Friday, 26 June 2015

Dramaturgy is Down and Out: David Byrne @ Edfringe 2015

David Byrne wrote, adapted and directed Orwell’s Down & Out in Paris and London

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
David Byrne: I’ve wanted to stage Down and Out in Paris and London since I first read it. Like many people, I came across the book first when I was a student. During my three years as a theatre student in Hull I survived on very little money, counting every single penny to make sure I could afford to eat – especially during the long, stretching summer breaks.

I’ve been waiting for the right time to stage the book and, with the national debates around welfare and the working poor, now felt like a perfect time to use Orwell’s work to examine these issues. 

In the production, we’re combining Orwell’s book with an adaptation of Polly Toynbee’s 2003 book Hard Work – which saw her go on a similar journey to Orwell, as she lived undercover, in London, living on benefits and working in minimum wage jobs. Even though the two books are written a century apart, there are stunning resonances and similarities between the two.

What’s great about Orwell is that he’s a political author that both sides of the political debate feel an ownership towards. Therefore, I knew that framing this argument through his semi-autobiographical book, a theatre production could have a debate with a wide cross-section of people, across the political and social spectrum.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
There’s still nowhere on earth like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to premiere a show. The audiences are simultaneously generous to new ideas and experienced theatre connoisseurs.

If you’ve been once, it can be very addictive – nowhere else can you put your work alongside some of the big giants of the theatre world. It’s an irresistible challenge for a sparky, small theatre like New Diorama to undertake.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Something that ties all of our previously productions together has been a sense of theatrical invention – and Down & Out in Paris and London will be no exception to that.

For lovers of Orwell’s book, we’ll be going behind the scenes: seeing him grow as an author as he writes what turns out to be his first published novel.

For those interested in our current social situation, we’ll be going into the detail that you never read in the newspaper headlines about some of the shocking realities on living on the minimum wage in the UK today.

And for audiences who just want a good piece of theatre, there are plenty of drama, interesting characters and a gripping story.

The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?

Dramaturgy has always been essential to our work: we’ve never created naturalistically presented productions - therefore creating a contract with the audience of how we’re going to tell the story, setting up the conventions, the style and the rules of the worlds we’re creating are essential. And that’s all down to methodical dramaturgy.

The biggest dramaturgical challenge of our process is always finding the key to matching content to dramatic form. Since in this piece, especially, we’re playing with two stories set almost 100 years apart – we’ve needed to create styles and conventions to seamlessly slip between the two, clearly letting the audience know where they are and which narrative they’re seeing, as well as a style that holds the piece together as a whole.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I think being a devising company, our work and process has been inspired by many of the influential devising and improvisational companies. We’ve taken techniques from everyone from Complicite to Armando Iannucci, from Brecht to Hitchcock.

While I don’t feel we’re part of a tradition, per say, I do feel part of the new generation of British theatre companies who are presenting work that sits at the crossroads of our long text based tradition, a more devised European style, while borrowing some of the economical techniques from film and cinema.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?

The work normally begins with a very loose text, which is presented to the devising company to give a rough idea of outline – very much a first sketch – and then quickly taken away: it gives us the tracks of where we’re going.

We then work together as a company trying out different storytelling ideas and moments to find a language through which the piece is told.

All the time, the script is written and re-written around this process and around the work the company are creating in the room.

Finally, towards the end of the process, things start to solidify and the final piece takes shape.

This, as you can tell, is a very loose outline that allows for collaborators – both artistic and technical – to contribute and shape the piece. But with this process, we are all collaborators – the finished production is a reflection of a million choices and contributions, shaped by the director, from the company in the rehearsal room.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The audience is the oxygen of theatre. Theatre, for me, is the space between what is actually happening on stage and what the audience are seeing and experiencing. Theatre happens in that gap where the imagination takes over – that’s why theatre is such a powerful medium: it happens inside your head.

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