Thursday, 9 July 2015

A Sailor's Dramaturgy: Nicholas Collett @ Edfringe 2015

Nelson – The Sailors’ Story
Nicholas Collett Productions
Zoo (Sanctuary), 140 Pleasance, Venue 124
Friday 7 August – Mon 31 August 2015 at 17.10 hrs
Written and performed by Nicholas Collett
Directed by Gavin Robertson
Original soundtrack by Danny Bright
Inspirational hero - flawed maverick. Tactical genius. Rebel.

Amidst the shot, smoke and din of battle, a surgeon, a midshipman, a
gunner and a powder monkey aboard HMS Victory strive to destroy the Combined Fleet of France and Spain. Their fate – and that of their country - lies in the hands of one man – Horatio Nelson.

“A masterclass…a riveting perfomance” BROADWAY WORLD
For two hundred years, Vice Admiral, the Right Honourable, the Viscount Nelson KB has stood patiently on his column in Trafalgar Square, watching the world and its many changes, good – and bad. But what happened to the “tars” who served with him? Through their eyes we find out what it was really like at Trafalgar; and in Nelson’s own words, the hero – and the rebel, then – and now.
Below the column in Trafalgar Square, a homeless Falklands veteran shivers in the cold…

“Ingeniously played by Collett, who delivers an energetic and compelling performance”   GLAM ADELAIDE
Collett plays 16 characters in this thrilling portrayal of Royal Navy life in 1805 – the minute-by-minute danger, excitement, tragedy and a good helping of laughter - drawing sharp parallels with society’s relationship with service personnel today.

For the first time, Collett brings his solo work to the Edinburgh Fringe. A professional actor, producer, director and writer for 32 years, he has appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End, on tour and on television. Nelson – The Sailors’ Story takes you right to the heart of Trafalgar and lets you meet the man who caused so much controversy, whilst writing himself into the history books as one of Britain’s greatest heroes.
“An enthralling tale from a consummate performer” KRYZTOFF

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Nicholas Collett: I had written my first one-man show, Spitfire Solo about a Battle of Britain pilot and wanted a follow-up. I’m a professional actor and producer, writer and director and this is what I do for a living. I’m very interested in history and wanted a follow-up show to capitalise on the good touring I’d had from Spitfire . Nelson was a favourite and nobody had done him. A friend who wanted to mount a theatre festival in Australia wanted me to premiere it there so that put a line in the sand.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
It’s the world’s biggest marketplace for theatre. By the time it gets there, Nelson will have played Adelaide and Kansas City as well as touring all over the UK. The next stage is trying to generate more international and domestic work, touring Nelson and trailing my new show for 2016 – Your Bard – an informal audience with Will Shakespeare. 
I also want to advertise my acting, writing, directing and collaborative skills with a view to new commissions. If you stop, you’re dead. Although I’ve been to Edinburgh before, this is the first time I’ve taken my solo work, so on a personal level it’s a challenge - putting it in front of my peers and hoping for positive reactions and feedback.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Well it’s just me. I play about 13 different characters with very little in the way of props. The set is a plinth to represent the top of Nelson’s Column and some suitcases which become ships and a desk – even a shelter. A rucksack and sports bag become a cannon. The scenes are fleshed out with a brilliant soundscape created by Danny Bright and I’m guided by my director Gavin Robertson. The action jumps between Nelson on his column now – and in the battle – and contrasts that with a homeless Falklands veteran who sleeps at the foot of the column. It moves quickly and is very physical. I have the admiral’s hat and jacket but for everyone else it’s physical and vocal changes to switch between characters.

Everyone will feel differently. One thing I’ve discovered is that it’s an emotional piece. Although it’s ostensibly a historical piece about Nelson at Trafalgar, it draws parallels with society’s relationship with the services now and touches on homelessness. That’s a thorny subject and it sometimes makes people angry, frustrated and sad. Sometimes they feel proud, sometimes ashamed. I’m glad to say that most people I’ve spoken to have enjoyed the show and found it interesting to “meet” Nelson.

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

It’s central to the work I make. I have a unique relationship with Gavin in that we create our work together – we have made 4 shows together since 2011. We each act as director and dramaturg to the other, provoking and supporting. So, for Nelson, I read the major books about Nelson himself and the major theories about Trafalgar and then gave Gavin a kind of shopping list of events. 
Then we worked on a structure and the characters that interested us and I went off and wrote some scenes. Eventually they get printed off and we arrange them on a floor and fill in the gaps. Then we edit. It’s all about the feel and the dynamic as well as the sense. I realise it’s difficult for people to understand, because devising is so different from traditional playwriting. 
Gavin and I share a vision and we have lots of shortcuts we’ve developed to aid us in our storytelling. It’s also complicated by the fact there’s only me onstage, so keeping the audience interested is paramount.
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 come from a classical theatre background and training – with quite a bit of mime and physical theatre thrown in. That’s enriched by my degree, during which I discovered Brecht. Gavin is Lecoq trained so that complements my background. We’ve developed a house style which is minimalist and elegant, multi-role storytelling, action and humour.

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?
As I’ve said, our “writing” process dovetails all the elements of structure, character, physicality. It’s just that we do it without particularly labelling things. For us, each step may be random to the outside eye. 
We react to need, not a prescriptive agenda and we may well make the show completely out of the timeline we eventually end up with. It’s not unknown for us to edit after opening night – and in some cases months, even years afterwards, especially if we revisit a show. I opened Nelson in Adelaide in October 2013 and did four performances. I didn’t perform it again until April 2015 and that involved quite a substantial rewrite, additions and reworking.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Firstly it’s important for us to be clear where we need to be – but one of our favourite things is leaving the audience slightly on edge. We like messing with timelines - like a movie, so that some information may arrive and the audience thinks “I don’t understand that at the moment, but I trust this guy to tell me the story”. Later on a piece of information arrives to make that link and the audience joins the dots. I don’t like “ploddy” theatre.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I guess to summarise, dramaturgy for me is very much the elegant solution to a dramatic problem or issue. It is a gesture – or the Brechtian gestus – which can replace a page of text. An emotion crystallised in a move. A shift in a timeline which provides an insight into a character. It is all of these things, all of the tools in our kit, which co-exist – and we can draw on them at any time to refine the elements which make up our piece.

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