“Raw, honest and hilariously vulgar” – that was how The Plumbing, Franki Le-Voguer’s very first play, was described. It was a 70-minute two-act play (just short enough to stop your bum going numb in your seat) following the lives of bold, unapologetic Vera and the nervous yet curious Will. Both acts dealt with different subject matters – Vera’s act delves into female perspectives of sex and consent, whereas Will tries desperately to figure out his sexuality after a life of failed porn-watching, when he encounters transgender Lucifer. Along with these main storylines, Le-Voguer litters her script with frank discussions of all things deeply integrated into our everyday consciousness yet seldom spoken about and – quite literally – thrusts them into the spotlight. In The Plumbing, the writer was unafraid to confront issues such as the ‘blurred lines’ between rape and being pushy, or the way we are all forced to label ourselves and our sexuality, and even how our sex education system – or lack of it – has fundamentally failed us. Have you ever started one act laughing at two teenagers awkwardly trying to re-create a scene from ‘Deep Throat’ to the tune of ‘The Bad Touch’ by The Bloodhound gang, only to finish the act with a heartfelt speech about desperately seeking passion and affection without the attachment that comes with it? That’s the kind of rollercoaster The Plumbing takes you on.
At just 20 years old, Le-Voguer (originally from Doncaster) began writing after becoming increasingly disappointed by her university course and needed to “find something to inspire me before I left education for good.” She explains: “I’ve always wanted to act. Writing scripts never really crossed my mind until I was let down by my university and I thought ‘Well, I’m not getting the training I need to do what I want to do, so let’s look at doing something different.’ One night, fueled on coffee and determination, The Plumbing emerged from one single scene that had been sat on my laptop for years. So, you know, I’m not too beat up about that £9000 a year.” With her morbidly positive humour intact, it turns out everything really does have a silver lining, as Le-Voguer is starting her career with a very large foot in the door.
The emerging playwright is showing that she is not just a one-trick pony. Her new play, Bye, set to feature at this year’s Queertet festival in Liverpool, focuses on yet another tender issue of the heart: falling in love at the worst of times. Natalie and Jennifer have been best friends for years and have continuously missed each other’s boats when it came to developing feelings for one another. The play opens on Natalie’s wedding day – to her male fiancé – expressing her love to a now uninterested and unimpressed Jennifer. The play continues to expose some of their lies and secrets, and Jennifer takes the lead on explaining her frustration about being in love with someone you’ll never have and hating them for it. The writer explains: “This half-hour slot is just a snapshot of these girl’s lives. I always intended to extend the play into something deeper, to really show how this friendship has had its ups and downs over the years. Natalie also has a huge issue with accepting her bisexuality – hence the double meaning of the play’s title – feeling like she is being forced to ‘choose a side.’ This is an issue that I know resonates deeply with the bisexual community – I regularly hear stories of people being told that they’re just ‘greedy’ or that they aren’t ‘dedicated’ enough – you’d be surprised at just how much prejudice exists in the LGBT community itself. This is something I really wanted to highlight and give bisexual people something to relate to, as most of the literature in the LGBT mainstream is focused on the L and the G only – although that is not to say they are any less important. Jennifer herself is definitely gay, and her side is told in feeling like Natalie is just experimenting with her. I like to do that with my plays – I let the characters argue it out between themselves and it creates a great dialogue to have after the lights have gone down. Yes, even in something as light and seemingly harmless as this lipstick-lesbian rom-com, here I go again, trying to make a point.”
Le-Voguer is honoured and genuinely flattered to have been chosen as part of the annual Queertet festival – described as the ‘jewel in Grin Theatre’s rainbow crown’ – telling us how it was all she could have hoped for and more this summer.
“I was told that somewhere near 50 scripts had been sent in and when the artistic manager let me know that my play had been chosen…I was ecstatic. I cannot thank them enough. It gave me a real boost of confidence in my work, more than anything. I knew that The Plumbing had been good (from other’s reactions, of course) but I was scared that I’d never be able to write something worth putting on again. You have to understand that the way I write…when I’m most creative and honest…is when most of us are feeling raw– at 3am when sleep won’t come because you’ve had too many energy drinks – I start to write. And I look like a mess in the morning, so I don’t feel as though what I’ve written will be any good. But when I slap down a new script for my housemates to look over or message them a paragraph for them to judge before I think about sending it off anywhere, what is on the page is usually the start of something brilliant.”
The success comes as a breath of fresh air to an industry deprived of female playwrights – just 17% of all productions are written or directed by women and some sources claim that it is even less. Le-Voguer is passionate about becoming a powerhouse within her own right. She explains how even if she is expected to tone down her bad language and rude euphemisms, she is unapologetic for it and explains her standpoint:
“I’m a female writer, yes, but first and foremost I am a writer. If equality is to be established, gender must not influence my success in any way, whether it be my own or other’s. I want my plays to make people laugh but I also want them to be a punch to the stomach – an eye-opening ‘oh s***’ moment. As a new writer I have to find a balance between securing a real voice and doing what needs to be done to get me started – I’ve accepted that I need to tone down my vulgarity for certain projects that require a bit of class and that is something I don’t mind doing. But with The Plumbing, especially, it really is all about sex – how we perceive sex, our expectations of it, our horror stories and our lies we use to comfort ourselves. Our sex education system fails us so we turn to porn – ugly, dehumanizing, vulgar porn. So, not only does the language I use reflect that, but it reflects the language of the audience I’m trying to reach. I’m told – don’t use swear words unless you want to make an impact – well f*** that. Where I grew up, swearwords are part of your passion, part of your identity – maybe it’s psychological – if you didn’t swear at the schools I went to, you got bullied. Obviously it doesn’t apply to everyone, but the people I’ve grown up with are the people I write for. We’re already de-sensitized to it, so trying to make an impact with swear words doesn’t work. I might as well use them in my writing how they’re used in real life. I actually found it made it more relatable for my audience – when I asked other people the response I got was ‘Well, that’s how we talk, in the comfort of our own homes.’ Other projects I’m working on deal with equally ugly issues – things we don’t tend to think about but are very much there – and I think it’s important to show how these underlying problems have crept into our society and are damaging our generation right now through the language. I think my stubbornness says that if your problem is with my profanity and not with the fact that I’m showing boys treating girls like pieces of meat on stage because that’s all he knows – then I truly believe your priorities might be a little off.”
Bye will premiere on the 22nd, 23rd, & 24th July 2015 along with 3 other short plays by new LGBT writers as part of the Queertet 2015, by Grin Theatre Productions. Tickets are £12/£10 by booking through the Unity Theatre website, Liverpool. You can contact Franki and follow her updates by heading to her Facebook page – Franki Le-Voguer.