Louise Wallwein: “I’m a gorgeous butch lesbian”
Poet, playwright and performer Louise Wallwein speaks to Danielle Mustarde about new show Glue
IMAGE: BENJI REID
Louise Wallwein has made a name for herself as an explosive artist that “detonates her audiences’ imaginations". A Mancunian brought up in 13 different children’s homes, Louise wrote her first play at the age of 17. She speaks to Danielle Mustarde about Glue - her acclaimed, theatre demolishing one-woman show.
Hello Louise, your new show Glue is a one-woman show. How do you prepare for the performance?
I have a six-week build up where I stop all of my vices. Well, some. I do a bit of boxing, dancing, stretching, tap dancing and that’s my warm up! Similarly, as a writer I’ll mediate for an hour every morning, tidy my house, make a cup of tea and then do my morning pages. As a performer and a writer, I’ve found I get much better results the more disciplined I am. It’s good for your mental health and wellbeing. The rest of the time I just go wild [laughs].
As well as the live performance, there’s also the book? Can you tell us a little more?
Glue actually exists in three mediums, the live performance, the BBC Radio 4 drama and the book which is the “extended remix”. It includes all of the poetry I’d written that couldn’t exist on the radio or live. On top of that, I was given my full social services file last year. For 30 years all I had was a list of dates, which is what I read out in Glue. When this 300 page encyclopaedia of my childhood arrived one day at the door, I was devastated by it. It’s been a very hard year writing the book, but I felt it needed to be spoken about.
Why did you decide to share your experiences of growing up in care?
Growing up in care, social services, all of that is so secret and locked away. When I met my family there were all kinds of rumours and the only way that I could deal with that was to get hold of the facts. I was in 13 different children’s homes and, in my belief, I was getting moved around because I was naughty. That 300-page document gave me the actual reason I was in a “pinball machine”. So that’s what the book is. It’s very beautiful.
Why do you feel it’s important that the book accompany the live and radio performances?
It’s the literature that couldn’t exist in any other medium, the stuff that belongs to the page. Its testimony, you know. A lot of stories about adoption are about the moment of reunion. What I wanted to say to the world was that actually, my experience spans those 15 years from the moment I met my birth mother. With “me”, the adoptee, it’s sort of like, “Oh well, we were alright because we were handed over to nice people”, but actually I was handed over and then beaten the shit out of, tortured and other things. The reason I’m saying it out loud is because this stuff never gets said. When I sent the book off to the publisher, I experienced this extraordinary creative release. I realised I’d written a love poem to my past and I’m done. I’m 48, I’m a bit overweight but I’m a fucking gorgeous butch lesbian [laughs]. I’m finally free of my past. That bus has left, love.
IMAGE: BENJI REID
What can people expect from the live performance of Glue?
I’ve used a lot of sailing imagery and reference Odysseus within both the poetry and the live piece. Odysseus also set sail searching for a home, but I finally came to the conclusion that actually, “Ithaca” is within me. All I could possibly need is within me, is peace. That’s all anybody needs. As a performer, I’m captain of that ship and then I go, “Come on, jump on board!”. You can be a passenger, you can be a crew member if you like, and then at a certain point, I’ll let everyone have a bit of a mutiny and then we all get back on board and calm down and sail off. I’ve written the audience into my show.
How does it feel to be able to tell your story?
I’m really lucky in that for the past 20 years, I’ve been working in the community and I rock up completely as myself, I run workshops, poetry workshops, do community projects and I’ve been able to tell this story for a long time so that other people can feel comfortable telling theirs. And it’s been hard because I live in this world as a butch lesbian. I’ve had my jaw broken twice, I’ve been fucking assaulted for the past 30 years. Here, there and everywhere. I’ve lived and I’ve walked and I’ve travelled and I’ve still been me.
Does your sexuality come into the narrative of Glue and is it important to you that it does, if so?
I am obviously queer, I am obviously a butch dyke. You’d have to be from a different planet to not realise [laughs] You know, it’s not about that, I just am a lesbian in this piece. In terms of what I want to change about the world, I’d love the world to stop battering dykes for one fucking thing. And stop calling me sir. Stop misgendering me. I want people to recognise that us dykes have a reputation of fighting and stuff like that, but we’ve been fighting people off for years. And because of my childhood, I am vulnerable, and then I have to look hard to survive, you know. So I want the world to understand that we have this lived experience as lesbians that’s very rarely discussed. It’s lovely The L Word and all of that, but what about the rest of us? What about the working class lesbians who live on the estate?
Glue runs from 3 - 7 October at Oval House Theatre, Brixton. Shows start at 7.30pm. There will be a deaf and blind interpreter at the 6 October performance. For tickets visit.
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