by Sophie Ellerby
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Cast: 11f 9m
A funny, dark and thrilling play about family connections and the fallout from violence.
Three sisters fight to keep track of reality as their whole world is shot to pieces.
Dad’s getting released from prison tomorrow and the air smells like a proper British summer. Tia’s turned 16, smashing her GCSEs and gearing up for prom. Rochelle treats her little sister to a new dress from Westfield that even Jaz says she looks beautiful in – and Jaz wouldn’t lie.
Music blares in the backyard and the sisters smile together for the first time in a while. This could be the best summer they’ve ever had…
THREE was first performed at the Arcola Theatre, London, in a production by National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up Company.
Content guidance: This play contains strong language, references to sexual activity and violence, and onstage portrayals of drug and alcohol abuse.
About the author
Sophie Ellerby is currently the Writer-in-Residence at Pentabus Theatre Company. She studied Drama at the University of Manchester and trained as an actor at the Nottingham Television Workshop and National Youth Theatre REP Company. She was awarded a place on HighTide’s First Commission scheme in 2016 where she wrote her debut play Lit. Other work includes THREE, performed at the Arcola theatre in 2017, and Function, performed at The Criterion Theatre in September 2018. Sophie’s work aims to tackle provocative societal questions in an accessible, entertaining, human way.
Interview with Sophie Ellerby
THREE is about how hard it is to keep a family together when a traumatic event has torn them apart. What drew you to this subject?
THREE was developed with the National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up group, which is a brilliant part-time acting course for 16- to 25-year-olds. I had the joy of working with a bunch of twenty young people who were all super-switched on, full of opinions and ideas, and mega talented actors. Together we explored lots of different themes and subject matters that they were passionate about. Each of them inspired me in terms of the creation of the story and the characters.
A lot of massive things were happening at the time; it was the lead up to the general election, the infamous Brexit referendum campaign had happened the previous year, and there'd been a number of terror attacks in London and across the UK. Divisions throughout Britain were starting to boil to the surface and a lot of our discussions revolved around nationalism, pride, and inherited trauma.
I wanted to really challenge the audience to look at a tragedy from a new perspective. The play is sparked by a fictional traumatic event that ordinarily we might just read about on the front page of a newspaper, but we decided to look at this event through the lens of the family who are experiencing it right at the epicentre.
The play is a big family drama. How did you give importance to each storyline and character?
The play begins in a backyard at a barbecue celebrating someone’s birthday, it’s here we meet the family. I’m from a massive family, lots of loud, lovable characters (and lots of booze). I find families interesting because there can be a huge range of characters, each with their own unique perspective on the world, so it felt like a great premise to explore the divisions apparent in society through the lens of a tight-knit community who have to learn to survive with one another.
THREE is ultimately about three sisters, I’m also one of three sisters and we are all totally (wonderfully) different to each other. For the sisters in THREE, I loved getting to know Rochelle, Tia and Jaz, and exploring their differences whilst also discovering the things that unite them. Trauma, unfortunately, is a massive thing that can unite family members. The heart of the story for me is the journey of three women discovering their place in a world that is full of so much violence and suspicion.
Behind the three sisters are the different worlds they come from: Rochelle’s work colleagues, Jaz’s wild uni friends, and Tia’s school mates. The Playing Up cast members did some fantastic character development. It was a joy to go away and bring the characters they’d help create to life. Half the work felt done! The characters were so full of energy that the words would splurge easily onto the page.
There is a lot of discussion of contemporary politics and current events in the play. How did you find writing such a timely and contemporary piece?
When I began writing THREE I wasn't aware how relevant it would be once the performance dates arrived. The summer of 2017 felt like a precarious time. It filled me with mixed emotions thinking how the play would be received when the effects of recent terror attacks were still so raw. For the lucky ones not directly affected, we watched detached on our TV screens or our iPhones locked into the constant stream of news, trying to comprehend the situation unfolding before our very eyes. I always feel like humans over-simplify because it makes us feel like we have some inch of control over something seemingly uncontrollable. To reduce it to us and them, good and bad, black and white, it got me thinking: what happens to the grey areas in between...? What happens to the people caught in the crossfire from both sides?
I ultimately wrote the play as a challenge to myself, and the audience, to test humanity's most invaluable trait: empathy.
Do you have any advice for actors performing the play, or for directors staging it?
This story is exploring a perspective that (hopefully) none of us will experience in our life time. It should be treated with respect and humanity. And most importantly, please remember to have fun! The audience should feel invited to the barbecue, they should feel welcomed into the space, they should feel a part of the family. THREE was born from the powerful energy of youth, I hope people feel that when they read it, and they should definitely bloody feel it when they watch it. So I challenge any director to keep that energy alive. And I ask the actors to be kind to one another. Cos that’s just a good thing to be, generally.