Sophie Woolley is a dynamic force of innovation. As both a writer and a performer, she excels at fashioning believably satiric portraits, which accurately reflect the tragic and often hilarious neuroses of modern society. After a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006, her acclaimed show When to Run is now touring the country. This darkly comic monologue focuses on the lives of four very different women and the varying levels of manipulation they suffer at the hands of the same man.
Since starting her career writing for the page in such consciously trendy magazines as Sleaze Nation and Shoreditch Twat, Woolley progressed to performing character monologues after discovering a talent for vocal variation. By working closely with director Gemma Fairlie, Woolley reconstructs her four distinct characters, by developing the body language of each individual. By focusing on the vocal divisions of the women, Woolley deftly switches between an urban teenage athlete, a bone-idle dog walker, a secretly miserable lifestyle coach and a narcissistic adrenalin junkie, whose lives collide with fatal consequences. Although Woolley originally saw performance as a means of gaining recognition for her writing, it quickly became a profession rather than merely a means of getting herself known. Woolley particularly enjoys the freedom of playing an adolescent because of the energetic confidence they exude, something she has reluctantly lost over the years. “Life knocks the stuffing out of us,” Woolley reflects, “so it is fun to play a teenager.”
Due to the prolonged nature of self-reflection afforded by the act of running, Woolley was inspired to use this medium as a basis for a dramatic monologue. Running is a time for self-reflection and the preservation of private secrecy. By using this often-punishing form of exercise as a metaphor for the need to re-establish control of the chaos in their lives, Woolley’s characters remain largely in the dark regarding their own feelings. “Although the women run every day they don’t see at first that he is the one they should be running a mile from. People can be dashing about in life and wake up a few years later and realise they got precisely nowhere.” Woolley’s vividly imagined characters highlight the darker thematic elements her writing encompasses. When to Run’s characters lives are entirely interwoven yet are representative of the different aspects of life that are promoted through competition.
The fact that Woolley has been progressively losing her hearing since the age of 18 has not affected her written work. Yet, by her admission, it is impossible to predict what might have been, “I can’t say how my writing will have been as I can’t hear well anymore.” However, the fact that Woolley is hard of hearing has certainly influenced the format of her live performances. She is adamant that the majority of her shows be captioned, as she feels that it adds a multi-sensory theatrical experience for the hearing as well as deaf audiences. Woolley admits to having sci-fi fantasies about the extents to which accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing audiences will reach. “Maybe one day more shows will be captioned. Maybe one day there will be a handheld device to caption everything that is said.”
As for the future, Woolley intends to continue to focus on the theatre, yet she does not intend to give up on her written work completely. She maintains that the primary focus of her work is the written composition, she believes in the “need to make the writing good or people are less likely to take any message.” Consequently, it is her skill with words, which take primary importance despite the at times prophetic impact of her social observances. Yet, regardless of whichever medium she chooses to use, Sophie Woolley will continue to inspire and stretch the expectations of her audience.