Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Dramaturgy via Penge West: Chris Larner @ Edfringe 2015


Written and directed by Chris Larner
Designer – Nina Patel-Grainger & Ivan Savage
Lighting Designer – Celia Dugua
Costume Designer – Natalie Pryce
Cast – Cecily Nash & Olivia Scott-Taylor
Listings Information
Venue: C nova, venue 145, India Buildings, Victoria Street, EH1 2EX
Dates and times: 5-31 August (not 19) at 17.10 (18.25)
Tickets: £7.50-11.50
Box office: 0845 260 1234
Suitable for ages 14+
From the acclaimed comic mind of Chris Larner (Fringe First winner An Instinct for Kindness, Decomposed, On the Island of Aars and The Translucent Frogs of Quuup), comes a brand new show: the all-girl, all-eyebrows hit comedy THE FRIDA KAHLO OF PENGE WEST.  At the Edinburgh Fringe following two sell-out London seasons, at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington and the Bridge House Theatre in… Penge.

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a
script or an object?
Chris Larner: Began with meeting two very funny actresses and wanting to write something for them.  But I have also spent too many evenings of my life watching self-important theatre or self-important art, wherein the (apparent) credentials of the subject-matter vastly outweight the quality of the art, and where earnest, worthy artists are applauded by earnest, worthy audiences for doing not very much but regurgitating earnestness.   

It's always seemed to me that, in theatre, this phemnomenon of small-time earnestness was best served by one-person plays, wherein the solo performer is without the benefit of another human in the dressing-room, reminding him (or her) what self-indulgent toss the play is.  And, within that, there is a sub-set of historical characters which people seem drawn to.  

Frida Kahlo, for me, fits right into the target-zone: a rather dull artist raised to iconic status by people applauding their own seriousness.  (Hate mail on a postcard, please)  So, I wanted to write a show about a self-important actor sacrificing everything - decency, dignity and niceness -  for the purposes of her, and the god-like Frida's - art.  And for me, that level of self-importance is always comedy gold

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Biggest showcase in the world.  Two very funny young actresses bursting with talent.  This show needs an audience, needs to tour, needs to attract interest.  The world needs to laugh at pretension.  

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Laughs.  Big, fat gags.  Beyond that, see the answer to the first question, above: it's about a dysfunctional freindship, sacrificed on the alter of uncritical, cultural hagiography

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I never quite know what "dramaturgy" means, or at least, what it means as opposed to the sorting-out of structure of a piece of work, to best serve the intentions of that work.  

The overall structure of a piece of work IS the piece of work,
characters and ideas and situations have to progress in such a way to keep the audience interested, engaged and challenged, hopefull pleasurably so, if that's what dramaturgy is, yes, it's important.

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 dunno, most obviously are the joke-masters, jokes embedded into sound dramatic structure.  The Right Size is a company with whom I did a lot of work, they were very funny.  Woody Allen has a way of squeezing pure gags into a scene and making 'em sound like dialogue.  Any decent sit-com does it: a target of three laughs per page, and get the story told at the same time.  

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?
It's like Sysyphus making bread.  You write, let it rise, knock it back, knead, let is rise again, knock it back.   Chew your nails.  Chew your knuckles. Write a page of rubbish because, even though you know it's rubbish, at least you're writing something.  

Gradually whittle the thing away till you find an idea which still makes sense when you're sober.  Then, distil the idea.  Repeat.   Then yes, in the rehearsal room, you collaborate.  It would be a dull process if the performers didn't (or couldn't) bring their own voices and humour into the work and make it their own, especially with a new work.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making
the meaning of your work? 
Mainly, they have to turn up.   But it's a complicated question. 

Clearly, any work of art only takes on true meaning when it ellicits a response in someone.  Can a painting be a great work of art if it is unknown, locked in a cellar and wrapped in paper?  People more versed than I in the niceties of philosophy might bung you compelling arguments on this one.  You'd better ask them.  

Essentially, the role of our audience is to be there, 5.15, C Nova.  

Turn up, willingly, in droves, with a drink inside 'em and be prepared for a very funny time... theatre is - at best - a communion of souls, audience and performers, so the more the merrier.  Spread the joy.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I dunno.  Teasing out the best structure from an initial idea is the challenge of any writing; teasing the best from an extant script is the challenge of any director, and teasing the best from debatable parameters of character-choices is the challenge of acting.  To have the knack of post-creative editing, that seems to me the great skill.  Where are your ideas repeating, getting dull, being unclear, forcing characters into cul-de-sacs of conceptual lifelessness...?   Where are your ideas strongest, need more breath, need more focus, need the surrounding rubbish cleared from them?  These are the things which any writer worth his (or her) salt does as part of the job, and I guess the role of dramaturgy (or editing) is to help that along

The cast features Olivia Scott-Taylor as Zoe. Olivia recently starred in ITV’s Wild at Heart, playing Stephen Tompkinson’s step-daughter. She has just spent a year filming Marvel Avengers: Age of Ultron for Marvel. Cecily Nash plays Ruth.  Cecily was in Renato Rocha’s The Dark Side of Love at the Roundhouse, & played Dot in Red Ladder/Dumbwise’s The Matchgirls, at Wilton’s Music Hall.  Both of these up-and-coming comic talents are making their Edinburgh debuts.
A 2-woman comedy about one woman's epic struggle to stage a one-woman play about Frida Kahlo, with 2 women in it…
Chris Larner turns his comic eye to the agonizing travails of young creative types in this new play, and delivers two sharply observed female characters, both hilarious, with or without tequila.
When quiet, unassertive Zoe lets an old university chum sleep on her sofa for "just a couple of nights", little does she imagine how much her life will be blown apart.  For Ruth - vain, driven, and totally narcissistic - is an unemployed actor and extraordinarily cross about it. And when Ruth determines to show the World a thing or two by writing and starring in a play of her own, the hapless Zoe is dragged unwillingly into playing a supporting role or eight.  Wickedly funny, caustic and absurd, this original comic play about friendship, betrayal and artistic pretension is brilliantly performed by Cecily Nash and Olivia Scott-Taylor, and has a surprising twist of a happy ending.  Well, happy-ish.
Chris Larner’s stage writing, directing and acting credits are extensive.  From the deeply personal and moving – most recently with his hugely successful and acclaimed An Instinct for Kindness – to the comic heights of songwriting, and everything in between.   

Warning - Dodgy Mexican accents are contagious.

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