playwright protege polly stenham is growing older and giving less fucks

From dressing up to paying her taxes, the British playwright offers her notes on being a woman.

by Tish Weinstock
20 February 2018, 3:21pm

Photography Laura Pannack

Am I doing this woman thing right? Do you do this woman thing the same as me? Does it matter? Existential lady crisis -- we all have it. Notes on Being a Woman is an ongoing series that examines the many myths and meanings of what being a woman is all about.

Polly Stenham has always had a way with words, something her secondary school English teacher noted when marking one of her short stories. “You must write,” she put at the top of the page. And she did just that, penning her first play, That Face, at the tender age of 19. It debuted at the Royal Court, transferred to the West End, and was largely praised as an exceptional piece of writing; an excruciatingly honest and bitingly funny portrait of a highly dysfunctional family. Since then, the 30-year-old playwright has penned three more plays -- Tusk Tusk, No Quarter and Hotel -- all of which centre around the painful intricacies of family politics. In 2016, she was tapped by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, to co-write his hi-vis horror flick, The Neon Demon, about a rampant bunch of blood-thirsty models. Currently under commission for new work at the Almeida and National Theatre, as well as co-curating last night’s CHOOSE LOVE -- an evening filled with poetry read by stars of the stage and screen to raise funds for Help Refugees -- we sat down with Polly to discuss the highs and lows of being a woman.

The best thing about being a woman is the variation of clothing. Not that that is limited to being a woman. All the make-up and the clothes, I just find that side of things really fun. You have more tools to transform, I mean that’s really gender-normative because obviously boys can do that to, but I suppose you’re more exposed to it culturally as a woman. I enjoy the costume side of it.

The hardest part of being a woman is the cultural pressure.

The best advice I’ve ever received about human bodies is that no-one gets away with it entirely, you’ll always have to pay the bill in some way.

When I was 16 I had the totally wrong idea about time. I think I wanted time to go quicker, now I realised that was silly.

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride is the best film about female sexuality I’ve ever seen.

The most unexpected thing I’ve discovered about being a woman is that we’re powerful.

Love feels like excitement and home at the same time.

I’m happiest when I’m writing and when it’s going well.

The women I admire most are the trailblazing female directors in my industry like Josie Rourke and Vicky Featherstone, I admire powerful women who are a bit older than me.

The best thing about getting older is giving less of a fuck.

The biggest lie about getting older is that you know more.

I feel like a grown-up most when I’m doing my taxes.

Alma Har’el asks: who made you feel like you could do something you love and who made you feel like you couldn’t? My English teacher when I was 13 really made me feel like I could do writing. She wrote on the top of a short story of mine: “you must write.” it was lovely, I’ll never forget that. As for someone who made me like I couldn’t do something, you know what? No-one.

My question for the next woman doing this column would be: If you could be a boy, would you?

polly stenham