missing out on an interesting life. Cold Water is a story about longing and regret: it specifically focuses on the period of life right after university, when you don’t yet know 
what it means to be an adult. 

What can you tell me about the story?
Emma is a recent graduate who has come back to her old school to work as a teaching assistant, and Matt is the head of Drama. Cold Water is about Emma’s first step off the deep end into the real world - and it’s also about falling in love with your boss. 

Photo by Jake Bush

How did you approach the writing and development process for this piece?
Cold Water began as a radio play which I wrote on John Burgess’ playwriting course. It had far too many characters and didn’t really work, but a year later I returned to it as I’d worked out the central part of the story which interested me. This new script was really straightforward to write as I’d worked it out in my head over that year, so it was the most painless experience I’ve had of writing a play. 

How would you describe your writing style for anyone who isn’t familiar to your work?
I like to focus on close ups of relationships, so Cold Water is quite a zoomed in portrait of two people. I know I will be directing the actors so I write plays I want to direct: I focus a lot on rhythm and silences, and the atmosphere created by the detail of the room. The dialogue is as natural as I can make it. 

You also direct the production, does this give you more creative freedom than if you were handing it over to a different director?
I love directing my own work because it feels like the final piece of the puzzle - when I am writing I am planning how I’m going to direct it. It’s a privilege to work with such talented actors and be able to collaborate with them on decisions about timing and character. Rehearsals are such an exciting part of the process to look forward to, as I get to work with lots of people who have brilliant ideas, and it’s not just me by myself staring at my computer. 

The play is part of the Make Mine A Double initiative, how vital are such initiatives in allowing for new work to be staged?
The Make Mine A Double initiative is the reason we were able to take this slot, as it works well for us and the Park financially. I always work with Izzy Parriss who is my producer/ associate director, without whom I would find all of this very difficult. It’s a tough climate at the moment for emerging artists, especially in terms of accessing funding and support from venues. The relationship we have built with the Park over the last year has felt like such a gift and I’m very happy to be working with them on Cold Water.

What keeps you inspired?
I am inspired by all of my friends who are brilliant writers, directors and actors, and by the work I see every week in London which is fresh and challenging. Despite funding cuts, there still seems to be so many great plays made every year, and I take inspiration from that. 

Photo by Jake Bush

What do you hope someone takes away from seeing Cold Water?
Cold Water is an expression of the kind of theatre I like to make: I hope it is detailed, believable, funny and moving. So if the audience laughs, and if they care about the characters, then I’m happy. 

Where can people see the show and follow your career beyond?
Cold Water runs at the Park Theatre from 14 May- 1 June. My company, Tightrope Theatre, is online at , on X at @Tightrope_T and on Instagram at

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