Playwright and author K.B. Morris talks to Sue Whitehead about swiping left, writing and the changing London landscape
The path to true love is often an electronic one these days, with numerous mobile apps and websites available to help with the search for a soulmate. Where once there was a stigma, online dating is now more commonly regarded as a practical, modern tool for busy people.
Yet despite knowing all this, I find it awkward to ask playwright and author, K.B. Morris, whose new play is about the subject, whether she has personally dated online.
“Oh goodness yes.” she quickly responds when I finally ask. “I’ve been on some horrendous dates. The dates in the play are fictitious, but yes, I drew on those experiences”.
The play, O.L.D: Online Dating, explores how users in the ‘swipe left’ dynamic can feel overlooked, objectified and disposable. Each date the central character, 30-something Kate, goes on, is a metaphor for the bigger, darker aspects of living in London and the challenges this city can throw at us. If loneliness is a crowded room, size that up to London level and we can probably all recall feelings at some point of loneliness, isolation, impermanence and difficulty keeping up with how quickly our environments change.
The play’s character, Kate, turns to online dating after deciding to take control of her life and find a relationship. Each date ends in Kate returning home to her empty flat with only “Lexa”, her home computer system, to talk to and listen to her woes.
“The play is about what it’s like living in London” explains Morris “We’ve never been so connected before with social media, yet Kate feels disconnected and lonely.
“Kate is on the tramlines of life, at the start of the play. She feels she ought to be in a relationship but she’s approaching this without really knowing herself. She’s looking for other people to define her and that’s the play’s conclusion: you can’t live your life like that. It’s your life and you must live it, own it. Modern technology can connect us but where we’re getting it wrong is people are looking to it for answers it can’t give.”
Morris’s issue with online dating is with its crude yes/no approach to potential suitors. “There is this constant swipe left (if you don’t like the look of someone) on mobile phone dating apps. It doesn’t give people a chance. Where before you might meet someone (in person) and just sense something about them, some connection that would make you want to see them again and then things would go from there. We now have this ‘switch on’ mentality. We want it immediately – like a McDonald’s!’In one scene in the play, Kate the central character has a meltdown and pours her heart out to the woman she is on a date with. Her reaction? To get on her phone and start looking for the next date while the meltdown is in mid flow. “People have their own lives Kate” the date tells her “and they’re looking for others who can add to theirs in some way…”.
Morris began writing 20 years ago. In 1997 she joined a City Lit creative writing course and in the same year she was shortlisted for the London Short Writing Prize. Since then, Morris has written three novels and her fourth is doing the rounds with publishers and agents.
The play is something of a departure from Morris’s normal writing style. She describes her novels as ‘dark and intense,’ each taking years to write, while the play is lighter, often funny and all 10,000 words were written in one week.
“It just came out – I wrote night and day and didn’t go back to edit until I’d written the whole first draft. My friend read it and said it was like reading a completely different writer’s work compared with my novels.
“You should always write. I read an interview about an American playwright who started in community theatre and is now successful, who said you never know who or how what you’ve written will connect with someone on the night and that’s stuck with me ever since.”
“People are mistaken if they think they are going to be struck by the muse. You just have to keep at it. On my fourth novel I had the words ‘you can rewrite this’ written in the margin to remind me to just push on. We should be kinder to ourselves and just get on with setting down our ideas, knowing we can polish them up later.”
From her home in Bow where she writes, Morris has observed some of the themes explored in the play such as gentrification and high house prices. The result is, for many millennials – including the play’s character Kate – that owning property and putting down roots is often a dream, while high rents and temporary lets are the reality. “House prices have quadrupled in this street in 10 years and there are now Mercedes cars parked outside. With gentrification you can argue there is less crime and the environment is more pleasant but I have friends in west London and their whole street is the same – sterile and samey. The artists in this area have already been priced out and are leaving. You need to be in London for the creative hub, the network, to sell your work.”
Such a changing environment also posed a challenge for finding cheap rehearsal space for the play.
“School hall hire here has been contracted out to a private company and it’s £100 an hour. We need to hold 5-hour rehearsals. There’s no way I can find £500 a time.’ Thankfully a creative colleague put Morris on to a community space in Leytonstone which was within budget.
“I read in Time Out the other day about there being a pop-up theatre going around Tower Hamlets and other parts of London and just pitching up, rounding up an audience and performing on the spot. I love that idea.”
I ask if Morris knows where I might catch some pop-up theatre but she says she’s only read about it.
“Never mind, I’ll look online later….” I say, without thinking.
O.L.D: Online Dating will be showing as part of The Camden Fringe on Sat 25th and Sun 26th August at The Water Rats theatre. Tickets can be purchased on the Camden Fringe website:
The Water Rats
328 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, WC1X 8BZ