In the historical backdrop of Moscow, post the 2018 World Cup, a ‘striking’ play, ‘A Woman Walks Into A Bank,’ is set to open at Theatre503 on November 21st. Written by the award-winning Roxy Cook, the play offers a unique perspective on Russia, a country often making headlines for the wrong reasons. Ahead of the play’s opening, we had the opportunity to chat with the playwright, delving into the inspiration behind the production, her approach to humour, and the play’s deeper elements. Roxy Cook offers her lens through which we can explore the thought-provoking themes and dynamic storytelling that have garnered this play international recognition.
Hi Roxy, now obviously, Russia is often in the news at present, but for all the wrong reasons. What does ‘ A Woman Walks Into A Bank’ add to the (Western) conversation?
In the first instance, it’s set at a time (August 2018, just after the World Cup) where the West had decided Russia was “acceptable” again – and so there’s a conversation there to be had about our own role in where we’ve got to today. The UK and in particular, London, has a lot to answer for when it comes to supporting Russian oligarchs and officials.
And then it’s really about trying to see the world through ordinary, working class Russians’ eyes. In terms of adding to the Western conversation, this isn’t even a conversation we’re having. It’s either the pro-Putin, pro-invasion of Ukraine lunatics writing Z on their car… or the brave protestors risking their lives to stand up against the Kremlin. But what about everyone else? Why does the average Russian feel like they can’t change anything? Why are they too tired to care?
By getting under the skin of these characters, I hope to show UK audiences a side of Russia they’ve not seen before – one that is deeply complex and contradictory… but also full of humour and empathy, just like our own.
What inspired the writing of the play in the first instance?
Longer term, I had wanted to write about Russia for a while. I felt that UK audiences were only getting one part of the Russian story. And while big, bad, sexy narratives about oligarchs, politicians are spies are a good basis for drama, and most of the time true, I felt like a conversation about the ordinary Russian on the street wasn’t being had.
Shorter term, something happened to my grandmother that felt like it provided an effective route in. She walked into the bank opposite her apartment one day, confused, and was conned into taking out a high interest loan. Loan led to loan sharks, loan sharks led to death threats. Death threats led to her not being able to live independently and ultimately moving to a nursing home – which is rare in Russia.
I realised that by using her story as a starting point, and then imagining the lives of the bank manager who conned her and the debt collector who harassed her, I could have a bigger conversation about modern Russian society as I saw it.
I was also excited about using very “Russian” forms of storytelling to discuss narrative in Russia bigger picture. So while some of the themes are heavy, it’s all packaged in a whirlwind modern Russian fairytale with plenty of dark humour, a dash of absurdity… and a talking cat.
Was humour always central to the play’s creation?
Yes! I don’t like art (or people) that take themselves too seriously, and I think humour is the best way to talk about difficult things. Putting a dark comic twist on things is also very Russian. However terrible, you have to laugh at the situation.
How do you approach script creation for a cat?
You just have to look down your nose at absolutely everyone around you. If they’re not at your beck and call, then they’re not doing their job.
If you’ll humour me…if you were to describe ‘A Woman Walks Into A Bank’ using a haiku, how would it go?
Drink cognac and ask, are we
Villains or heroes?
Show Dates – A Woman Walks Into A Bank (correct at time of publication)
- Tuesday 21 & 28 November, 19:30 – Sold Out
- Wednesday 22 November, 19:30 – Sold Out
- Thursday 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30 November, 19:30 – Book Now
- Friday 1 December, 19:30 – Book Now
- Saturday 2 December, 14:30 & 19:30 – Book Now
- Wednesday 6 December, 12:00 & 19:30 – Book Now
- Thursday 7, Friday 8, Saturday 9 December, Various Times – Book Now
- 21 November, 7:30pm – WRITERS NIGHT: Discounted tickets for writers.
- 29 November, 7:30pm & 2 December, 2:30pm – PAY WHAT YOU CHOOSE: Tickets starting from £5.
- 6 December, 12pm – PARENT & BABY: An opportunity for parents and guardians to enjoy the show. Other audience members are also welcome to book for this performance.