10 Questions: Rona Munro

News 13 Mar 2020

Donny's Brain writer Rona Munro tells us why she chose neuroscience to write about as part of our 10 Questions interview: "the possibilities for drama were so good".

1. What compels you as a writer?
It is a precarious thing to make a living as a writer without any other source of income so, particularly when I was a single Mum, actually getting paid was the first compulsion. After that I’m always hoping to tell a story that hasn’t been told before, in a way that hasn’t quite been used before.

2. What made you write ​Donny’s Brain​ and what are the themes of the play?
I was originally commissioned to write a play that took some aspect of science and investigated it in drama. I chose neuroscience as the possibilities for drama were so good. The compelling truth you confront when you read about neurological case studies is that our sense of self, something we consider solid and unchanging, is a very fragile thing, completely linked to memory and brain function. The implications of that are very thought provoking.

3. What was your starting point for writing the play and what sort of references and research did you draw upon?
I began writing the play almost ten years ago. I read a vast number of books, some brilliantly accessible, some incomprehensibly academic. I also had a couple of good friends in the medical profession and they put me in touch with a neurological consultant who was my sounding board for what was or wasn’t credible. The story in Donny’s brain is not directly based on any anecdote or case study however, it’s pure fiction.

4. What has the development process for ​Donny’s Brain​ been like?
After it was completed ‘Donny’s Brain’ had a workshop production at Hampstead Theatre and further development workshops at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. The play really didn’t alter through these processes but it failed to ‘find its moment’. It was only when Caitlin Skinner came onboard as director that it was able to clear that final hurdle to full production. Again I don’t think the text of the play changed at all during my development workshop with Caitlin but her director’s vision seems to have unlocked the trick of making it compelling for an audience.

5.What are you looking forward to most about seeing Donny's Brain on stage at The Traverse?
After ten years it’s finally found it’s moment!

6. How familiar were you with the world of neuroscience and the human mind before starting work on the show?
Not at all, that was quite helpful in fact, because my total ignorance allowed me to try and make the moral and dramatic dilemmas comprehensible to an audience who would probably know as little as I did.

7. How do you want audiences to feel having watched the show?
My intention is that audiences should not feel that they have watched a play about studying brain function but a tragic/comic love story. The experience of love, the loss of love, falling in and out of love, all those are universal human experiences. In the play we see a love story in extreme circumstances but anyone who has ever loved and lost will recognise this story.

8. If you had to describe ​Donny’s Brain ​in 3 words, what would they be?
Where is love?

What are your favourite brain training games?
I fail them all.

10. What's your most remarkable memory?
Nobody should live a life so limited they could pick just one remarkable memory. May I keep them all, good and bad.

Photo: Lauren Mclay