"This isn’t just a play about illness. Instead, it provides the backdrop, which gives the characters in the play time constraints on their conversations"Poster by Emma Gibson with permission for Varsity

Content Note: mention of illness

When asked to summarise what the main theme of Now and Then is, Phoebe Pickering, the writer, says “identity”. She continues: “This isn’t just a play about illness. Instead, it provides the backdrop, which gives the characters in the play time constraints on their conversations. They both, know that there is an urgency to say what they are thinking, and to attempt to confront the issues which are troubling them, because tomorrow everything could change.”

Now and Then is set all in the evening and morning before Eva Murray has to leave her house for a significant hospital appointment. In order to pass the time before the appointment, she invites over Adam Keenan with whom she has an ambiguous relationship. Time is almost like another character of its own on stage; a consistent presence, and spoken of frequently. Phoebe comments: “there is a daunting span of time ahead of the woman, and the question of what will happen to her is always hanging in the air.”

“When we don’t know how things will end for a character, we are faced with having to work out what their story means”

Despite the centrality of this question, however, the audience never gets an answer to it. When asked about this, Phoebe says “it was important to me that everything the audience sees of her should be before that moment arrives. Also, when we don’t know how things will end for a character, we are faced with having to work out what their story means; this is one of the key points of discussion in the play: whether there is any way for them to escape being defined by the uncontrollable circumstances and events of their lives.”

Yet despite the seriousness of some of the themes, there are many moments of lightness and comedy. Phoebe says: “an interesting dimension which I wanted to highlight in the play is that both characters are grappling with questions of identity, to a large extent, simply by virtue of being the ages that they are.” She also adds that “there is a lot of comedy that can be derived from yuppie culture, for instance, because whilst people in their early twenties are often grappling with important topics like how to navigate serious romantic relationships, and how to start their careers, these insecurities often make themselves apparent in seemingly superficial ways: grandiose ambitions and flights of fancy, keen brand loyalties, and gossip about minor details of acquaintances lives.”

“The highs and lows of the story are expertly balanced”

Director Emma Gibson and Assistant Director Louis Flood also comment on the variety of moods that the show shifts through. Emma says: “it has such natural slips from extremely comic to extremely tragic moments,” and Louis: “the highs and lows of the story are expertly balanced — moments of laughter descend into periods of sadness and emotion so fluidly. This is of course helped by the fact the writing is so naturalistic — it really feels like you are witnessing the events of someone’s life.”

On the issues which the characters display, Phoebe comments: “I wanted the darker sides of both of their personalities to be revealed: their unfounded prejudices, their flaws and limitations. Anger is an important emotion in the show. There are many vitriolic, uncensored rants, and moments of frustration that bubble over between the two main characters. A question that I wanted to explore was what sort of reaction might be perceived as justified in response to difficult life circumstances and events. My hope is that I humanised the woman character, as an ill person, even if we do not like everything about her.”


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Emma speaks on the unique space that the play occupies in the Cambridge theatre scene: “Now and Then discusses themes which we don’t see enough in Cambridge theatre. It speaks on very underrepresented themes like illness, and does so in such a considered yet honest way. It’s touching, and one of those shows that the more time you spend with it, the more depth you realise it has. I am very excited and privileged to be bringing such an important bit of writing to the Corpus stage.”

When asked what her favourite moments are Emma says: “the ending — not to give any spoilers — is absolutely stunning,” but also adds “I don’t think it’s a secret to the cast or crew that I love the infamous ‘pear moment’”. However, there is one thing that Emma emphasises: “I’ve found a lot of catharsis after every rehearsal. Yes, the show deals with some very heavy topics, but I’ve found that discussing them theatrically has been really helpful. I hope that audiences will find in it the same relief.”

Now and Then is on at the Corpus Playroom for one night on Monday 13th June at 9:30pm