Sitting. barefoot. on the floor in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Amy Hardie looks at once at ease and at odds with the dignified surroundings. The rather soberly ornate conference room here is the venue for the Traverse Theatre Company‘s rehearsals ofher new play. and it's entertaining to imagine what the pharmaceutical luminaries on the wall might be making ofthe recreation of the Sudan desert going on beneath their noses. Amy Hardie though is brimming with infectious delight at seeing the characters she created finally stand up and walk about.
Noah '5 Wife. a retelling of the Flood Story. is Ilardie's second play. Her first was I’recarious Living. a witty. intelligent play telling the story of(‘hristian Watt. an independent-minded fisherwoman gradually driven into herselfby the hardship ofher life in nineteenth-century North East Scotland. It was during the writing of Preearious Living. however. that the idea for Noah '5 Wife took root:
‘Because I was very interested in (‘hristian Watt and the way she could quote huge chunks of Old Testament I was reading the Flood Story. And that kind of set me thinking about moving about inside those six or seven little chapters ofthe Old Testament. and imagining in great detail what it would be like.’
Though told in such brevity. the Flood Story must be one of the best-known and most powerful stories in history. one that re-emerges in legends throughout the world — probably because of an actual ﬂood and the urge to explain it.‘You can look down into the earth and recognise. geologically. that there was a flood about three million years before Christ] says Amy.‘I take it on board that it happened. But what does that really mean‘.’ What was it Iike'."
Her own exploration of the idea was partly initiated by her interest in the symbolic use of the legend in The Bible— ‘I think the Flood Story is told to make real the notion of(}od‘. It was not until she began travelling in Sudan recently. though. that the idea began to vividly take shape. suggesting life might be like inside the ark — a sort ofbunker-like sanctuary. in The Bible. from the obliteration visited violently on a corrupt world by an authoritarian deity.
‘I was in the territory being disputed between the Northern army — the national. Muslim army — and the Southern. (‘hristian army. It was one of the famine areas. so I was in a place that was incredibly dry and people were suffering from the effects of famine. The immediate picture you get of the famine is grossly simplified — I find it quite offensive to those people. It presents people as victims ofthe famine. just standing there not really doing anything. ()fcourse it’s not like that. Life is going on. people are doing different things all the time — they're adapting. changing. above all moving about the country.
‘So I set the play in a drought and in
a war— The Bible says there had been a war — and in Sudan. In Sudan there‘s a sort of a man called a Kojur. who‘s either a dealer. or a magician. or a con-man. Such a man comes into the village in the play. and nobody knows if the powers he has are tricks or from God. But he says he can bring them rain. And he does. And ofcourse it's the beginning ofthe Flood.‘
'I‘wenty-eight and currently a student at the National Film School. Ilardie was in Sudan making documentary films. Her experience ofthe nature ofreligious war. of extremity and survival. and her fascination for the beautiful. complex country and its people could not be fully contained in her fi_lmwork. however. She began to mold her experiences into the play. which explores the evolving
relationships ofcharacters in the ark.
‘There would be people I would be talking to and I had to write down what they said. because I was so interested in it — and I couldn‘t film it because they were incidental people I met along the way. They were bringing up things that were completely related to this idea I was carrying with me. And the whole way that religion was being used in this war between North and South fed very vividly into it.‘ Her feelings clearly run high about the limited representation ofa people whose problems she has seen at close
hand but whose ways of life she has frequently found to be richer and based on better values than our own. She lived on flour and water herself for several weeks. yet returning to Britain she was struck by the impoverished quality of life here.
‘I came back and I thought — imagine having to live here. Their houses are really beautiful places to be. They‘re handbuilt out of mud. and if you want to live with your friends you go and live with your friends. Socially everything is designed around ease of interaction. So I came back and I just thought — this is terrible. Iiven more than before I noticed the incredible problems of isolation that there are in this country. This thing about the individual and independence and individual achievement. which makes people feel very isolated from other people. And there‘s no sense of your peers being supportive in a way that is completely built in.‘
Noah 's Wife she describes as a‘shared play‘ with no one central character. Noah‘s wife herself »— who has no say in the male-dominated Old Testament story —— is something of a voice ol‘sceptieism. a mapmaker and one who questions Noah's credulity.‘lf you like. she‘s the sort ofscientific principle of the play.’ says Amy."I’he questioner. She‘s very intelligent. and she's also shocked that Noah can suggest going in the ark and leaving everybody else
8'I‘he List 10— 3.~Jtily'
out. She finds that distressineg antihuman.‘
A woman with an enquiring. intelligent and morally rigorous mind was the central character in l’reearious Living. and one cannot help feeling that this partly reﬂects Amy Ilardie's own character. Tall and gently spoken. with a soft accent. she listens hard and deliberates long over answers. Born in Aberdeenshire she studied philosophy at Stirling University. where she had little to do with theatre:
‘I was very concerned with other things. I really wanted to ask the question “why?” all the time. Whereas now I‘ve been seduced away from that question. or rather. the arguments have become different.‘
She embarked on a I’h.l).. but found herself arguing herselfout of something that seemed too removed from reality.
‘There‘s a sort ofsafety in philosophy. You can tackle anything in philosophy. you know. there are no forbidden areas. You can bring anything under scrutiny. Now that sort of scrutiny is probably very much the impetus for what I‘m doing now — but I‘m doing it very differently.
As she talks. she outlines her arguments on the carpet and it is not hard to see how her practical. approachable nature might not have been fulfilled by philosophy alone. Both playwriting and documentary filmmaking have offered her a way of combining analysis with close involvement with a group ofpeople and as a white woman filmmaker in Sudan she found herselfable to cross boundaries and penetrate usually mutually exclusive groups ofpeople.
‘I love making documentaries. I love what you can do with a camera to observe and try and understand a situation. There‘s a specific kind of documentry being developed at the school which I‘m very attracted to. You have just a two-person crew and stay fora long time with people. You never interfere or ask them to do anything and you build tip a relationship with them and allow that to permeate the film.’
At the moment however her concern with balancingobjectivity and involvement is focussed on theatre and on learning through the Traverse 'I'heatre‘s policy of encouraging new writers to attend rehearsals and develop a very tangible sense of the craft of playwriting.
‘I’ilm is very visually pleasurable and very tactile. It's like you‘re seeing the screen. but with your fingers. And that's how I endeavour to do camera-work. But this is quite different. l‘mstill quite stunned that two actors can get together on stage
and suddenly everything becomes so real — the emotion between them becomes so real. I can't imagine being able to get that intensity of feeling and of dialogue anywhere else. Not even in film.’
Noah 's Wle runs from 9—26 July and again throughout the Festival at the Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh.