Monday, 29 May 2017

Butoh and the Bard

Butoh is for me, as explained by Lindsay John, the highest of the performance arts. Not that I especially care for its stereotype of white-faced Japanese men contorting themselves into painful poses: when John identified as it as an expression of the interior through the body, an attempt to make the invisible manifest, I thrilled at the possibilities and realised that it was this intention that has driven most of the dance that I have loved.

From C de la B’s VSPRS, which took the twitches and twists of the mentally disturbed and choreographed them into a shamanic evocation of the divine, through Dot 504’s fringe hit Holdin’ Fast to Hofesh Scheter’s attempt to delineate his relationship with his mother, I have always been inspired by movement that strains at physical possibilities and seems to chase an idea or emotion that cannot be conveyed by words. This extends to a suspicion of the script as the foundation of a theatrical performance, since it mediates the actors’ sincerity, and an enthusiasm for devised drama when it allows the performers to process the play’s theme through their own experience.
It’s one of the reasons that I increasingly champion cabaret: the outsider status and emphasis on short, solo work ensures that imagination and experimentation are given respect, alongside the neo-traditionalist routines. I am hoping that there will be a gradual meeting of Live Art and cabaret, and a subsequent explosion of fun and challenging evenings.
There are some companies that combine the best of both worlds- David Leddy and Vanishing Point spring to mind. However, there is a strand of Scottish theatre that I find troubling, which explicitly relies on the written word, usually of Shakespeare, another classic author or a new vibrant talent, to provide the template for the action. At its worst, it can rely on the language - sensible if it is Aeschylus, usually disastrous if it is a contemporary author - to lead the drama.
This can’t be said of the Bard in the Botanics. Consciously crafted for Kebble Palace, its Richard III stripped the expansive historical to a cast of three, who made considerable use of the venue’s resounding echo, bellowing out the great speeches in a fast-paced, back to basics romp. Richard was suitably mesmerising, while the other two actors fleshed out the multiple roles with chameleon enthusiasm.
While I have reservations about the choice of plays – Macbeth is done too often to justify even a site-specific production, and a little more romance might cheer up the rain-splashed Glasgow summer – the annual BB season does offer no-frills classics, and Richard’s gradual accumulation of guilt was strikingly captured as black cloth was wound around him with every victim. The use of location is key. I don’t think that the glasshouse was used to full potential, but it makes for a pleasant evening just a little out of the ordinary, and such a straight-ahead version leaves plenty of scope for after-show discussion over vodka.
And so to the Fringe.

The Botanics: Venue of The Month 2011

The Botanics is rarely used as a venue, but one annual festival is a reminder of how theatre need not be confined to the indoors.

Since its inception in 2002, Bard In The Botanics has wrestled with two of contemporary theatre's driving forces: the continued importance of Shakespeare and the need to find exciting performance spaces. A group of theatre makers noticed Glasgow's Botanic Gardens. Gordon Barr explains: "The Gardens have a range of locations within a relatively small area – from tree-lined lawns to small, cultivated gardens – it gives you great flexibility. Also, they are in the heart of the West End which is such a culturally thriving area – it's great to be a part of that.”

Encouraged by the success of international festivals that place Stratford's favourite son in nature, the team recognised that an annual outdoor festival avoided the perennial dilemma of either updating the classics with a potentially absurd interpretation, or sticking to a recognizable formula that might fail to offer anything new. With the Bard in the Botanics, which leads off from the West End Festival, Gordon Barr has developed a strategy that combines the power of tradition with a magical staging.
“This year's programme is a perfect example of how flexible the gardens can be,” Barr clarifies. “ King Lear is a play that is filled with references to nature and the majority of it takes place outdoors so we can use the gardens in a very organic way, making full use of everything that surrounds us from the heavens to the earth itself. The grandeur and the intensity of the struggles faced by Queen Margaret require the splendour of a venue like the Kibble Palace glasshouse. Twelfth Night has a wonderfully lyrical quality, very delicate and beautiful so it's being staged with a backdrop of the stunning Rose Garden. Finally, Titus Andronicus has had to unearth a space that has a much wilder quality to suit the nature of that piece; 4 very different shows, all using the Botanics in completely different ways.”
Previous programmes have showcased taut productions that join some of Scotland’s most impressive actors with a unique atmosphere. The charm of the Botanics dispenses with the need to adorn the play with awkward interpretations, providing a traditional Shakespeare that does not sacrifice imagination.
“These plays were, by and large, written for outdoor performance,” Barr admits. “They have a scale and a scope which matches perfectly with outdoor performance and Shakespeare's language paints such a vivid picture that complicated scenery is just not necessary.” The language itself is often enriched by escaping the theatre. “As we're currently discovering with King Lear, the outdoor environment can really bring aspects of the play to life. When Lear curses his daughter, and calls on Nature to help him do it, we see George Docherty playing Lear making a real connection to the ground and the forces of Nature – it's no longer an abstract concept.”
 Of course, in Scotland, the al fresco season is strictly limited, as Barr concludes. “If I listed every challenge, I would be here all day. Weather and midges are unavoidable in Scotland but everyone expects that. It's the unexpected that brings the biggest challenges – the quad bikes that suddenly roared across the lawn and through the curtain call for a production of Macbeth, for example.” Yet experience has been a fine teacher. “After 9 years, we're getting pretty good at staging work in the Botanic Gardens but we'll never be totally prepared because a new random element will pop up every year – at least it keeps us on our toes.”

KING LEAR 23 Jun – 10 Jul, 7.45pm Main Botanic Gardens.  Previews: 23, 24 Jun at 7.45p.m. 25 Jun – 10 Jul at 7.45p.m. (no performances Sun or Mon) £15/£10
QUEEN MARGARET (adapted from Henry VI Parts 1, 2 & 3 and Richard III) 24 Jun – 9 Jul, 8.15pm Kibble Palace Glasshouse (limited capacity).  Preview Thu 24 Jun, 8.15pm. 25 Jun - 9 Jul, 8.15pm. (no performances  Sun or Mon) £15/£10
TWELFTH NIGHT 14 – 31 Jul 7.45pm Main Botanic Gardens.  Previews 14, 15 Jul 7.45 p.m. 16 Jul – 31 Jul, 7.45 p.m (no performances Sun or Mon) £15/£10
TITUS ANDRONICUS 20 – 31 Jul 2010, 8pm, Main Botanic Gardens. Preview: 20 Jul,t 8pm. 21 – 31 Jul, 8pm (no performances Sun or Mon) £12 /£8

Think about the future...

In the early twentieth century (hey, at least I'm not
banging on about the enlightenment again), there were two games in theatrical town. One, perhaps, is best represented by Jacques Copeau who wasn't that keen on theory but did promote the pursuit of beauty. The other can be associated with Futurism (until it threw in with fascism), which had a more political edge. While Copeau got irritated by the sensationalism of the commercial theatre and saw 'great works of the past as models for the future' (Carlson 1993: 339), the Futurists wanted to reflect the speed and smoke of the present moment.

Hegelian dialectic being what it is, these competing ideals didn't always run clear of each other. Filippo Marinetti, having announced his manifesto in appropriately grandiloquent terms (1909), hosted a series of evenings with poetry and more manifesto readings. Aiming to get audiences high off the fumes of theatre, he faced hostile audiences and laid the path for the DADA gang and probably the antics of Artaud. The preoccupation with modernity finds an echo in the Marxist theatre that would appear in Soviet Russian and the various workers' theatres in Europe.

Copeau's attitude - scripts, careful cultivation of tradition and this difficult notion of beauty - was regressive compared to Marinetti's blazing enthusiasm for the now. Marinetti hated the past, and in 1913 pointed to vaudeville and variety for influences. He even suggested that classic art ought to be 'prostituted' (Carlson 1993: 340) on stage, and putting glue on the audience's seat was a clever trick for surprising the audience - an inverted 'keeping them on their toes'.

Shock and awe remains a viable theatrical tradition: Trainspotting rolls up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a fairly regular manner, and Sarah Kane is a favourite of student companies. The desire to disrupt an audience's complacency goes back to Diderot, unsurprisingly enough, who reminds the poet that he has a duty to unsettle his spectators (Discourse on Poetry).

The intention to shock and its execution are different things, however. Tori Amos describes the natural process of the rebel succinctly.

And is it true
That devils end up like you
Something safe for the picture frame.
I get the feeling that Iphigenia in Splott fancied itself as a shocker, describing the journey of a working class woman in broad Welsh vernacular and rolling around in degradation. Of course, its title betrays its indebtedness to the classical tradition - these things are rarely on one side of a dialectic.

The futurist attitude seeped across Europe, and is echoed in contemporary productions like Julia Taudevin's Blow Off, which takes cues from punk rock. Copeau's influence is harder to find, except perhaps in those productions of Shakespeare that try to get back to the eloquence of the script. But Copeau advocated a respect for tradition and discipline, and maybe that was picked up by the Lecoq approach.

Like most attempts to draw a dualism, the conflict between Copeau and Marinetti is a false division: craft and enthusiasm don't have to be at war. But it is a fascinating moment in theatre, when competing theories are juxtaposed and prepare theatre for a series of developments throughout the twentieth century...

The Ching Dramaturgy: Stewart Schiller @ Weste End Festival 2017

Attune Theatre presents 
The Ching Room
Dram 10th June 2:30 pm & 7:30pm
Broadcast 12th June 8:00pm
Canal Station 13th June 8:00pm

Rory rushes into a toilet cubicle in a Sauchiehall Street nightclub, only to find it occupied by someone called Darren, who is not so much a drug-dealer as a high priest of the religion of cocaine-induced euphoria.

The Ching Room is written by Alan Bissett and directed by Stewart Schiller. It makes use of Attune's distinctive style of confronting serious issues with a darkly comic tone, in this case, looking at Drug Culture. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I like plays which grab you and surprise you. I like never really being quite sure where the story's going next. This script delivers in a big way. I also like how it crosses a line. Guys don't like to talk to each other in toilets and that's the entire action of this play. It feels like we're getting to see something you don't normally see.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Very interesting question. I would say theatre is at it's best when it asks for empathy. The proximity you have to the actors makes theatre the best place for empathy. So I feel performance is best at entering public discussions where empathy is not normally present.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I tried it at University and I enjoyed it. Perhaps a more interesting question is why I kept doing it. You have a very intimate relationship with audience in live performance. 

As a Writer Director I can frequently be in the audience, feeling their reaction, and changing the performance based on those experiences.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I am cerebral in my approach. I feel it's important for actors to understand their characters choices and the changes they go through. Whilst I enjoy plays that are ambiguous in they way they 

approach issues, I like Performances which have a clear vision which you can really feel. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
I would say this is the most stripped down performance I have made. The more experienced I've become, putting anything other than actors on stage feels frivolous. 

Theatre can't compete with the bang for buck of film and, for me, shouldn't even try to. Actors can create so much with how they say things, and how they respond, why distract people from that?

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience thinks about something they wouldn't usually.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

 We want as many people to come and try this as possible, particularly if they feel Theatre isn't for them. By not asking for money before you see it, I think it redefines the relationship between us and the audience. 

Going to Pubs which aren't filled with Theatre, specifically to find people who don't normally go to Theatre, is something we enjoy doing.

Attune Theatre will be producing this show using the Pay What You Decide model meaning... the audience only pay what they think the show is worth after they've seen it. We chose to do this as it is one of our company's aims to bring more people to the Theatre. There is more information about the Pay What You Decide model at this link

The First two performances at Dram will also be a part of the West End Festival. 

Is Gig Theatre Interesting?

Gig theatre's a busted flush, isn't it? It feels like two obsolete art forms, clinging each other and slowly sinking. As far as I can remember, the native energy of rock music died in about 2004, replaced by hip-hop, electronica or posing through a series of hackneyed moves that once belonged to rebellious youth.

Teddy Boys slashed the seats in the cinema. Ravers were beaten by the police while protesting for their right to dance. Ferocious guitars chased psychedelic ecstasy, driven by tribal beats. Then, somewhere, business took complete control and even the graduates of a performing arts university could sneer like Elvis or appropriate an accent that sounds a bit working class.

Rock was about authenticity, wasn't it? At its best - thinking of Nick Cave's From Her to Eternity - it could tell a story in three minutes more effectively than Shakespeare. Give of take some clumsy algebra of desire towards the end, here's jealousy distilled in a way to make Othello blush.

That's not to say the various artists making gig-theatre are bad, misguided or unnecessary. In itself, it is as valuable a strategy as reading Aristotle, adding in a pinch of clowning or getting a choreographer to do the physical theatre interludes. But in itself, it has no virtue. And the number of people boasting it makes it a fad.

But never mind me: maybe there is still something left in the fusion. Perhaps my hearing has dulled, and the chime of guitars and the crackle of the amplifier can transform. Maybe my favourite show (VSPRS by Les Ballets C de La B) was gig theatre: it had a gypsy band powering through arrangements of Monteverdi. Maybe rock and roll can save your mortal soul, or at least lend a bit of dynamism to a script about first world problems. 

Two Sides of the Dramaturgy: Jack Brownridge Kelly @ Edfringe 2017

 “It’s not only a wall that divides us, but it’s my past and your future.”

Two Sides of the Curtain will take place on August 14th -19th at 19.05. every evening. @ theSpace on North Bridge (V36) North Bridge. 

Erich and Ada are separated by one of history’s most famous man-made divisions; the Berlin Wall. They both live in times where global and personal shifts are throwing their futures in to disillusionment. 

But the times that Erich and Ada live in are not the same. When Erich journeys to the other side, he not only crosses an ideological line but a temporal one as well, travelling 25 years in to the past. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I have always been interested in many aspects of Berlin history, perhaps romanticizing the city at times, but one thing that really stands out for me is the Berlin Wall which I always thought would be a perfect setting for the stage. 

Concept wise, the fact that a country could be split and then pushed into an ideological war with each other after it had been so united through the hate of Nazism is universally relatable to humanity’s reliance on space and place. 

The aim with this play was to explore the distinction (if any) between these two things and make this relevant to the current day, in a world that is once again putting heavy emphasis on borders.

The concept of ‘Ostalgie’ becomes particularly strong here. The fall of the Berlin wall was a culture shock for so many GDR citizens who had to accept the rapid change to capitalism. Of course the piece acknowledges that the GDR was an oppressive police state that many were glad to be rid of. 

But it’s also important to acknowledge individual stories of people who had some attachment to it and who were then labelled ‘losers’ or ‘backward’ by the other, with no real understanding of what it was like to live the way they did. Throughout history and in modern geography, one side usually labels the other side ‘barbaric’, for the very reasons that opposing side labels them. 

The relationship between Erich and Ada explore the question; what is the real difference between ‘the future’ and ‘another place’? 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Of course it is. I would say it is in fact the best space. Art in it's simplest form is communication. The engaging, entertaining and multi-sensual nature of performance mean that the ideas, themes and questions which are being communicated  stick with the audience like no other form of communication can. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I think I have always wanted to explore ideas and questions in a performance setting because it is the most fun and also the most open to interpretation, allowing conflicting elements to all exist within the same space, not drawing conclusions but testing multiple ones. With theatre, the questions carry on after the performance has ended. Whether it be 'what happens next?' or 'How does this relate to me?'

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I wanted both characters to be equally constructed by their pasts as well as their expectations of the future so I invested a lot of time and thought into the characters back stories. Because of this, only about 1/4 of the story's events happen on stage. Therefore because of the extensive back catalog of events, the play is rich with little moments that provoke the audiences imagination as to what happened but was not shown. I wanted the audience to think about action that does not take place on stage because in this way the play is coming of stage and into their own lives. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Not really. Because I was so keen on the concept I played with many ways in which it could be communicated before actually writing it. Therefore I got to explore a range of different styles and techniques that were all very new to me, resulting in the piece I have now.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

This play would be a success for me if the audience were to question the seemingly distinct separation of time and space. Also by bringing two periods of history together I hope that it gives them a more personal perspective to history as a whole. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Making the characters relatable for a contemporary audience.  The problems that the characters face are timeless and universal and thus brings the past closer to the present. 

Pressured by the escalation of events that are happening in his world of 1989, Erich tries to persuade Ada to move with him not only to the West, but into the future. However, Ada is stuck in both the past and her own head. The ties that she has with her world prove hard for her to break, despite the shock of knowing what the future will bring for it.

Themes of place, history and nostalgia blend together gracefully in this bittersweet and thoughtful portrayal of star-crossed lovers. A sophisticated piece of original drama written and directed by Jack Kelly and starring Andrew Crouch as Erich and Rachael Naylor as Ada.

Advice to Theatre Makers (from Diderot, not me)

Totally Making Notes from European Theories of the Drama (1977, ninth edition)

It's Getting Pretty Serious, yeah.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Gutted Dramaturgy: Liz Richardson and Tara Robinson


Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome), 1 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AL Wednesday 2nd – Sunday 13th August 2017, 14:40

Liz Richardson has an embarrassing problem and these yogurts aren’t helping! Here, she shares her real life experiences of living as a twenty-something with a chronic bowel condition called ulcerative colitis, similar to Crohn’s Disease. 

A shameless tale of love, laughter and lavatories, Gutted (co-produced by The Conker Group and HOME) is a pastiche of the many people Liz has met on her journey, from hospital staff to complete strangers, patients to friends.

With a contemporary aesthetic, visceral moments and a love story bubbling underneath, Gutted, co-created with theatre maker Tara Robinson, is an engaging investigation into how we think about illness and the boundaries that cause us to feel shame. Sitting on top of a subtle celebration of the healthcare system, it explores how we treat each other and form relationships, the nature of hidden disabilities and femininity in the face of an embarrassing physical condition. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Liz: Gutted is based on real life moments from my life since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (an Inflammatory Bowel Disease). I didn’t start out thinking “I’m going to make a show about what’s happening to me” but I did spend a huge amount of time doing what I love best, people-watching! I love observing people’s eccentricities, the way they talk and move, and the way that others interact with them, and I started noting these down. 

I trialled some of these notes made from this period into a stand-up routine as soon as I was fit and in remission, and then this routine developed into a richer and more theatrical performance as soon as I had been introduced to director/writer Tara.

Is performance still a good space for the public
discussion of ideas?

Tara: Undoubtedly yes. We’re very proud of the way Gutted invites audience members to actively engage with each other about illness and shame and provokes them into quite immediate conversation with each other. We’ve observed this at work in the minutes after the show. But we’re also proud of the way that as a publicly shared artwork it is also part of a wider dialogue that asks questions about how we view ill health and how want to treat each other. 

I think the performed experience,  the act of sharing space with others, is hugely powerful as a tool for evoking empathy and bringing people together to reflect, engage and converse. We do feel however that how it reaches all of the potential audiences that it could benefit from is still a work-in-progress. 

With Gutted we’re testing a model that tours to
hospitals and patient groups, asking audiences to meet us there in what is often a socially neutral space rather than an arts venue which often isn’t. This is a step towards broadening the discussion amongst a wider public.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Liz: I trained at Acting School for 4 years and left, like most others, with this enthusiasm for my future career and raring to go and be ‘found’...and, like most others, well, it didn’t quite go that way and I was unfortunate enough to become poorly. 

Despite having the few acting jobs here and there, I never really felt I was getting anywhere, with this disease continually rearing its ugly head. It was at this point I decided to start making the work for myself when I could do nothing more than rest up. And once I had started creating and had started to learn how to play with my own material, I found myself introducing myself to others as a Theatre Maker before saying I was an actor. 

There was a whole new wave of freedom in creating a piece of theatre which reads exactly as I had imagined and which I could access when ready rather than fitting into everyone else’s schedule. It was a wonderful time for me creating
Gutted with Tara and it has spurred me on to continue creating my own work.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Tara: The show began with a process involving a detailed sharing of Liz’s autobiographical experiences and memories with me and the collation of these into themes and events. The real work began when we started to discuss the effect we wanted to have on an audience with these though. Liz felt strongly that she didn’t want to speak in the piece “as herself” because of how it might make an audience feel, so we devised a number of rules that meant she couldn’t. The first of these was that Liz would impersonate a dizzying array of characters, all those she met along the way, and the audience would be cast as “Liz”. Whenever we hit an obstacle within this form and the material wouldn’t work, we would try an alternative, resulting in a piece that mixes a whole range of ingredients: voiceover, audience participation, video, food and impersonation. If there was any one approach that could be used to describe our process it would be collaboration. The show wouldn’t exist without one or the other of us and the marriage of our artistic tastes.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Tara: I’m really drawn to making work about something I hear about or see in society that can be picked apart, that gives me space to challenge how we relate to each other. In that respect Gutted certainly fits with my other work. It’s about how we think about and deal with illness, and especially the kind of illness that is shit related.

But it’s also like my recent work because it’s aesthetic is playful, the narrative fragmented, and it plays around with form to interrogate the content. This said, when we started making it I had never worked with autobiographical material and never made a show about something I had no personal vested interest in. That process was definitely new and very exciting, and the piece is possibly more narratively driven than the work I am making this year.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Liz: My hope in making this piece is for it to be received with total open-mindedness. That audiences will feel that they can relate with it whatever their background or experience. That they can converse with each other and with those who haven’t seen it, about matters of everyday illness and health; relationships and struggles. I want the audience to feel part of the experience, needed and included. I also hope that they will laugh!

What strategies did you consider towards
shaping this audience experience?

Tara: Liz’s characterisations are really wide-ranging and they offer a very broad spectrum of perspectives and responses to how the people around her dealt with her illness. It is these that offer comedy and empathy as part of the audience experience and because they are offered largely without comment, they offer space too for reflection. 

But in pursuit of making the experience welcoming and shared, we also wanted to ask our audience to interact more directly with the piece and so Liz invites them to read key messages from her mother and partner in exchange for cake or beer. We were nervous of this element to start with (we don’t always like audience participation ourselves!), but we feel very happy now that we have crafted a mode of interaction that involves a willing exchange and also reflects the story. 

Also important in the work is the fact that the body being discussed is in the space. It sounds obvious, but this is Liz’s story and this is her body that’s been through this illness. Rather than explaining the medical processes that it has undergone through a video or slideshow, Liz paints her guts onto her tummy, indicating where things were operated on and reminding us of the authenticity of her body and voice.

Gutted is a frank, funny and compelling autobiographical exploration of living with an inflammatory bowel disease.

Liz comments, Enough sh*t, let's talk frankly: I'm a woman who doesn't poo flowers out her bum. I'm exposing myself in hopes that more people will do the same. In an age of Instagram filters, this show attempts to give audiences the courage to find joy in the unedited journey of life, with its ups and downs and the relationships that guide you on it.

Liz underwent surgery to have her colon removed when she was 28 and lived for a period with an ileostomy bag (or stoma bag) before having a ‘reversal’ which involves the creation of an internal pouch. She lives without pain now, but needs to manage and regulate her physical wellbeing carefully. While Liz is able to control her illness to a certain degree, this hidden disability does have its limitations and the shorter Edinburgh run reflects her awareness of potential physical fatigue.

Dust Dramaturgy: Milly Thomas @ Edfringe 2017

Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX Thursday 3rd – Sunday 27th August 2017 (not 15th), 16:40

A woman. A suicide. A choice. A fly on the wall. A funeral. A Bakewell tart. A life. A lie. A truth. An ending. Of sorts.
Dust by Milly Thomas (Clique, BBC3; Clickbait and A First World Problem, Theatre503) is a refreshing, caustic and comedic treatment of one woman’s depression, suicide and everything that happens afterwards. 

Alice thinks that life isn’t worth living. So she kills herself. Sort of. She is stuck, a fly on the wall. Forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on her family and friends, Alice quickly learns that death changes people. And that death is not the change she hoped for.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

It’s an idea I’d been sitting on for a while. It originally began life as a Channel 4 pilot that I wrote on the 4screenwriting course. The idea wouldn’t let me go – rather than redraft, I thought I’d try it as a monologue and it started falling into place. It gives a unique perspective on the story and has allowed us to go deeper and given us
room for far more honesty.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. Theatre may not have the same reach as television, and there are still issues about accessibility. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the pressure on theatre’s class problem. 

But nonetheless I do believe theatre has the potential to affect those it reaches. There is much to be gained from sharing those experiences in a space with a live audience. You can’t switch it off! The problem is getting people through the doors.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’d always wanted to be an actor since I was annoyingly small. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there were other jobs in the profession when I was little. I’d worked as a stage technician very briefly on my year abroad in Berlin and had been opened up to just how many people it took to get a production off the ground. (BTW be nice to your stage managers everyone, without them you’re just an idiot in the dark.) 

Then as I went through drama school I started to get frustrated with the lack of roles for women and wanted to create stories I hadn’t seen. There is a certain acceptance of subservience that gets handed down to you when you’re training to be an actor. It never sat comfortably with me. 

Creating was another way of playing. I never questioned if I was any good at it or not – all I knew was I loved the job, but wouldn’t be comfortable waiting for my face to be the right fit for someone.

 Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I’ve been working it with our director Sara Joyce at scratch nights from very early on in the process. As it’s a solo hour, audience feedback has been crucial for us. 

I’ve also been working with the astonishingly brilliant dramaturg Jules Haworth who’s got such a unique eye. It’s also been strange but useful to have grown the idea from a television script. Even though there’s huge differences it’s been brilliant to have that bank of knowledge when writing. I know Alice and her family as well as my own. 

Similarly it certainly isn’t the same, so remembering what’s changed or what works took a while but nothing that a block of post-its can’t fix.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This will be the first time I’ve done a solo hour. I’ve played with monologues and direct address before in previous productions but this is a sustained hour with multiple characters and narratives. 

I’ve been excited to push the boundaries of a traditional monologue in R&D. It’s been important to keep challenging myself. It’s so much easier to take risks on the page when you know you’re not performing. It’s a constant balancing act between being truthful to yourself and not allowing yourself to get cosy. Getting cosy is death!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope we’re going to have a laugh. Alice’s situation is kind of extraordinary and a pretty shit one at that. There’s a lot of fun to be had in amongst the pain.

That said this is a dark show and that’s very much where my sense of humour lies. And none of it should be comfortable. I don’t believe difficult subject matters should be trivialised to an easy watch. We’re not all going to hold hands, but we are going to have fun and hopefully get something deeper and more personal. And maybe call your family post show. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

It’s been constant batting to and fro between me and our director Sara Joyce. It’s beyond important for me to have her voice there. One person’s comedy gold is certainly not another’s and it’s important to tread carefully with the subject matter. My own experience of depression and suicide ideation make it easy for me to be glib, but I certainly cannot not speak for everyone. 

Together Sara and I are taking baby steps towards making something we hope is a laugh out loud punch to the gut.

In an unflinching examination of a suicide, this stripped-back monologue for one woman explodes the myth that death is a quiet affair, as it inspects the unavoidable practicalities, alongside the heart-wrenching decisions and pain - and the laughter.
Milly Thomas comments, I’m fascinated by the way we eulogise people once they’ve died. The way we rewrite whole lives to suit our own narratives and the use of euphemism as a masking tool of the dead never ceases to amaze me. I’m also keen to explore the way we’re looking at mental health now. It strikes me that we’re encouraged to disclose our mental health issues provided they’re past tense or we’re ‘high functioning’ as though we have to ensure that our illness conforms to social standards. 

While Dust is fiction, it’s a deeply personal story.
Dust is very much about life, about those who remain behind and how squeamish we are around death. How do you quantify a life? What if you lived as an arsehole but suddenly, in death, you’re a saint? And, if push came to shove, would your mother get your funeral right?

Deborah Frances-White of The Guilty Feminist says, Milly Thomas is an extraordinary performer, a fearless writer and one of the most relevant, vibrant, funny and insightful millennial voices working in British Theatre today. Often controversial, always daring, never disappointing-like the love child of Charlie Brooker and Diablo Cody.

Brutal Dramaturgy: Bethany Pitts @ Edfinge 2017

Brutal Cessation
Assembly George Square (The Box), George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ
Thursday 3rd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th), 16:20

Brutal Cessation is a savage new play by Milly Thomas (Clique BBC3, A First World Problem and Clickbait, Theatre503) exploring violence in relationships, our expectations of gender and what happens when we're no longer in love but refuse to let go. 

Following the story of a rotting relationship and the purgatory that follows, the show asks: Is having no reason to stay a reason to leave?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

After taking a case of sexual assault to court Milly was astonished by the how she was constantly labelled a victim and how she was made to feel. It led her to think about victimhood as a concept and where that lies with us on an everyday level. 

Do men and women experience victimhood differently? This is where the idea for the actors to swap over parts in the performance came from. By the time I read the initial short version of the play, she had decided to examine this in the form of a relationship - when things are becoming cruel, brutal even, why do we stay when we know we should leave? 

What struck me immediately – and I think will connect with everyone that sees it – is how we struggle to get away from everyday gender roles within our relationships and how a level of brutality can develop and fester in our most intimate relationships.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Definitely. While it isn’t as accessible as other art forms such a television, I do believe theatre has the potential to affect those it reaches – there is a great deal to be gained from sharing experiences in a space with a live audience. It doesn’t allow you to become passive! 

I also believe it has the power to spark empathy in a way that other art forms can’t quite match. I would hope that when people see Brutal Cessation they come away feeling the questions that it raises, not merely studying them from an intellectual point of view.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve always loved live performance, whether theatre or gigs or dance. I liked acting and being in shows when I was younger - I wasn’t a very good actor but I loved the collective experience, My A Level drama teacher suggested I direct our final project  - before then I hadn’t even really realised that directing was a job! 

I’m not from a theatrical background and had no connection with the industry at all. But I immediately loved it.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

This show is having quite an extensive R&D process as there is a great deal to figure out. Although Milly and I have worked on it intensely dramaturgically together, the script remains in many ways quite open. 

This is partly due to the central device of the actors swapping parts, which is something we are playing around with actors in the room before Milly writes a final rehearsal draft. Even in initial readings there is such an immediate difference in how the parts come across when played by one gender or the other that this is something that really has to be practically explored.

We also have a week of R&D planned with Greenwich and Lewisham’s Young People's Theatre during which time we're opening our doors and inviting their young people into our process. 

I’m quite a fan of opening up rehearsal processes at various points. Their opinions going to be very informative for us as we shape this unique show, and I hope it will be a useful experience for them in terms of their outlook on relationships and gender.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It is more formally ambitious– which I’m very excited about. Both Milly and I are preoccupied with how gender is presented on stage and with exploring the idea that dialogue or language may be somehow gendered rather than character-led - the actors swapping roles during the show helps us to achieve this. 

We are also looking at the idea of narrative possession and how repeating scenes will work, which is a challenge that is informing the form of the play It will be a very stripped back production, which I’m generally in favour of (and is fringe friendly!). 

All the creative team are keen to push our own limits on this production to make something that is bold, exciting and visceral, that tackles the darker side of us as human beings. We want to move the audience out of their comfort zone so we need to move out of our own too.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope the audience will be moved – both out of their comfort zone and also empathetically. I hope – and think - that they will recognise themselves in it, in the tender and disgusting intimacies of relationships and in the power but also the brutality of love.

I really hope that it can challenge some of our preconceptions about gender too – I’m fascinated by the roles we play and by swapping the characters we can really examine how this affects our relationships too – both intimate relationships and in wider society. The play will ask if we can ever really get away from that.

We’ve been genuinely touched by the number of people who have approached us to tell us that they've been there, or they get it, or simply talking about how much love there clearly is between the characters. 

Milly’s not convinced that there is love – but love comes in its myriad forms and I imagine people will be split on what they see in it. But we want them to take what they see on the stage and hopefully use that to really question what it is that makes us, as human beings, stay - particularly when there's nothing left to stay for. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We're playing with various possibilities of where and how to swap the characters over - is it in the control of the audience? The actors? Do I set it in advance for the audience? Who is in control of the story and what does that mean for the audience? We’ll be looking at this in our next phase of development and examining what the potential different outcomes for an audience are.

Having a stripped back production isn’t just to save money on the budget either! It’s deliberately to push the focus onto the two people and the transactions between them.

Our space in Edinburgh is very intimate which is ideal. Nothing is hidden –actor and audience will be close enough to see who is sweating more (and I promise everyone will be sweating)! 

In this kind of environment, there is a huge amount of trust engendered, and therefore intimacy, which we hope will bring our audiences closer to the ideas and questions we are exploring. 

Thomas’s production is about the absence of love, that gnawing feeling that is left behind after a relationship. When you’re too proud to admit you were wrong, what lengths will you go to in order to emerge unscathed? 

Laced with dark humour, Brutal Cessation is a unique exploration of traditional power play as the actors swap roles throughout the sixty minute show, offering a refreshing perspective into both men and women’s experience of victimhood as their reality becomes emotionally and physically unsafe.

The current statistics show that roughly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are suffering violence within their relationships. There is a lot of work to be done in creating an environment where people are able to come forward and share their experiences. 

In 2015, Thomas herself took someone to court over sexual assault on public transport and was astonished at how she was made to feel. She may have won the case but, because of the lack of respect for ‘victims’, it didn’t feel like a victory and she saw how other people may be discouraged to report abuse due to the lack of support given. Brutal Cessation explores how violence, suggested or actualised, can so easily pervade our everyday lives, sometimes without us even realising it.

Milly Thomas comments, I'm utterly fascinated by what happens when we know we should leave a relationship but we don't. At what point the fear eclipses the love and which way round. Although this piece isn’t autobiographical, it began as a short play when I was in a relationship that wasn’t right for me. 

I was astonished by the games my own mind came up with to avoid what was bothering me. I wanted to explore the difficultly around frank conversations, especially when the issues at hand have moved into harmful territory.

No Dramaturgy Here: Stan Hodgson @ Edfringe 2017

No Miracles Here
Northern Stage at Summerhall, Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL Saturday 5th – Saturday 26th August 2017 (not 9th, 16th, 23rd), 11:00
The Letter Room bring a live and loud musical tale of a dance marathon with a Northern Soul. No Miracles Here is a story about what happens when we don't dare to stop, about living and breathing and not always feeling like you can. 

This is a story of dancing and how the band will keep playing the music even when you want to give up.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The Letter Room aim to make shows full of pulsating live music. We use different worlds and metaphors and styles of music to explore what it means to be living in the world today. 

No Miracles Here has been inspired by the dance marathons of the 1930s and Northern Soul All-Nighters to tell a story about mental health. We’ve been using the idea of dancing as a form of endurance, paralleling the feeling when you must keep going and not stop, because if you pause for too long, you’ll struggle to ever begin again. 

In these dance marathons, people would keep dancing for, sometimes, 19 days straight. We’re fascinated by this and trying to tackle an issue in an entirely new way.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I’m sure you’ll get a lot of biased responses but yes we absolutely think it is. Performance, in any form, taps into something that sitting down and rationally discussing things sometimes just can’t do. 

It has the capacity to distance you from an idea, in order to gain perspective, or it can throw you right into the middle of that idea, and really make you question it and feel it.

As far as No Miracles Here goes, there’s such a big national drive to talk more about mental health. Talking and listening are such core messages but, at the same time, it does need to be accepted that talking is still difficult. 

That was one of the reasons for making No Miracles Here. Can we be exploring aspects of life in different ways, and can that have an effect on the wider public discourse?

How did you become interested in making performance?

The company were formed by Northern Stage as a residency to get actors and theatre makers to keep making work in the region. Prior to that we all trained at different universities and drama schools. I think, like a lot of performers, a lot of us caught the drama bug after getting encouraged at school. I think that’s becoming a more difficult thing to do in schools at the moment.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Music is always our first port of call. As a devising company, sometimes it feels like you’re staring at a blank canvas, so creating sound and songs is a good way to take the first step. It can help create emotion and tension, and it also helps us create a world in which the show takes place.

We spent years wrangling with the term ‘Musical Theatre’, because of certain ‘Jazz Hands’ Connotations. We were like: “no, no we’re gig theatre, or music theatre, or theatre with live music”. But the more we grow, the more confident we are about identifying as a devising musical theatre company.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes I think it does. If anyone has seen our work before then they know that we like heightened characters, dark stories and, of course, music.

Where this show may be different is that we’re planning to be dancing all the way through. We’ve incorporated movement into our work in the past, but this is sort of next level stuff.  If they feel like they want to get up and dance with us at the end of show then we are all for that!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Our Producer Jake describes how music can make people feel ‘elevated’ and I think that’s a great way to think about how we want our audience to feel with all of our shows. We want them to walk out of the room with a bounce in their step and an earworm or two. 

Like they’ve been transported to a strange, exciting world for a brief time. In Edinburgh, our show is on at 11am, so we want to deliver something that properly kickstarts your fringe day.

However, I also think that because this show explores the themes of Mental Health, the show needs to go to those dark places. Making a raucous, up tempo musical that looks at depression is like walking a tightrope: on one side you have a piece that feels flippant and flimsy, and on the other side you have something so heavy that ultimately you can’t say all that you may want to say. 

Walking that tightrope been a really interesting challenge all the way through this process.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I think for us it’s about how do we create a world that the audience can step into when they walk into the auditorium. The design and aesthetic of our shows seems like a key part of that. Like they’ve walked into some strange, other-worldly gig!

No Miracles Here is an anthem to feeling alive, keeping the faith and trusting that you are not alone. Acclaimed company The Letter Room invite audiences to get ready to dance like they’re Northern in this sweat-soaked marathon of resilience and strength.

The Letter Room were inspired to make a musical about depression using the influences of 1930s Dance Marathons. Using the idea of dancing as a form of endurance, paralleling the feeling when you must keep going and not stop, because if you pause for too long, you’ll struggle to ever begin again. 

This is theatre tackling an issue in an entirely new way - No Miracles Here is raw and celebratory, honest and vibrant, full of pulsating live music.

No Miracles Here has been supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company, New Wolsey Theatre, Shoreditch Town Hall and Northern Stage. The show has also been supported by the charity Mind.
Stan Hodgson comments, No Miracles Here is going to be the strong Bloody Mary that kickstarts your Fringe day. 

Think 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They' meets Northern Soul vibes meets that scene in Little Miss Sunshine when all the family dance in the Beauty Pageant.