Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Dating Dramaturgy: Mary Rose and Mary Swan @ Edfringe 2015

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

Answer from Mary Swan:
In 2011 I made a show called Missing In Action written by Brendan Murray which focused on the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in military personnel returning from the conflict in Afghanistan. This production in turn had been inspired by work we had done in refuges for women escaping domestic violence, many of whom themselves had PTSD many of whom, ironically, had been abused by ex-military husbands and boyfriends. 

Mary Swan
This link made me want to look at the experience of women in conflict - the 'home front' story has been told numerous times, and stories of Nurses on the front line - though not often that of Cavell - have also been explored. As these ideas linked in my mind, the writer Clive Holland approached me with the idea to make a show about Edith Cavell, I was immediately interested but wanted to ensure that we had a contemporary resonance for the story - I was not interested in making a World War One 'period piece', I wanted the audience to be able to link the two periods in history and the plight of women caught in conflict then and now, clearly. 

Around this time I became interested in Marie Colvin, the American Journalist killed in Homs, Syria in 2012, and after some research into female war correspondents I knew this was how we should tell our story.

Answer from Mary Rose:
Mary Swan and I have worked together on a number of productions
and had been talking for some time about the idea of a one-woman show. We just needed to find the right vehicle. The writer of the piece, Clive Holland, had approached Mary about his interest in First World War nurse, Edith Cavell, who was executed by the Germans almost 100 years ago on 12th October 1915. Mary was keen to find a contemporary relevance to the telling of this story and so the idea of drawing parallels between two women's experiences of conflict - one a modern day war correspondence reporting from the Middle East and one a WW1 nurse working in occupied Belgium - took shape.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Answer from Mary Swan:
Originally our plan was to preview the piece and then bring it into a London venue for a longer run, but once we had made it - and strangely enough - particularly when we saw the trailer, we knew it was an 'Edinburgh show'; for me that means it has an honesty and a contemporary edge that makes it vital to now. This show, let us hope, should feel less relevant in three years time, but right now, with ISIS marching across the Middle East and the world becoming more and more dangerous, we need to remind ourselves of the women who will stand up and defy the oppressors by telling the truth.

Answer from Mary Rose:
Having previewed the piece at the end of 2014, we knew it was a story that deserved to be told. We were keen to have the opportunity to do a significant run of the piece and get it in front of a really diverse audience. There aren't many places better than Edinburgh to do that

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Answer from Mary Swan, Director:
I think I’d like the audience to think about how women are erased from theatres of war historically - how is Edith Cavell's story not embedded in modern British consciousness?

We also refuse to read our history books as pointers for the future. The modern map of the middle east was drawn up by the European governments at the end of the First World War, dissolving the Ottoman Empire - this kind of meddling, forcing nations into being and creating 'nationalism' in areas that have always lived in tribal systems is depressingly familiar. Although this issue isn't primarily what the show is concerned with, I hope it does make people think deeper on the implications raised by it.

Answer from Mary Rose:
We would really like audiences to connect with the characters they meet. In today's media saturated world where we watch the news from the comfort of our living rooms bombarded with yet more images of pain and suffering, it's no surprise we switch channels. But what about the people who risk everything to make sure the small voices are heard? And those who fought - or continue to fight - for our freedoms?

The Dramaturgy Questions

All answers from Mary Swan, Director:

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
With this show the dramaturgical process was influenced by the need to create a 'mind map' for Mary to navigate her way through the piece. We needed to find ways to strongly link the jumps in time and place in the narrative so that Mary could journey through the piece - one thought linking to the next. 

Because we were dealing with two distinct characters this also meant that we had to find ways to link their trains of thought. The script had to accommodate that to make it feel fluid and not staccato in its rhythm; however it also could not feel like a see-saw with the narrative rocking back and forth between the characters.

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?
We are all a product of what’s gone before, I guess the clearest influences on me are Robert Lepage, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Leigh, Simon McBurney, Michael Powell and Steven Berkoff. I’m not sure about ‘traditions’, but I do know that imposing rules on yourself as a Director is deathly. I don’t want to produce a ‘house style’ – Proteus’ tagline is ‘The Changing Shape of Theatre’ and that’s been an important motto for me over the years – I want to surprise audiences with what we do, and the Directors I love are the ones who do just that.

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?

My process is entirely collaborative – whether I am working with a writer or devising a piece, I act as an ‘Editor’ for the ideas and possibilities in the rehearsal room. When I devise a show, I will , as mentioned above, start with a physicalisation of the characters and work with those characters in improvisations based around the themes we are working on. I will film those and begin to craft a script from the speech rhythms of the characters. 

The actors are entirely at the centre of this process, shaping and influencing as we go. This also means that all the elements are present from the start and therefore feel rooted in the piece; I often use aerial skills in my work, this approach means that it never feels like an ‘add on’ it’s always an essential tool in the storytelling. When I work with a writer, there is always a period of development with the cast and writer before the drafting process.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?

The audience are always the best dramaturgs! I try to build space within the shows I create for actors to respond and play with the audience – either directly or in terms of subtle shifts in performance or emphasis. Audiences will always make you aware of what the piece is actually about and bring into sharp focus the things that may need attention. Children are particularly good at this!

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