Interview with Afsaneh Gray

The Border, a play which questions the meaning of borders and the lines we draw between ourselves and other people, embarks on a nationwide tour later this week. I caught up with writer Afsaneh Gray to find out more. 

How did you first get into writing?
I always wanted to be a writer, so of course I studied medicine at university! One day I was waiting for a friend in a café, and he was late. I didn’t have a book with me, so I started writing some dialogue down on a scrap of paper. That turned into a play. It was pretty crap, but the Soho Theatre saw enough that was good in it to offer me a place on their Young Writers’ Group (I was the oldest writer there). I didn’t really look back, to be honest. Not that it was a fairy tale or anything – it’s been a long road to where I’m at now, and I’m only just beginning to earn most of my income from writing. But there’s nothing like doing something you hate for six years to give you resilience… I mean, I hate hospitals! Every time I sit down to write, I’m just so thankful.

Can you tell me a little bit about The Border?
It’s a story about a girl who lives in a border town. The border’s been open for as long as she can remember, but one day the mayor closes it without warning and her dog gets stuck on the other side. In order to find her dog, she has to engage with politics – and finds this absurd and confusing world of grown-ups shouting at each other, never listening, talking in soundbites…

What prompted you to write the play?
It’s difficult for me to imagine coming of age in today’s world. I grew up in the 90s when there was this smug centrist consensus and it wasn’t cool to be political. Young people today don’t really have a choice, because the decisions politicians are making are affecting their futures in very concrete ways. But at the same time, political discourse is so polarized, so mendacious… It’s confusing. I wanted to capture that somehow, and it seemed like a really simple story about a girl who loses her dog was the way to go.

What can audiences expect?
Songs, talking dogs, a live ‘InstaTwit’ feed, food wars, a break-out debate… You know, the usual.

What inspires you as a writer?
Anything that confuses me. Anything I don’t understand. I want to drill down into it, try and figure it out.

Can you describe The Border in three words?
Offbeat, political, fun

What would you like the play to achieve?
Predominantly the play is for young audiences, although I hope all ages can get something out of it. Ideally I want young people to go away galvanized, ready to fight for what they believe in but also to listen to each other with kindness and grace. I’m frightened by how divided it feels like we’ve become. I don’t even think it’s true – I don’t think we’re half as divided as we’re told we are – but these things have a nasty habit of being self-fulfilling prophesies. Really, The Border is a plea for complexity and nuance and listening to each other in a time when so much feels like it’s being collapsed into nasty little soundbites.

The Border will be touring the UK from Thursday 12 September to Wednesday 6 November.

Photo credit: Rosemary Rance

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