Interview with writer/director Katharine Armitage – Frankenstein @ Sutton House

Please note – This interview racked up to almost 4,000 words. It has been heavily edited for brevity.

Read our review of Frankenstein HERE.

Frankenstein has been adapted many times since it was published 200 years ago. Why did you choose Frankenstein and what different take are you hoping to bring to it?

Well actually, I didn’t know about the 200 year anniversary when I had the idea. The idea to do Frankenstein came from [Sutton] House, came from learning about the 1980s when the house was derelict and taken over by a group of squatters who turned it into an arts venue. First, we just loved the feel of the eighties, because it’s actually quite 1818. They recycled a lot of regency looks in there dress and style, and you get the invention of steam punk. The eighties was also a big time for science fiction, and Frankenstein is arguably the first to codify the genre. The other lovely thing is that the characters live there but it feels like he house wasn’t made for them. There’s an idea of the ‘outsider’ in inverted commas, people who are in a system and a place that is not designed for them. They try to make it homely but it’s cavernous, then they try put science in it and it’s old and creaky. We were interested in that tension. Thinking about the squatters, and the outsider identity led us to thinking about Frankenstein…

I love Frankenstein. I studied it at school and since then I’ve been quietly obsessed with it. The origin story of a 19 year old writing this book, seemingly out of nowhere is a little mindboggling. The things that really interested me about this is that she’s this incredible woman – Mary Shelley – the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft who is in some ways the mother of modern feminism, and yet there are almost no women in Frankenstein. Elizabeth is there to die, she’s a victim. So is Justine. It’s interesting to think about why Mary Shelley would be diminishing women. When re-reading the book, I started to think ‘well, in one way it makes sense’. You couldn’t write about that. You have to be clever. But the more you read it, the more you think that the whole thing is about women, even though the women themselves are diminished, the whole thing is about being a thing that’s created by a man and then rejected, a thing that doesn’t live up to expectations. It’s all about motherhood and it’s all about the demands of society. I call it ‘finding the women’, where we’re trying to stay true to the text she could have written if there no pressures of getting it published or making men read it.

Your company performed Dracula last year, which also used immersive theatre. How does having the audience in the performance itself effect storytelling?

For me, the joy of immersive is that you’re there in the room with people. You don’t have a fourth wall, but at the same time, you don’t audiences are still aware that they’re an audience. What I want to do is a story that you’re so close to that you can smell it, and you’re scared it might touch you. When we had a vampire on stage [in last year’s production of Dracula], for example, and it would come near the audience members they would shrink back, and completely forget that it’s a five foot five female actor. For Frankenstein we’re doing something kind of different because we’re letting the audience become a little more invisible… It’s partly because of the intimacy of the story, and you’re seeing these really intimate moments between characters and start thinking ‘I really shouldn’t be’. That’s the joy of doing something immersive and yet ignoring the audience. They begin to feel that they’re spying on something. It creates this really lovely tension.

That jumps nicely into the question of monsters, and who the monster is in the room. I thought it would be interesting to define first what ‘monster’ and ‘monstrous’ mean in the context of Frankenstein.

I love that question actually. On a basic level, it’s distorted nature. Natural but unnatural. If you think about images of monsters, a really obvious one like Godzilla,  it’s something natural – a lizard – but expanded up into something monstrous… It’s always this heightened distorted version of nature. But the other definition is one of destruction. A monster destroys. And that’s what makes them different from a villain who plots, or an evil person who is usually bent on acquisition, mostly of power. A monster doesn’t have that, they just destroy, seemingly for no reason. That’s why they’re so scary because you can’t reason with them…

It’s an interesting question when you look at Victor. Is he a creator or is a destroyer? And The Creature – are they creating their new life or are they a destroyer? If you create something that then becomes destructive, who really is the monster? And then when you do bring the women out of the shadows in the story, then there’s other elements of destruction or creation that come from the characters. Again I think that’s why this story is really about women, because it’s so much about the arrogance of man and the potential monstrosity within human kind and particularly within men… The other element is mutability. You can become monstrous. The question becomes, ‘is that their fault?’ and ‘is it justified?’. Don’t we all have that slight bit inside us that wants to just tear stuff up?

You’ve paralleled the impossible expectations The Creature faces with those faced by women. How would you say those have changed since 50, 100 or even 200 years ago?

I’m not sure they’re that different. Obviously the situation has changed hugely, for the better, but sometimes it feels like the expectations are not too dissimilar. It feels like they’ve just expanded. I think kids now might give you a different answer, but I grew up with the Disney fairy stories and I love them but the expectations in all of that is about marriage. Even for queer women, the way that society has dealt with it is by saying ‘okay, fine, fine, but we still want you to get married and have a family!’… I’ve been to a lot of weddings this year, and it’s great, but there’s still the same expectations. The bride is expected, demanded to be the most beautiful she’s ever been, to be elegant. These days it’s added that she’s expected to push the boundaries a little, maybe to make a small speech, but not too much. It’s complicated because people say ‘I want to be beautiful’ and that’s totally fine, but I wonder if we didn’t have those expectations if people would still want that…

You can be strong but you still have to be docile. I have quite a loud voice and I get told to be quite by men quite a lot. I’m allowed to be strong, but not loud. And not angry. Anger is not allowed for women, in the same way that anger is not allowed for men, which is a huge, huge problem that I would love to write about, but that’s for another play.

The other thing is that women are expected to be good. You have to be the safe space for children, and yes there’s a biological aspect to that but you’re not allowed to go off the track too much. You can be strong but you have to be good, and you have to behave, even if I don’t give you any reason to behave. And that’s the interesting thing with Victor and The Creature. It’s difficult because if you’re not good, you’re very quickly labelled unreasonable, or destructive, and you can’t be trusted. Even Mary Shelley, who in many ways was such a rebel, wanted most of all to marry and have babies. Despite shaking things up so much, she still wanted to be good, because that’s how you get accepted. Again, that’s what Frankenstein is all about. Acceptance, and wanting to be accepted… And then of course there’s the other interesting issue of the parents failing expectations as well. Babies very quickly develop expectations of the parents, and that is a process of constant disappointment as neither fully matches the others expectations.

Before we finish, is there any question you wish I’d ask you? Anything we’ve missed?

The only thing I’d like to highlight is the process of adaptation. I do mess with things, but what I’m aiming for is that you mess with things and people kind of feel like you haven’t. The best adaptations are when they’ve changed something and you see it and think ‘oh but I think that was in the book’. People coming to the show who know the book, what I’m hoping they’ll get is the sense of the spirit of the book, but also feel like this is a story that was hiding in the book. Adaptations should be part of a dialogue that takes you back to the original text, and makes you say ‘oh I can see now why they would say that’. I want people to see it as a conversation with the book.

Read our review of Frankenstein HERE.

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INTERVIEW with Bunker Theatre director Joshua Mctaggart!

For my readers who aren’t aware of your work, who are you?

I’m Joshua Mctaggart, I’m the artistic director of the Bunker theatre, which is an off-west end venue in London Bridge. The space used to be an abandoned car park when we first got the lease, it was very much in disarray. And then in 2016 we transformed it into a 110 seater studio theatre space with a small bar. We celebrated our first birthday last October, so just over a year now.

This season we’re launching a new season and new bar, which is exciting!

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Joshua Mctaggart – Photo by Simon Paris


One of the articles I read on you described you as the accidental artistic director, how did that happen?

I founded the Bunker with Joel Fisher (the current executive producer at the Bunker). He and I met in 2015 through the springboard program at the Young Vic, and we realized we had similar beliefs about how off-West End theatre should be run in a way that empowers artists. As so often happens in the arts, we sat around having coffee, talking about things we didn’t like about the industry and things we wanted to change. I was always very open about my dream of running a venue one day, with the aim of bringing collaborators together and forming artistic connections in a space.  I think there’s something really exciting about the spaces where audiences and performers meet and where people gather, and something really important about cultural and community spaces. Joel and I had similar beliefs about how we could go about creating a space like that.

Then, about two years ago, Joel and I met with a landlord to discuss this abandoned underground car park that he was using as an ad-hoc rehearsal space. It had no health and safety sign-off, no ramp, no wheelchair access. A Southwark tcouncillor told me it was a car-crash waiting to happen, which I took as a challenge! So, I spent the next 6-8 months overseeing a building site, and we eventually got the licensing and the legals and the sign off, announced in August, and opened with a full season of work in August 2016. We launched with Skin a Cat, which I thought was a very clear statement of intent for the Bunker about what we’re interested in artistically: work from points of view that we don’t always hear from, work that challenges social taboo and gender identity, feminist stories. I think it was a real calling card for us.

Since then we’ve had some huge shows, like La Ronde, which is the first play in several years to be nominated for the Best Off-West End category of the What’s On Stage awards.

Electra - Megan Leigh Mason, Lydia Larson and Samuel Martin (Credit - Lidia Crisafulli)

Electra (27 Feb – 24 Mar) – Photo by Lidia Crisafulli


You’ve talked previously about wanting Off-West End theatre to be produced differently. What precisely did you mean by that?

Well there’s two levels, there’s the creative level and the financial level. On a creative level, it was about the event of seeing the play. All too often, when people go to a play they show up five minutes before, they see the play, and they go straight home. But I’m fascinated by spaces, and so I thought it was critical for people to really inhabit that environment. Because of the nature of the Bunker, we keep the bar open until the end of the night, and we keep the doors open so that people can go back inside. I think it’s really exciting to be able to be right next to a set and be able to have those post-show conversations.

On the financial level, I’m mostly concerned with finding models of producing off-West End theatre that ensures everyone is compensated fairly, while remaining financially viable.


“Beautiful things start, and beautiful things end, but beautiful things will start again. 
I’ve found that as long as you can hold on to that,
you can get through”


What is important to you in deciding what creators you want to work with?

I’m constantly impressed by the way every creative I interact with functions in their everyday life. The challenges of being freelance and of balancing work, play and creation are enormous, and I’m always very impressed by the work people are making and the strides people are taking to be heard. I think what’s really important is that there’s a story that really needs to be told, and a passion for that story. I think it’s much more important that a story have a fire behind it than that it be ‘marketable.’ So, I seek out artists that are passionate about the stories they’re telling, and that share a passion for storytelling. Sometimes you can tell, there are some people that seem to radiate with that passion.

Electra - Dario Coates (Credit - Lidia Crisafulli)

Electra (27 Feb – 24 Mar) – Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

Electra is the next show to go up at the Bunker. Greek tragedy can be quite difficult to pull off, what gave you faith in this particular production?

When someone sits down with you and says ‘I want to take the story of Electra and make it a punk rock performance with actor-musicians. Here’s this really poetic script we’ve been working on.’ It’s impossible to say no, really. Every time you embark on producing a show there’s an element of risk, and what really emboldened me with Electra was the creators behind it, both on the writing and musical side and on the producing side.

Also, they’re a Bristol-based company (DumbWise Theatre), and I think as a London venue it’s important that we don’t get stuck in the rut of only producing work from London-based companies. It’s critical that we develop those artistic relationships and nurture those connections with artists from other cities.

 

After Electra, you’ll be putting on Devil with the Blue Dress. What excites you about American work?

I’m excited about American practitioners, to be precise. What fascinates me about America, and why I think it’s still important for us to look at it as a country, is that America is an experiment: how free can people be while still having a structure of government in place. That’s the question that America poses, and that question leads to really fascinating culture and really fascinating politics. The UK is so very different from America, and so I think that cultural exchange is very important.

I also think it’s fascinating how this particular piece has evolved as the world shifts around it. The play was written before the 2016 election, and at that time it was very much intended to be about where the first female president came from. Then the election happened, and the play became about how Hillary Clinton lost. Now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the many reports of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond, it’s become about abuses of power by men, and the way we as a society react to those abuses.

MAINSHOW - 2

Devil with the Blue Dress (29 Mar – 28 Apr)


What is your message to creators who want to work at the Bunker?

I’m amazed by how many people come and ask me to have a cup of coffee with them who don’t know about the work we do. From a purely practical perspective, if you’re going to sit down and speak with the artistic director of a venue, it would help to have a clear understanding of the ethos of that venue. I’m generally very open to talking to people, but I would say my advice is “know why you want to be at the Bunker.” why should your story be at the bunker? Who is the audience? Where is the passion for that story? And if it comes back to storytelling and a passion for telling that story, then that’s exciting. Don’t come and tell me the story you think I want you to tell, tell me the story that you want to tell. I think that applies both to the Bunker and the industry at large.

 

Finally, is there a piece of work that changed your worldview, personally?

There are two paintings, one in the National Gallery and one in the Tate Britain, both by Turner. One is called the Rise of Carthage and one is called the Fall of Carthage. They’re two epic, beautiful paintings, one about the arrival of Dido in Carthage and the other about the expulsion from Carthage. One time, I went to the National Gallery and looked at the Rise, then walked across the river and looked at the Fall, and then I walked back and looked at the Rise again; and that reminded me that beautiful things start, and beautiful things end, but beautiful things will start again. I’ve found that as long as you can hold on to that, you can get through, whether that applies to art, relationships, or life itself.

 

 


Massive thanks to Joshua and Tilly for their time and patience, and to @samwellswriting for all his help!

Interview with director, Blythe Stewart – The Moor @ The Old Red Lion Theatre

The Moor - Header

Director: Blythe Stewart on The Moor by Catherine Lucie.

Tuesday 6th February- Saturday 3rd March 2018.

Old Red Lion Theatre

To book tickets – click here


Can you explain the play and what you’d like our readers to know about it before they come?

It’s a new play, a psychological thriller about one woman who’s name is Bronagh and she has suspicions about a murder in her isolated small town. She lets her suspicions known to the local police man and becomes embroiled in the whole thing.

It’s an epic story, a crime story in a way but also about Bronagh getting to grips with the relationships in her life and gaining more agency in her own life.

What is the main thing you hope the audience takes away from seeing ‘The Moor’?

I’d like them to leave with a lot of questions in a positive way. When I first read it, I finished it confused and gripped yet I understood the play before I reached the end. I hope that when the metaphorical curtain drops, the audience goes to the pub below and ask themselves what happened; What is true? What is false? What is memory? Who are we in relation to other people? I look forward to overhearing those questions.

Would you want to answer those questions?

I don’t feel so strongly about answering those questions more about what their personal feelings are about it. I know friends will come and quiz me for the truth and I would offer them questions and provocations. I took away most from it, that it allowed me to reflect on my own world view; we think that we’re the hero in our own stories and that we’re on the right side and can judge other people quite fairly. How compassionate are we until we are faced with other kinds of stories?

Your specialty as a director is in new writing – what draws you most to new writing as opposed to the classics?

For me, the greatest joy when hearing a story and watching a play is that moment when you are so unsure and excited about what’s going to happen in the next moment; new writing offers that. Classics have lost that sense of urgency in that way. In terms of me as a director, it’s about how can we embolden people about what happens next. New writing provokes them and gets them to use their imaginations to ask those questions – it’s so rewarding if they’ve managed to ask that and use their imagination to ask ‘What will happen next?’. I got hooked on new plays – I was reading so much and thinking ‘how would they be put on stage?’ and it made me ask those same questions. I hope we can inspire an audience to ask too.

Can you describe the setting of the play?

It’s not a specific countryside or country or place in the play, the most important factor in terms of setting is she’s isolated in her community yet embedded in the land at the same time. We decided to set it in Yorkshire which felt right partially because the moors are such an expansive space but also (and I hope this doesn’t ruin anything for the audience in advance) but there’s some kinds of folklore in the play that feels well suited to Yorkshire to other kinds of places like Wales or Scotland.

‘The Moor’ is performing at the Old Red Lion theatre which is quite an intimate space – how did you use this to your advantage in terms of design and direction with the play and it’s setting?

I was sent the play about 4 years ago and the first two years on and off  we work-shopped it. Once we got to the draft we were most satisfied with, the first place we went to was the Old Red Lion. I’ve directed there before so know the joys of the space and its shortcomings.

The thing about expanses of countryside are they are at first big and endless but leave you with claustrophobia. The space is so intimate and the audience is right there and being able to speak to them is integral to the piece. It’s perfect in its spatial relation to the audience. Purposefully the scenes are fluid and locations are fluid.  Holly Pigot, our designer has been brilliant and created a useful kind of system helping us to achieve what it might be like for Bronagh fluidly moving through those spaces.

How involved was Catherine Lucie (the writer) in the rehearsal process? Do you like having the writer in the room?

I love it- having writers in rehearsals is such a wonderful resource. They are a like a best buddy and partner in crime to bounce ideas off in an immediate way. In the time of the play moving forward, Catherine’s life has changed and she’s moved to Wales and become a mother so she’s been able to participate in short terms ways. She came up on Monday, to speak to the actors and they were able to ask her questions which was beautiful as it highlighted how on board they are with her story.  Writers are such a good resource. They know the play better than anyone. I love working with emerging or early career writers. It’s so important that they get to participate and see how the actors are taking that subtext and ideas on.

How do you work as a director?

I really value games and exercises to flush out subtext and objectives; physical acts of wants. We work from a system where we don’t have the scripts in hand. Every scene is an emotional transaction between two people. Some might see it as working in an usual way but we are up on our feet from day one. In my view its important to actualize stuff and we’re not stuck behind tables and pieces of paper. Even the simplest of plays could become academic and cerebral, so we are up on day one testing the ground.

So this is a question which has become a tradition for interviews with TheatreBox- what’s a book/ production/ piece of art/ film you think more people should see?

Oh … there are so many! Actually, this one works well. Opus No 7 by a Russian company called Dmitry Krymov lab. It’s recorded to watch online. I was fortunate to study in Russia when I was doing my degree and saw it there and and then again at the Barbican a few years go. It was the first time I left the theatre and my brain had expanded about what is possible on stage and what a joy it is to use my imagination. It set me off on a different path personally and creatively. Imagination is the greatest tool we have. The joy of theatre is engaging people’s minds in what is possible!


The Moor by Catherine Lucie

6th February-3rd March 2018

Old Red Lion Theatre

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@Blythe_Stewart

Interview with director David Loumgair – Tiny Dynamite @ the Old Red Lion

Director David Loumgair on Tiny Dynamite by Abi Morgan.
9 January – 3 February, 2018
Old Red Lion Theatre

Read our review of the show here: https://wp.me/p93PYe-Bd

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What originally attracted you to work on Tiny Dynamite?

When I first read Tiny Dynamite, which was almost seven years ago now, I completely fell in love with the play and couldn’t quite get my head around why nobody had revived it since the original staging. What kept bringing me back to it was the countless layers of meaning that Abi has woven throughout it, and the complex relationship that she builds between the three characters.

In many of the plays I read, most of the questions that are asked throughout are answered by the end, and all the uncertainties are explained. But Abi does something incredibly brave with Tiny Dynamite, and leaves so much unanswered and so much unspoken. What isn’t written into the dialogue is equally as important as what is written, and there is a clear layer of subtext which allows an audience to read into the silences what they choose.

 

Niall Bishop and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (2)

Photography (c) by Richard Davenport


Abi Morgan’s writing is often compared to Caryl Churchill’s, how do you find working on a piece that can be so ambiguous? What were the challenges?

One of the main challenges I found as a director was allowing myself to not need to answer all these questions that the text raises. There is huge amount of magic, mystery and miracle throughout the play which you can either try to rationalise or just accept and believe in.

At the beginning of rehearsals, and as we were gaining a stronger sense of the characters, we were attempting to answer some of the questions the play throws up. But when we opened the door to believing in the magic there was so much more to explore, and it’s brilliant that the text allows each audience member to interpret different meanings through those unanswered questions.

I think that was part of Abi’s intention, and why she is so often compared to Caryl Churchill, because she describes Tiny Dynamite as a play about knowing when to take responsibility for your life, and those moments when you have to just step back and let a miracle happen. It’s a gesture that extends both to an audience, but also to us as a company, that we just sometimes just have to step back and leave some things unanswered.

 

Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (2)

What are you most excited about audiences experiencing when watching the show?

Well there’s so much I’m excited about audiences seeing, but I’m particularly excited about the breath-taking set our designer, Anna Reid, has created. The core of the play is the immensely traumatic event that the two childhood friends experience, which seeps into every crack and every silence between the characters, so Anna and I spent a long time discussing how we could physically represent this through the design.

We quickly realised that water is the key element of this trauma, and there is a very clear relationship between water and electricity that runs throughout the rest of the play, so it instinctively felt like the right language to use.

This relationship creates an innate sense of risk and danger for the characters, which Anna and I wanted to extend the feeling of to the audience. It’s an exciting but daunting challenge, because you so rarely see vast amounts of water used in fringe theatre, but it’s a challenge which Anna has thrown herself at and created something absolutely astounding from.

 

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (4)

The play was originally performed very physically with Frantic Assembly, is that something you’ve aimed to rediscover in your staging of it?

There’s definitely an innate sense of movement that runs throughout the play, and my understanding is that Frantic Assembly worked closely with Abi to develop the text during its original staging, so it’s clear that physicality was a key element of their production in 2001-3.

That physicality is something I’ve aimed towards re-discovering, but have been very conscious of not trying to re-create. I wanted our revival to have its own style of movement, and I have an astounding Movement Director on board, Natasha Harrison, who has worked closely and collaboratively with the actors to build a language that we’ve then woven throughout the production.

The very subtle but emotionally-connected movement we’ve developed has elevated the scenes so much more than I expected, and there’s a lot the actors have been able to discover about their characters through this movement.

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport (3)

 

Has your background as a dramaturg effected how you approach plays? How do you use dramaturgy when you’re working?

Absolutely. You might have noticed I use the word ‘language’ quite a lot, which the actors will not let me live down during rehearsals…

Dramaturgy in British theatre has always been a minefield, as there as so many different interpretations of the role, and many creatives don’t actually fully understand what a dramaturg does. I could spend hours talking about it, and I often run workshops that explore the craft, but essentially my approach as a dramaturg is production-based rather than text-based, where a lot of British dramaturgy focuses.

Essentially the way I use dramaturgy, specifically on Tiny Dynamite, is by maintaining a consistency of visual, metaphorical and stylistic languages. As an example, the language of our movement is drawn from the ebb-and-flow of the ocean, and I would describe it as being akin to tidal, so that is something I need to consistently maintain as a gesture throughout the whole production or the framework crumbles.

I’d recommend keeping an eye out for my workshops on dramaturgy if anyone’s interested in developing a career as a dramaturg!

 

Niall Bishop, Tanya Fear and Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport

Any advice for aspiring theatre professionals?

Without hopefully sounding morose, it is getting harder and harder to work in the arts because of continual funding cuts, rising rents in London where a lot of opportunities are concentrated (although this is rapidly changing), and the ever-increasing cost of staging even the most stripped-back of work.

My advice would be to find your allies, and not to be afraid of collaboration. Supporting others is what opens doors to be supported yourself, and because of all the pressures I mention above it can often feel like a race or a competition to ‘make it’.

There are a lot of deeply-rooted barriers for artists from a range of disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds, and I think we are already starting to see positive change, but finding support amongst your peers will allow you to keep more stable and in more positive mental health, and will enable you to seek advice when it is needed.

 

Eva-Jane Willis in Tiny Dynamite, by Richard Davenport.JPG

It’s a bit of a tradition for my blog to ask this in interviews, but aside from Tiny Dynamite what’s a book/production/piece of art/film you think more people should see?

I hope that almost everybody has already seen it, but the film ‘Moonlight’ released last year, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, was an absolute game-changer for me.

It’s not only a breath-taking film and piece of art that explores such an under-exposed relationship between sexuality, masculinity and race, but it has had such an impact on the types of films that we’re now seeing being commissioned and developed. I think it’s something that everyone should see.

 


Read our review of the show here: https://wp.me/p93PYe-Bd

Tiny Dynamite by Abi Morgan
9 January – 3 February, 2018
Old Red Lion Theatre

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@davidloumgair

 

Interview with Niall Ransome on FCUK’D

FCUK’D @ The Bunker Theatre

11 December – 30 December 2017
Monday – Saturday at 7pm
Saturday Matinees at 4pm

£10-15

Tickets


 

So, I guess starting off with an easy one for those who don’t know you and your work, who are you?

Well, my name’s Niall Ransome, I’m an actor from Hull which is a lovely city up north in Yorkshire. I trained at Guildhall, but I did a year at LAMDA before Guildhall and that’s sort of how I got involved with all the Mischief Theatre people [The Play that Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery]. FCUK’D is a show that I’ve written sort of outside that.

Will Mytum in FCUK'D, credit of Andreas Lambis (8)

Niall Ransome, credit of Andreas Lambis

And what can you tell me about FCUK’D?

It’s a one hour beat poem really. It’s all written verse and it’s about two young brothers who flee their council estate. The character Boy is the protagonist, he’s a young carer and he’s looking after his little brother. Since writing and making the piece longer I’ve researched a lot into what does it mean to be a young carer, how does it affect their lives, their well-being, and how it affects their chances of adulthood. And, child runaways really. 100,000 children run away from home a year. A lot of children return home and there are some who return home for a while, but there are a small percentage who never come back, and you sort of think ‘well, what’s happened there?’ It’s that unknown which I find interesting.

I’ve wanted to write for a long time. At drama school you can miss one of your big shows in third year and instead of doing those write your own 15-minute monologue. So, I always wanted to do that. Plus, at the same time I thought, well at drama school you want people to see you, so what better way than being like ‘I’m going to do a 15-minute monologue that’s just me!’ So, a lot of people in my year did that. And I think by the end of it I had this monologue which was the starting point for FCUK’D and I thought “I really like this! I’m really proud of it and I think it has legs to be a show”. From then it sort of grew really, I performed at the Royal Theatre in Holland – they asked me to go out and perform there. And I’ve done various scratch nights around London, did a few evenings in pub theatres. Earlier in the year we did two nights at the Vault Festival and that was its first full length hour long version I guess.

I’ve no longer been performing it so I cast a really old friend and a really wonderful actor called Will Mytum, and we’ve just built this team really to make this play as good as we think it can be.

 

“The play is a love letter to Hull, and a love letter to the city, and to the loyalty of those people”

 

In doing the research did you come across any particular stories that helped inspire the performance?

I read a lot. I read a lot of articles and newspapers about children running away, I wanted to lean away from basing it in true story. Purely because the story was about Mattie and Boy from the beginning of the monologue itself, and I wanted to honour it as its own story and not change the real stories by just putting them in. I very much felt that this is a runaway piece to try and encompass multiple aspects of that, as opposed to “these are based on these two people that this happened to”.

Again, it was just reading a lot of articles, looking at certain censuses and collections of data. Figures really, and I always think figures are strange because it’s just a number on a page and when you see 100,000 it’s just a number, but when you actually sit and think about how many children that is, and the equivalent to how many school’s worth of children that is.

Just to think of everyone in my old school times by whatever amount, and then of those people going missing. It’s terrifying.

I think it’s something that will always be within our consciousness because it’s always within the media. Whether it’s happening or whether it’s dramatized. There was The Missing programme with James Nesbitt a year or two ago, and there are always parents, so there’s always going to be that concern for what happens if your child does run away.

The play is a very particular story. The boys are forced to run away by their circumstance. There’s no father at home and their mother is an alcoholic. In the play I very much steer clear of painting her as a bad person or a person who’s made loads of poor choices, she’s certainly a strong woman who has had bad things happen to her. I think that’s another thing I really want to explore in the play and something I hope people take away from the play is – I think one of the problems we have in the media now is that we paint people as black and white, as good and bad, and I think that’s when we get into a dangerous territory of “well, this person said this about this group of people”.

Whether that’s young people, or that’s Muslims, or whether that’s the homosexual community, or women. We immediately want to tie something to a cause or to a belief system as opposed to thinking, “we’re all people, we’re all capable of making both good and bad decisions”. They’re not good and bad people, they’re just good and bad decisions.

I think that’s what I’m trying to say with the play. I really love the idea of the audience coming in and seeing this lad in trackies and trainers. He’s muddy, and he’s got an attitude, and he’s got a swagger, and I love the idea of an audience immediately having a impression of that lad and thinking ‘I know that type of guy, I don’t like that type of guy’, and it’s the job of the play to completely change your views.

By the end you leave hopefully feeling a bit more understanding to what he’s gone through and what’s happened to him. Because I think we don’t take the time necessary to understand what has happened in the situation, particularly in newspaper, you read the story and immediately are like “well obviously he was insane, and she was unhinged”, and actually you don’t know because you weren’t there. You’ve got the facts, but you haven’t got the feelings of it.

 

“We live in an epic time, we always do”

 

I’ve heard you talk before about ‘writing what you know’, so as well as the research are there elements that are autobiographical? About where you’re from?

I think it’s a little bit about Hull yeah, but not about Hull in terms of to put it down, because I love Hull and I’m very proud to be from Hull. I like to think I wear my accent with pride and all that sort of stuff. And I was very lucky, I have two lovely parents, I’ve got a lovely sister, I’ve got a nice supportive family. But I went to quite a bad school when I was younger.

It didn’t perform very well in surveys or OFSTED, it was always a very low performing school. There were many children from different backgrounds. Children like myself who came from quite loving families, but there were also children who came from backgrounds where there wasn’t parental support there, whether they just lived with the one parent or they lived with grandparents or uncles and aunties.

I remember there were certain kids in my year or in my class that if they’d get something wrong or they didn’t want to do work today they’d throw a chair across the room and then leave. Or there was one girl I remember was kicked out of a language lesson because she set fire to the curtains.

Again, it’s taking the time to realise that they’re not bad children, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re lacking support, they’re lacking care and love and they haven’t had any of that unconditional love that you need as a child in order to approach things with more of an open mind as an adult.

I think there’s one line in the play that I keep coming back to which is “There’s only so many times you’re called shit before you start to believe it.” And I do believe that children will come in and swear and be abusive to other kids at school if that’s what they see at home. Because that’s what they’ve built in their mind of, well that’s what my parents do, that’s what I should be doing to my friends to make some sort of connection.

But I think one thing I would say about my school, is even though it was not a great performing school and not everyone came from the best backgrounds, by the end it was the most loyal connected group of people. Whether you were – I really hate to put labels on people – but people would refer to themselves as a chav, or an emo, or a rocker, or a library person. They would conform to those groups. And they existed in my school, absolutely, but everyone got on.

It didn’t matter from what group you were. It was this unifying This is England vibe of “well, it’s shit, but it’s our shit” and we earn it, and we can take ownership of that, and we can take pride in it. And I think going home and revisiting that school, just as it was being knocked down as I started writing the play – now it’s this beautiful multi-million-pound academy, which is excellent – but it was strange being there. Knowing that all the echoes of these kids who’d been there and lived there were sort of gone now. But they weren’t. School’s always a weird thing if you go back – I don’t know if you’ve ever been back to an old school – but it’s very weird isn’t it?

So, the play is a bit of love letter to Hull, and a love letter to the city, and to the loyalty of those people. It’s an aspect of Hull, and something we don’t see enough in theatre. That loyalty, that real familial bond you had with people.

I think we live in a time in theatre where everyone is fighting for their right to be heard. Which is absolutely right, every story should be able to be heard by anyone. It’s a platform. And I am definitely trying to push forward the working class. Like female presence in the arts, like diversity in the arts, the working class falls in that bracket that don’t necessarily have their voices heard, and it’s a story you want people to know about. To say “I think about that person in a different way because of what I saw. Maybe next time I walk in the streets and see someone who’s homeless I’ll give ‘em a pound. I won’t turn around and shrug”.

There’s starting to be this shift changes in the arts, particularly in the fringes. Fringe theatre, pub theatre, they’re particularly exciting to me. Those are the new writers, the new actors. The ones who go “I have something to say, and I’m going to say it”.

 

“It’s Greek tragedy in Tesco. Sort of like Medea meets Vicky Pollard”

 

Speaking of voices, why did you write in verse?

I love poetry, always have. I really loved it in school. Hull is very rich has a very rich history of poetry itself – Philip Larkin is one the country’s greatest poets. You also have Stevie Smith, ‘Not Waving but Drowning’, she’s a fantastic, fantastic poet who wrote these fantastic, quite brutal poems.

So, with Hull having such a rich history of poetry, and enjoying poetry myself. It just sort of happened, it just became that way. It was instinct, the weight of the character, and his swagger, and his age, and his accent. The verse, in a weird way really, really suits it.

There’s something so interesting about this classic verse poetry being juxtaposed. You know, it’s Greek tragedy in Tesco. Sort of like Medea meets Vicky Pollard, which works in a weird way. It makes it contemporary, and it shows that both are the same thing

You look at classic text, the Greeks, and Shakespeare, and it’s very rich, very reverential, very sacred-to-what-we-do masterpieces. And in some cases, you think “yeah of course”. But in others you think, “no, they’re stories and we’re going to find different ways to tell them”.

In the newspaper you read these horrible, horrible stories, but remove the pictures and the modern references and it’s Greek. You read a horrible story in the newspaper about a husband who has killed his own children before killing himself, but because he does that now, in certain place, in a certain time, it becomes very trivial because it’s in the newspaper. But, if you just think ‘father kills his sons before killing himself’ and you put that in the Acropolis, or medieval England, suddenly it becomes epic. We live in an epic time, we always do, and the verse heightens that.

So, it just sort of happened! I enjoy writing in verse!

It’s very loose verse, not Oxford/Cambridge. It’s just what the words need to be.

 

How has being an actor informed the way you write?

I think dramatically, just understanding how I would have approached it as an actor. But it’s liberating to step back as an actor and say ‘whatever I’ve done, whatever you’ve seen me do, forget it. Let’s get it on its feet, let’s go!’ And we found some completely different thing I would never have thought of watching Will pick up the part. Just getting to hear Will read it, and feeling ‘wow!’ it’s really exciting.

 

“1% percentage of the world get to do what they really want to do, and if you find yourself in that percentage – embrace it!”

 

How does it feel to go from the comedy of Mischief Theatre to something like this?

I love Mischief Theatre, and I’ve been so lucky to be a part of them for so many years. I’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong go from selling 11 tickets in a pub theatre, to sitting in the stalls watching it on Broadway. I’m in A Comedy About a Bank Robbery now. I filmed Peter Pan Goes Wrong last Christmas. It’s a very intense environment, everyone is exceptionally funny, so everyone has to be funny all the time.

But I’ve always been interested in lots of different things. One of the things I love about Mischief is that we made it, and we created it. But being Northern and wanting to write myself, I really questioned what is it I wanted to say. It’s been tiring to do A Comedy About a Bank Robbery, and hear all these people manically laughing, and during the day dive into this.

At the same time, I try not to approach them as different things. In The Play that Goes Wrong it’s only really be funny, if within those comic moments the characters themselves feel like it’s a tragedy.

And I think with FCUK’D, it’s Northern, it’s at Christmas, it’s runaways on a council estate. There are moments of humour in it. It’s warm. At its core it’s about two brothers. It’s the Bunker Theatre’s alternative Christmas show because it is set over Christmas, and Christmas is about family, and what will you do with your family over Christmas. Will you be watching films? Will you be putting up a Christmas tree? Will you be running away from police? What will you be doing?

So, I try and approach everything the same. You just have to focus on the character and be truthful, because that’s what’s important.

 

What advice would you have for other aspiring actor/writer/directors? What would you want to say to those people who are just starting out?

I certainly wouldn’t try sound like I know it all, I still feel like I’m at the beginning of creating work and putting it on. I’ve been very lucky for the experience I’ve had, but for anyone who does want to write, and who does want to put things on… You’re your own worst critic. So, embrace that.

Work incredibly hard, and when you work as hard as you think you can on something, there’s always a little bit more to go.

Don’t censor yourself when you have an idea, mine it for all it’s worth.

I’ve always enjoyed letting people read stuff I’ve written to just get feedback, even if someone gives you a note you disagree with its food for thought.

I always think there’s no one to stop you doing things except yourself. There are so many factors of why this industry is difficult and why it’s difficult to put on work, but at the bottom level it comes down to you.  And it can be simple, there’s guy from my drama school who’d pick a play, cast it and we would just go and read the play. And even that is keeping yourself active and doing something. See a lot, read a lot. And enjoy it!

1% percentage of the world get to do what they really want to do, and if you find yourself in that percentage – embrace it! I always think if you’re going to fail, fail at something you enjoy,

With FCUK’D, it’s a play I’ve worked very hard on, that a lot of people have worked very hard on for a good few years. And I don’t know how it’s going to work, I hope it does well but there’s always a possibility people won’t enjoy it, it’s one of those go-down-the-ship mentalities, built your ship, be proud of your ship, sail in it and enjoy it! Know what I mean? And if it sinks enjoy being a skeleton at the bottom of the ocean, enjoy your Viking funeral!

If you want to put on work, just do it, you’re the only person stopping yourself. Even if it’s just an hour a week. I think that’s the way to look at it!

Cast & Creatives for FCUK'D, credit of Andreas Lambis.jpg

Cast & Creatives for FCUK’D, credit of Andreas Lambis

Tickets

 


 

A massive thanks to Niall for giving up his time to speak with us, as well as to Poppy for organising it, and to Becca for all her immeasurable help this week in geting this piece online.

Interview: MBE awarded producer Charlotte Cunningham

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to interview the inspiring and indefatigable Charlotte Cunningham, whose over-26-years of work with her company Turtle Key Arts has done untold good in advancing accessibility in theatre for the disabled, disadvantaged and socially excluded.

Below is an edited transcript:


 

I guess let’s start at the beginning, for those who don’t know what Turtle Key Arts is, how would you describe it?

We’re a production company that works in two different ways. One is working with young theatre, dance and circus companies to helping them at the start of their careers, and linked to that, the other one is also setting up new and innovative ways of working with different groups in the community. We work with people with dementia, with younger people and children with autism, with HIV, people with dyslexia, people of interfaith workshops. But all of those using the arts, music as well, and a lot of partnership working with other organisations. The nutshell is a bit of a difficult one since we do a lot of different kinds of work.

What’s been really astounding researching you guys, is the scale – I don’t think there’s a disability group or a disadvantaged voiced which you don’t cover. Which is amazing!

Yes, well we’ve been around a long time, we do try!

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Ockham’s Razor’s Tipping Point

So, what was the thought when you started? Did you ever think you’d reach this scale?

No, I don’t think when we started we had any idea. In the early days – we’re talking nearly 28 years ago now – there was very little going on in the fields of access and disability arts particularly. Particularly most small theatres, the places where most people would start their careers were completely inaccessible. Rooms above pubs and staircases – I mean physically inaccessible – but also say you were trying to work as a designer with hearing impairment it was very difficult. In those days you weren’t able to – you had to write things down if you wanted to make things understood. I f you think about it now you can’t quite imagine it.

A lot of the work we did in those early days was trying to overcome those physical hurdles.  And that’s now changed, you know, into gazing towards over types of hurdles. Whether it’s problems like the one’s I’ve described in terms of communication, or access because you feel different in terms of being on the autistic spectrum. Or later on in life – dementia and the stigma around that, or just the fear of being able to find ways where you can get to – so setting up ways of getting people to art spaces so they can take part.

So, access has taken on a very different aspect 28 years on from when we started. And you know, we have to keep questioning what it is, how we can find other groups or other things that might not have access to the arts, and were we can be helpful and be useful.

 There’re a few things we’d love to go back to doing. The interfaith stuff for obvious reasons. It works really well and there’s a huge need for it. One of the other thing’s we’ve talked about – and talked about a little bit – is mental health in young people, which seems to be not just with autistic young people, but just generally is a runaway thing that we see not just in our organisations, but with people we’ve worked, with and students we’ve come across.

At the moment our capacity is well and truly at its zenith – so we couldn’t do much more at the moment! But it is something we’re interested in because there is a need.

 

“The transformation that happened with some of those kids was incredible. Very emotional. They come from all parts of the country and quite often wouldn’t have anyone else to talk to”

 

How do you go about curating your season? You work with a lot of theatre companies and existing partnerships. Do you approach the companies? Do they approach you?

A bit of both, a lot of people will often come to us. Mostly if they know someone who’s worked with us, or these days have heard one of us speak at a conference or at a university setting. There’s lots of different ways when we’re starting. And is really nice to find people at the point in their careers where we can help. Yes, we do charge and put fees into the applications that we put in for companies, but we are set up as a charity so we’re not making money of these charities. It’s about finding the companies where we can make the most impact.

We like working with people who are like minded with us. So, what often we do is insist that they agree to do outreach as well. We’d like them to think about how they can use their piece of work to do other things, however they see their work helping to open things up a bit.

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Participants of The Key Club

Do you have any themes in how you put together the season?

All the shows are very different. Tipping Point is this weekend at Stratford Circus. It’s a great family weekend show. It’s a very feel-good show as well, and a show that’s been seen by massive numbers; it’s been to Australia and all over the world. Some of our other companies perform in smaller spaces, but they’ve all been very successful in their own right. But as I say, Tipping Point has been all around the world, and is even going to the Avignon Festival this summer. I think it’s Ockham’s Razor’s strongest show to date; they’re an amazing company. This particular show is extremely thought provoking and beautiful, with a real a narrative, which is probably why it’s been touring the world for two years! This is the last chance to see it in London, so people should come see it this weekend! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

 

 

Booking – 
Stratford Circus Arts Centre
Thu 23 & Fri 24 Nov 7pm
Sat 25 Nov 2pm & 7pm
020 8279 1080

 

What makes access in the arts so important?

In terms of live performance and working with the performance skills that you can get from a lot of the workshops we run… I went to a talk at Chatham House – a think tank – and it was talking about 2040 and where we might be. It was all about cyber security and it was all slightly depressing, but one of the big messages from the speakers was that we’d still need creativity and communication, and those are things you get from our sector in a very wide way.

And I also see from our dementia projects for example, getting people out of their houses and back together as a group and how incredibly important that is with all the isolation at the moment.

We have our two Key Clubs which are club for over-16-year olds with autism. One of them has been running for 12 years. And we know some of those kids that we’ve been working with for years and they have no other ways of getting out of their homes sometimes. And even the ones that do don’t have many friendships or ways of connecting with other people. So coming here they’ll be doing some spoken word poetry, they’ll do two hours, and they’ll feel like they’ve achieved something, and they’ll then have a social time for an hour where they’ll then have something to communicate with each other about. They have a great morning, they have a really positive time.  And that, I know is something that’s going to become more and more important as people become more isolated at all ages.

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Art is Key –  a free program for young people with HIV

You must have had so many moments of being able to see the positive change you’re making, have there been any big moments like that?

Well as you said there’ve been so many. There’s constant moments, there’ll been some tomorrow – every time we do one of these workshops. Even the young people with HIV, our last big project (Art is Key) we did last year, at the end of it some of the transformation that happened with some of those kids was incredible. Very emotional. They come from all parts of the country and quite often wouldn’t have anyone else to talk to. So you’re stuck in Northern Ireland with nobody who knows your condition, and you come to the Lyric Hammersmith for a week and… the stories they told at the end of their week….

And so, every single thing we do, the pride of the dyslexic kids when they’re given their book of their play at the end of a whole session, or they see their plays put on by professional actors on the stage at the Lyric or Royal court, we’ve run it in both places. Those moments, there are hundreds. Every single session there is something.

All of our projects are free. We do want to be able to have anyone who wants to come along, be able to come along. We do really enjoy what we do.

 

“Believe in what you’ve doing, and take advantage of people like us.”

 

What are the other show’s coming up at Turtle Key?

We do also have some new writing pieces, we’ve recently been working with an Iraqi playwright called Hussan Abdulrazzak with a play called Love, Bombs & Apples which was up at Edinburgh this summer, is going to the States this year, and coming back to tour a bit in the Spring.

Ockhams are going to be developing a new show, an indoor show AND an outdoor show so some big shows coming out from them.

We have a company called Open Sky based in the Midlands which is developing a new big show.

Joli Vyann is going to be touring again, they’ve just come back from South Korea and are creating a new show.

And a lot of our younger companies, Redcape Theatre doing a new show as well next year.

There’s a lot going on on the creative front!

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Hassan Abdulrazzak’s Love, Bombs & Apples

To finish up, do you have any advice for up and coming theatre companies and producers?

It takes time but that’s what’s exciting. Getting ideas out there, carrying on and not being discouraged by how impossible it seems these days to get in. There are ways.

If you have a strong message keep pushing it. Take advantage of some of the support that’s out there, like the Independent Theatre Council that supports young companies, and they’re trying to make it a lot more accessible to young companies. And they also have a lot of information and help for the hoops you have to jump through to get on the road. How to pay people properly, how to write the right pieces of paper, all that stuff. The annoying but important stuff.

And then just ask for help. If you write emails and no one answers call them, call them, and if they still don’t do anything turn up! Make connections and don’t let people get away with saying no to you.

I always have a whole smoke and mirrors thing. Impressing people. Whatever you can use – “I’m in discussion with so-and-so” – you can be in discussion if you just left them a message!

People are so annoyingly obvious and think: “Oh wow, if they’re talking with so-and-so maybe we should talk to them!”

All those kinds of things.

Believe in what you’ve doing, and take advantage of people like us, and there are other people out there who are very passionate about it and want to help you succeed.

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For more information on Charlotte and Turtle Key Arts visit their website:

 

http://www.turtlekeyarts.org.uk/

 

See their shows, they are doing incredible work. And a massive thank you to Charlotte for your time!

@TurtleKeyArts