VIDEO: Poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz talks about Layla's Room


The voices of 1,000 UK teens are brought to life in Layla's Room, by award-winning poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz. Here she explains what inspired her to create the play.

Why did you write Layla's Room?

I wanted to write Layla’s Room because I feel very strongly about as many things as possible being out there to have a positive effect on the conversation around equality for women and girls. I think that the more things that are created, the more pieces that are written the better really, for the discussion to keep on evolving.

What did you want to change by writing the play?

With Layla’s Room I’d like to change people’s minds who think that equality for girls in particular in this country is not a problem because they are mistaken and it is. For those already conscious of that I’d like them to feel inspired and motivated to keep on challenging the barriers that have been placed in front of the many opportunities that they are finding difficult to access and to just keep on fighting the good fight.

How did you undertake research for Layla's Room?

Research for Layla’s Room was amazing. It was a lengthy process and I surveyed or interviewed over a 1,000 girls across the whole of the UK, aged 13 to 19, and they answered my questions very generously and bravely and humorously. Really from the conversations I had with them and the answers they gave me to a variety of my questions, that formed the basis of the research for what teenage girls' lives are like in the UK today, which then fed into Layla’s Room.

How did you develop the script for the play?

There was quite a long process of drafting and redrafting, there usually is actually unless you happen to have a really solid idea of how everything’s going to map out. Generally writers go through quite a few drafts.

This one was very different because we were working with the raw research material that I’d got from this process of interviewing and we were using that in a room with actors and improvising, and then I was writing based on those improvisations and then I was writing separate to that as well – writing in prose to then turn into a script – there were all sorts of things going on. Draft by draft, we finally got to where we felt we needed to be which was a full story for Layla at the moment in time that we meet her.

What role does poetry play in the script?

There’s poetry in the script because most of my scripts always have poetry in them because that’s how I find it easiest and most enjoyable to write. Although there are quite distinct sections of the script where it’s obvious that it’s poetry, it goes into a slightly more heightened and metaphorical and unusual way of speaking, it’s definitely not how you’d speak in an everyday situation. Those exist, but the entire script is in a form of poetry because it’s got a very particular rhythm to it and there’s a lot of internal rhyming throughout.

So yeah, poetry is present and Layla herself writes poetry so a lot of what she says can be quite poetic as well.

What are the barriers you think young women face in our society?

The barriers that young women and girls spoke to me about when I was doing my research, and before that when I’d just been working with teenage girls for a long time through writing workshops, is not the things we’re generally lead to believe by the sort of stereotypical image of a girl who is just obsessed with boys.

Loads of girls aren’t even attracted to boys, first and foremost, and most of them feel that the biggest stresses in their life are studies, school in general, and then body image. Those were the two things that came up at the top of the list time and time again.

It’s quite interesting because girls consistently do better than boys in terms of GCSE grades and things like that but then as you get higher and higher up the career trajectory that starts to dissipate and you see that actually there are not that many women running companies. So at some point, something happens basically, and I think girls are aware of that, and so they feel that that’s a barrier to them.

I think they also find how they look a huge barrier – the pressure to look a very certain way, whatever that way is. The way they feel that they should look really differs from region to region and school to school. It really effects so much of what they do and don’t do, so whether they can leave the house or not, whether they can go to a party or not, whether they’re going to go on a school trip or not… all those sorts of things are actually impacted by their body image and their self-esteem.

Layla's Room is at Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on Thursday 22 September.