Saturday, 16 November 2013

Orla O'Loughlin interview from 2012

I remember 2012... it was a time of optimism. Dominic Hill was bedding in at the Citizens (and the fandom rejoiced) and Orla O'Loughlin was taking on the role of artistic director at The Traverse. I spoke to O'Loughlin just before her production of Morna Pearson's The Artist Man and the Mother Woman. Then I left the transcript of the interview in my drafts file for a year, only to find it now and remember how generous she had been to my faltering questions...

GKV: If I may dive straight in... Critics- well me, at any rate- like to try and predict the future trajectory of a director... Taking a play like this then becomes the subject of augury. Having cast the lots, words like 'accessible', 'serious yet funny', 'Scottish language and identity' come up... But what attracted you to this particular piece by Morna Pearson, and am I right to look for clues to your future programming in the choice?
OO: Morna is a brilliant Scottish writer, with a very distinctive voice. another writer said to me the other week that the thing about her work is that it isn't like any anyone else's. Her writing is instantly recognisable as her own. for me, Morna has a style that tonally dances on a knife edge: at times out and out hilarious, at others profoundly tragic, and sometimes a compelling fusion of both. Her work is deeply bound up with where she is from and there is no doubt she is interested in the relationship of people to place. In this play, as in her previous play for the Traverse, Distracted, that place is the north east of Scotland.

In terms of future programming, I'm ultimately interested in getting the best work possible on the stage and attracting as wide an audience as we can to see it. What that work is remains to be seen, but yes, all your chosen words chime...

GKV: I really like the idea of seeing a show that uses Doric- it's not represented that often on stage. How is it as a language to use on stage?
OO: It's fantastic. a real privilege to dive into. I'm completely smitten with the lyricism, rhythm and wit of her words. Morna's particular use of Doric means her characters speak with a muscularity and poetry that feels both ancient and modern at the same time. familiar and strange: beautifully theatrical.

GKV: I have a pretty bad habit of over emphasizing my own preference for physical theatre, to the
extent of acting like I don't like scripts at all- it's one of my many charmless idiosyncrasies. But looking over your past work, there is a roll call of writers who reveal that new writing is very healthy. I'm interested in both what encourages you to believe in the script, but also the aesthetic criteria you use when you pick a script... Because your work so far does give me faith in your choices!

OO: Thank you. I tend to respond to the words Iread on the page instinctively and emotionally. If a script makes me laugh out loud or despair or have to have a conversation, that's generally a positive indicator for me. I'm also massively visual, I'm drawn to scripts where the stage pictures in my head challenge, inspire and excite me.

GKV: This is probably a question I ought to have asked in January... But what is it about The Traverse that persuaded you that your aesthetic would be best served by becoming artistic director?
OO: I love new writing and new work. I have eclectic taste and have made a wide variety of work, with very different writers in very different ways. There's something of the chameleon spirit of the Traverse that has always resonated. and appealed. and both spaces are legend in their ability to hold and successfully deliver a broad spectrum of work. And so, for me the traverse is a creative gift for theatre makers of all kinds. it's a huge privilege to be at the helm.

GKV: And finally... I always ask whether artists believe that theatre is an important part of social discussions... They say yes and I have wasted a question. However, very briefly, can I ask if you feel that critics can be a dynamic part of the debate not around theatre itself but the way theatre engages in wider discussion..

OO: Of course, critics are a vital part of the debate about the way theatre engages in a wider social discussion. The very nature of their role is to publicly and regularly go on record with their opinions. theatre, and in particular new writing and new work, is inextricably bound up with what it means to be alive in these times. A contemporary view is being expressed or explored. A voice is being heard. an experience shared. a question being asked. as such, theatre is a political art form, not least because it invites debate. And the critics are charged with professionally taking that on and as we've seen in Scotland recently that opinion has extended to include not only the politics inherent in the work being made but who has the power to decide who should make work in the first place and how it should be funded.

Orla O’Loughlin is Artistic Director of the Traverse Theatre. Prior to taking up post at Traverse, she was Artistic Director of the award-winning Pentabus Theatre and International Associate at the Royal Court Theatre.

Directing work for the Traverse includes: Group Portrait in a Landscape by Peter Arnott, Most Favoured by David Ireland,Catterline by Sue Glover, Clean by Sabrina Mahfouz, Rachael’s House by Nicola McCartney, Room 7 by Jonny McKnight,National Health by Lynda Radley, Skeleton Wumman by Gerda Stevenson, A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell (all readings). Orla will direct the The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society in December 2012 (in association with Peepolykus).

Other directing work includes: For Once (Hampstead Theatre Studio); Kebab (Dublin International Festival/ Royal Court Theatre); How Much is your Iron? (Young Vic); The Hound of the Baskervilles (West Yorkshire Playhouse/ National Tour/ West End); Tales of the Country, Origins (Pleasance/ Theatre Severn); Relatively Speaking, Blithe Spirit, Black Comedy(Watermill Theatre); Small Talk: Big Picture (BBC World Service/ ICA/ Royal Court Theatre); A Dulditch Angel (National Tour) and The Fire Raisers, sob stories, Refrain (BAC).

Orla has also directed two large-scale, site-specific productions: Shuffle with the National Youth Theatre at Merry Hill, one of Europe's largest shopping centres and Underland, performed 200 feet below ground at Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean.

Orla was winner of the James Menzies Kitchin Directors Award and recipient of the Carlton Bursary at the Donmar Warehouse.

Morna Pearson is from Elgin and currently lives in Edinburgh. Her first full professional production was Distracted at theTraverse Theatre in 2006. Distracted won the Meyer-Whitworth Award 2007 and was nominated for a CATS Award. Morna was given the inaugural Rod Hall Memorial Award in 2006. Her other plays include: Elf Analysis (Òran Mór); The Company Will Overlook a Moment of Madness National Theatre of Scotland and Òran Mór); Skin; or How To Disappear (Agent 160) and Ailie & The Alien (National Theatre Connections, 2013). Radio work includes: McBeth's McPets (BBC Radio Scotland); Side Effects(BBC Radio 3/Bona Broadcasting).

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