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An interview with ‘The White Bike’ playwright Tamara von Werthern

We spoke to Tamara von Werthern about staging the impossible, what she loves about cycling and how ‘The White Bike’ will be a force for change…

Describe your show in 5 words.

Ambitious, beautiful, poignant physical theatre

What is the main theme you would like the audience to take away?

I think we want people to leave with the feeling that cycling is wonderful, that it’s a great way to get around a big city like London, but likewise that the roads need to be made safer and there needs to be dedicated space for cycling on the roads, so we can all enjoy using them – by bike, on foot, even in the car. It’s really scary driving in London when you are surrounded by bikes – nobody wants to end up killing somebody else. It’s a terrible thing when that happens, and there is a real difference in how cycling is treated from borough to borough. We discussed in rehearsals the difference between two adjacent London bridges – on one cyclists are pushed into the traffic by the security barriers that have been erected on the cycle path, on the other, there is a separate cycling road, with the barriers separating cyclists from the cars – you can imagine where it feels safer! We hope that the audience will leave energised and feel that by asking for change, change will happen and deaths like the one at the centre of The White Bike can be avoided.

What drew you to The Space?

We love the building and the atmosphere of it – we love the fact that it’s got history and that it is an unusual and challenging building which is really open to interpretation. No two shows are staged in the same way there. It felt like an exciting theatre interested in supporting artists. We are also hugely impressed by how well The Space is embedded in its community – it was important to us to choose a theatre that has a relationship with the people living in its local area. Most importantly, we feel incredibly well supported artistically. Everyone on the Space team had read the play at our first meeting and were enthusiastic about its wider social impact and importance.

What is your favourite cycle route?

My favourite cycle route is actually my commute! I cycle from Hackney to Shepherd’s Bush every day and go the quiet back roads and along the Regent’s Canal and I find it is the most important time of my day, where I relax, unwind and have time to think. Having said that, my brother recently did the Transatlantic Way Race, around the coast of Ireland and that looks like a proper dream route – but I am not adventurous enough to try it (yet!)

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on this production?

The biggest challenge overall was to find a physical language for the cycling. We knew early on that instead of simply seeing a woman on a bicycle, we wanted to translate the experience of cycling on to the stage. We are delighted to have such a talented bunch of people in the room who are just as excited as we are about creating solutions for the staging challenges we are faced with.

What should the audience be prepared for?

Prepare to be transported in some way. The play is quite emotional, and speaks deeply to people, even on the page. We hope that our audiences will leave feeling a sense of empowerment and excitement about cycling. The play is as much a celebration of life as it is mourning death and asking for change.

Why is the bike white?

The white bike is also called a ghost bike and it is a monument, which is erected in the place where a cyclist died. The play The White Bike was inspired by the story of Eilidh Cairns, whose white bike is the first permanent memorial of its kind. It is fixed to the railings where she died in Notting Hill and there is a plaque with her name and date of birth and death next to it. Usually, when a cyclist is killed in traffic, the family and friends paint a bike white and tie it to the lamp post, as a place to put flowers and cards. It has proved to calm the traffic as well. These ghost bikes can be spotted all over the world. I find them very beautiful and poetic, in fact the starting point for the play was, what if their previous owners could still ride them, ride around a parallel London? It is a strange mix of a practical object and a beautiful symbol, which I really like in the theatre.

The White Bike is at the Space 19th – 30th September. Grab your tickets here!


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