Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Dramaturgy with Legs: DIGS @ Edfringe 2017

A playful, twisted ode to the millennial generation and surviving your 20’s -  shared living, anxiety, love and loneliness
Performed by Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow | Directed by Jemima James (Complicite associate director) 
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 5 - 28 August (not 26), 13:45 (14:45), 16+

Wanna crash at Theatre with Legs’ flat? Swinging sledgehammers and cutting loose to 70s pop, Theatre with Legs are pushing through grime, through grief, through the wall. They are clawing for space and searching for answers about shared living. 
Trapped in overdrafts, in each other's pockets and approaching 30, Theatre with Legs regularly find themselves too anxious to go and sit in their own front room. This second full length performance from the emerging company asks questions about Generation Rent and human behaviour in the public and private space. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

All our work comes from the conversations that we have as friends; the things we offload on each other over pints in the pub.  We’d both been through periods where we’d struggled with the places we lived, the dynamics of the people we shared with, the financial ramifications of trying to live in a city you can barely afford to. We got fascinated with the complex behavior that seems to manifest between people who live together in the way that we do, and we wanted to try and understand what is at the root of all that weirdness, intimacy and passive-aggressiveness. 

And the more we tried to understand, the more we saw it as a symptom of something much bigger – as a symptom of the underlying anxiety, isolation and violent conditioning of our generation – Generation Rent… whatever that really means… We came to realise that in making a show about shared living, we were really making a show about the way we are living, the way we think about living, and the way we’re relating to each other in a much larger sense.

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

Absolutely! It has to be! We need it. Because performance, live performance is a space for dialogue between people. It’s a conversation, it’s an exchange, it’s a meeting. And in a time when it feels like there’s a lot of superficial chat happening, but not a lot of real conversation, that feels really vital, really important.

How did you become interested in making performance?

We met when we were training as actors and
theatre makers on Central’s Collaborative and Devised theatre course. It was magnetic; we were drawn to each other because of shared humour, really, and enjoying using humour to express complicated or difficult ideas. We connected over the art we liked, not just theatre, but poetry, music, movement. So alongside our actor training, we started collaborating, making work that reflected what we liked, celebrated what we liked… Theatre with Legs was born from that.

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

We talk about the ideas we’re interested in for months and months. Then we bring it from our everyday lives into the rehearsal room and see what we find. We work instinctively, musically, physically. We quite often start by writing poems, making snatches of music, fragments of movement. We work from images we’ve collected, from interviews with people we’ve spoken to, or conversations we’ve had between ourselves in the past. Our real-life relationship, Lucy and Jess as friends and makers, is central to the work - it’s sort of the touchstone or anchor. We’re not interested in calling it autobiography, but we make work that is deeply personal and encouraging each other to be as honest as possible, in a way that is creative not cathartic, is a large part of our process.

And then we layer the rough things we make against each other. Ask ourselves what we like and why… write and re-write. The material isn’t sacred or precious, we get rid of a lot of stuff -  usually after sharing work in progress with audiences. We like to do that at quite early stages of development. You learn a lot about what needs to be articulated through the terrifying chaos of showing new or unfinished work to audiences; somehow when you get material in front of people, it reveals itself to you in a way it never would in the rehearsal room.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It’s only our second show, so there isn’t really a usual… Our first show, 'Maybe I Should Freeze My Eggs' explored some of the same themes as DIGS; searching for connection, anxiety, the uncertainty of the future, and maybe DIGS is a more nuanced and sophisticated version of MISFME… And perhaps our next show will be an even more sophisticated version again? Who knows. In terms of style, DIGS is classic Theatre with Legs, in that it is raw, playful, queer, funny and experiments with form. And at the crux is our dynamic as friends and as makers. It also involves and relies on a very specific relationship with the audience. 

The audience are key to our work. We want to take them on a journey, a quest! However, unlike our first show, DIGS has been a much bigger collaboration, in terms of having a creative team around us, so having a director, producer and designers working on DIGS has been a real period of development and transition for us. Gone are the days of making work in Lucy’s lounge and doing everything ourselves!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope that they laugh; whether that’s comfortable or not. That they recognize particular sensations, behaviours and situations; whether that’s comfortable or not. That they empathise with us. That they are frustrated with us. We want the show to be provocative – a question mark rather than a statement. We hope the audience feel that the show has a lot of space built into it for them, their individual and collective responses, their imaginations. We hope that it stays with people beyond the immediate live experience of seeing it.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We work with a particular awareness of the audience, which comes from our clown and comedy training. We try to simultaneously draw them in, bring them with us, but we’re not trying to make them like us… In the early part of the show, there’s the opportunity to look them right in the eye, really see them, and we do. Because once you’ve seen them, and they’ve seen you in that moment, then they are no longer “general audience” but a specific collection of people that you respond to and work with during the course of that show. 

Every group is different, and therefore every show is different in response. And there are whole sections of the show which are direct address to the audience. Where we, as versions of ourselves, speak directly to them. We describe it as ‘having a thin skin between us and the audience’, that’s the sensation that we work with, to keep that connection alive.

Performer Lucy Bairstow said: “Jess and I became obsessed by unpicking the humdrum conundrum of shared living and the serious issues underpinning it. Why does everyone in their 20s seem to have anxiety? And why does it feel so hard to have proper conversation in your own home? In creating DIGS we have observed our own patterns of behaviour, along with those of others, and tried to articulate this experience on stage, with guts and humour. DIGS has become our heartfelt ode to a millennial generation that can't afford their own space to breathe.”
Performer Jess Murrain said: “In making work as Theatre with Legs, and especially for DIGS, Luce and I have always been looking our own experiences - like anxiety, grief, love and loneliness - square in the eye. We're not trying to shy away from the things we feel, but use them to give voice to the modern day situations of young people like us, who aren't always able to talk about their growing insecurities and deepest desires. We're exploring our own vulnerability basically, and revelling in it.”
Director Jemima James said: “As queer performance makers, Theatre with Legs speak to audiences with a voice that is totally unique. Their work is anarchic, darkly hilarious and has a beautifully crafted rawness. In colliding theatre, poetry and music, they are making hybrid work that is personal and outward looking, asking themselves and their audiences provocative questions that are deeply political and deeply human.“

Theatre with Legs are Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow. Based in London and Bradford, their process is devised and experimental. Combining dark comedy, physical storytelling, live music and spoken word, their work is playful, political, queer, (dyslexic) and inherently live.
Previous work includes: Maybe I Should Freeze my Eggs (Brainchild Festival, Illuminate Festival at New Wimbledon Studio & Camden Fringe), Cold Feet (Roundhouse), Dating Blues (Bussey Building).
Jemima James is a director and writer. She is an associate director at Complicite and for their show The Encounter. Current projects include DIGS (CPT/Pleasance) and Skate Hard, Turn Left (BAC).


Performed by Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow

Directed by Jemima James

Produced by Sophie Nurse

Movement by Alexandra Green

Lighting by Joe Price

Sound by Dominic Brennan

Stage management by Libbie Khabaza

Theatre with Legs
Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, Edinburgh, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ
5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25 and 27 Aug (not 26) | 13:45 (14:45) | £10 (£9) 
9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 August | 13:45 (14:45) | £9 (£8) 
14, 15, 21, 22 and 28 August | 13:45 (14:45) | £7.50 (£6.50) 
Previews 2 - 4 August | 13:45 (14:45) | £6
Box office: 0131 556 6550 | 

Edinburgh Fringe preview: 
Theatre with Legs
Pleasance Islington, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF 
Tuesday 6 - Saturday 10 June 2017
7.45pm | £12 (£10) 
Box office: 020 7609 1800 | 

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