Friday, 26 June 2015

James Haddrell on Dramaturgy: Hannah and Hanna @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

James Haddrel: This production began with a young company – CultureClash – wanting to make their debut at the Edinburgh Festival, and looking for a play that responded to their mixed heritage.

One of the founders is second generation Turkish, one is second generation African-Caribbean, both have grandparents who arrived in this country and faced various struggles in integrating, and both were born in this country and consider themselves British. 

For me, I had been keen for a while to work on a project that responded in some way to the growth of legitimised racism evident in the last general election, which saw a party campaigning on principles of exclusion and thinly veiled xenophobia and overtaking the Liberal Democrats and the SNP and take the third largest share of the vote. 

UKIP may have only picked up one seat, but they still secured more actual votes than the Liberal Democrats and the SNP – the ground swell of support for the party was frightening. John Retallack’s Hannah and Hanna was written in 2001 about the influx of Kosovan refugees into Margate in 1999, and how a typical young girl responded to it. 

With a story set in and around the UKIP heartland, and at a time when the crisis of asylum seekers entering and crossing Europe is hitting the headlines once again, it seemed like the perfect play for all of us.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
At Greenwich Theatre we’ve been supporting young and emerging companies to present their work in Edinburgh for the last 4 years. For a young company like CultureClash the Fringe offers an opportunity to have their work seen by venues, programmers and promoters, to be reviewed by the media, and to begin to establish a name for their company. 

The Fringe is incredibly expensive for young companies, with most not getting their money back, but to hire a theatre in London or Brighton or Manchester for a month in the hope of achieving the same level of exposure would likely be just as expensive with less chance of attracting either industry or media to see the show.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
We have made one significant change to John Retallack’s play, without changing any of the spirit, any of the politics or any of the words. 

For our production, British Hannah is black, from one of the few black families in Margate. The hypocrisy of her initial racist response to Hanna’s arrival, and that of her friends who accept her but reject the Kosovans, mirrors the political hypocrisy evident in so many of the politicians claiming to embrace diversity while simultaneously condemning those in need of help or those aspiring to improve their lives by relocating to Britain.

All of this makes the show sound incredibly earnest, when in fact it rides on an upbeat karaoke score, it has moments of pure happiness and will certainly make people laugh, and it has all of the energy, and all of the emotional highs and lows that you would expect from two teenagers trying to understand their place in the world.

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

In my work in general, as artistic director of a theatre that prides itself on providing bespoke support packages to up to 20 young artists or companies, dramaturgy is incredibly important. 

Dramaturgy is the incisive light that tries to shine through a show, from the first moment to the last, moving along the line of the story. If anything blocks that light, blocks the movement of the narrative, it needs to be addressed. 

I have acted as dramaturg to a range of shows, and the process is always based on joining together a series of actions, or images, or ideas, into a clear and clean narrative. That’s not to say all of the potential visual beauty of theatre gets pushed aside – narrative doesn’t have to be driven by words – but for me theatre is about telling stories and dramaturgy interrogates and strengthens the success of that process. 

In Hannah and Hanna almost all of the work has been done for us – the script is lean, sharp, and drives a narrative throughout, so for us the parallel process is to try and either mirror or enhance the dramaturgical line drawn in the script in the performances of the two actors.

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?Cinema is certainly an influence, not in the dramatic realism often relied upon in the cinemtaic telling of a story but in the way that, through editing, it has found a way to tell a story without clutter. 

We struggle in theatre – moving the set on and off, getting props in the right place so that they can disappear from one scene and reappear in another, changing costumes to show passage of time – the mechanics of moving from one story ‘moment’ to another can be cumbersome and the editing process of cinema is something I always think about with theatre. 

We know we can’t replicate it, but given that we can’t, we need to find creative ways to address that need.

The visual arts are also an influence, from graphic novels to photography to renaissance paintings. What we have in theatre is the chance to animate a series of images, and to stop and concentrate on an image if we like. We have the individual images that tell the story, and the joins in between, but theatre shouldn’t be afraid of celebrating its ability to freeze, to capture and celebrate an image. One of my recurring instructions as a director is “stop, let us take the picture, carry on”.

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?This varies on every project, except to say that there is always collaboration. With some of our supported companies in Greenwich the process will start with a draft script, a scratch performance and an audience, with others it will start with a published play, and others will start with a scrawl on the back of an envelope. 

In every case though, and in all of the companies I rate, there is always collaboration between the writer(s) – if the show is new – the director and the performers. The process of devising is something to be embarked upon with care – it can very easily become vain self-indulgence – but managed correctly with the right group of people it has produced some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
It’s a cliché but there’s no theatre without an audience. I think the process of previewing is incredibly important for companies, either at an early stage of development if it’s a new piece being made, or at the start of a run with time to reflect if it’s an existing script. 

A piece isn’t alive until the performers have started to understand it from the position of receiver as well as giver. We have the political points we want to make, we have the emotional and/or intellectual journey we want to take people on, but we can’t force that – an audience will be willing or not, and will bring their own understanding and expectation to a show. 

For Hannah and Hanna, we hope the audience will understand our frustration at the rise of legitimised xenophobia, we hope they will turn our piece from a rehearsal room pastime to a 70 minute piece of shared entertainment that is uplifting, inspiring, energising and that has a place in the debate about immigration, but we won’t know that until audiences start to see it!

No comments :

Post a Comment