Monday 20 July 2015

The Spectre of Dramaturgy: Elspeth Turner @ Edfringe 20115

Stoirm Òg and Cumbernauld Theatre Present
World Premiere Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015

Written by Elspeth Turner Directed by Matthew Lenton Music by Matt Regan

Inspired by the bothy ballads of the North East, this haunting new drama from Stoirm Òg spans the past, the present and everything in between as the haar rolls in on the residents of SPECTRETOWN, a haunting story that spans the centuries.

As the memories of Old Doddie crackle on cassette tape, the lives of three inner-city charity shop workers attempting to create order from the jumbled chaos that surrounds them become intertwined with the budding relationship of young farm workers Doddie and Meg.

Weaving past and present, Doric and song, the play wrestles with tradition, power, gender, and the loneliness of modern life as the timeless refrain of the bothy ballads unites characters across the centuries.

The FringeWhat inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Elspeth Turner: I began with the idea of writing a play set in a
charity shop, in which one of the characters had some interest in or connection to this secret society of old, called The Horseman's Word - that was the starting point; that, and spending quite a bit of time in Aberdeen and rural Aberdeenshire.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?This is our home-turf! It's wonderful to première a show in the place where we live and work much of the time. Also, the audiences at the Fringe attend shows with an openness of heart, but also a wish to be challenged and moved, I think. That appeals to me as a playwright and performer. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?

I wouldn't presume to guess that.....! I very much hope they will be moved, laugh perhaps, and that they will come out asking questions of the world we live in, and of themselves - it's brilliant when seeing theatre leads you deep into conversation with folk afterwards - a bit like what Church sermons used to do in times' gone by; the event is just the starting point of the conversation which might stay with people long afterwards - that's the goal.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?Once I become interested in a subject, I tend to read as much into it and around it as time allows; since I am often setting my writing in particular periods in Scottish history, I try to hone in on what's relevant, though this is hard as I'm easily side-tracked. At a certain point I start writing the thing, sometimes before I feel I know enough about the subject, but once you get into a room full of other people, they'll be sure to ask questions about every detail of the narrative and the context, and so you're always interrogating the thing. 

A director said to me last year that because Scotland has such a healthy new-writing scene, the country is full of actors used to developing new writing, who therefore have quite acute dramaturgical skills - I think that's true, and the actors and other artists involved in the development of SpectreTown have been very generous and helpful in helping me to shape this play. 

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'm really not sure what tradition my plays fall into - I'm not sure I've written enough yet; I trained and lived in the States for a while, and that period had a profound effect on me - studying and performing plays by Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and more contemporary playwrights like David Rabe - his characters hit you in the gut; I love the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, Christina Rossetti, and plenty other poets - I think they've had an influence on me since a couple of years ago I started writing in verse quite a bit. 

My verse writing and dialogue-writing have begun to merge in the past wee while, and I'm enjoying exploring that. I'm also a big fan of Rona Munro's - I remember reading Fugue/Your Turn To Clean The Stairs when I was 20 or so and thinking - how on earth do you make stuff like this? It's like being in a house and a forest all at once - dream and life mixed in together. 

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? Once I think I have an idea for a play, I start finding out as much as I can about the subject, then I start writing - usually the mornings are best for me, for writing; the thing is, I've had to learn to accept that at any point the play might in fact become about something different from what I though. With The Idiot at the Wall, I wrote a first draft, then got together a group of friends to read it; between that and the first production 5 months later, I did several more drafts, with lots of help and input from the director and actors around a table; in each meeting with the director Emily Reutlinger, she asked me what I thought the play was about and each time it seemed to be something different, until we figured out it was really a play about two sisters. 

I think it's good to give yourself space not to decide that too quickly - after all somebody you think is a supporting character might wind up being the meat of the play, and you don't want to miss that. This first production of SpectreTown has been developed in close collaboration with the actors, and whole creative team - the play has several layers to it and so we have all had keen eye on where the audience's eye might be at any point in the telling of the story. It's been very good for it to be interrogated in this way - but with generosity and love, too - it's a real privilege.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Somebody said that the creation of a piece of work has a transformative effect first on the people in the room making it, and I think that's true. But a play has no meaning until it's in front of an audience - then it can have as many meanings as there are people in the theatre - that's what's exciting about it, if quite daunting. We're working on making a piece of theatre which tells a compelling story, but around that, which leaves space for the audience to dream themselves onto - their own knowledge, their own experience of being human. Matthew talks a lot about this, and so it's really wonderful to be working with him on SpectreTown.

Playwright Elspeth Turner (creator of the 2012 Edinburgh hit The Idiot At The Wall) took inspiration from the great recorder of everyday rural life- interviewer Hamish Henderson who founded the School of Scottish Studies (whose archives hold hours of audio interviews that Elspeth immersed herself within) and legendary bothy balladeer Scott Gardiner.

“When I started listening to bothy ballads a couple of years ago I became really interested in what these songs were used for” says Elspeth. “In fact, they are highly political, partly because they contain tips from one farm worked to another about whether this bossman or that is a decent man to work for. In that way, they represent a sort of democracy – except that the woman’s voice is quite often absent. As I began writing around the songs, I realized that interpreting and performing them as a woman living today can be in itself quite politically charged.”

SPECTRETOWN arrives in Edinburgh for its World Premiere following a development sharing at Tullynessle Village Hall in the heartlands of the north east, where audiences aged up to 102 shared their memories of the bothy ballad tradition last October, and previews at Cumbernauld Theatre on the 31st July and 1st August.

Directed with his trademark visual flair by Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton (The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler with NTS) and with a new score by Matt Regan (Theology, CATS Award nominee Best Soundtrack), SPECTRETOWN’s cast features Elspeth Turner, Bridget McCann (Sunset Song, Terence Davies) and Mark Wood (Victoria, Dundee Rep).

Following its premiere at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, SpectreTown will tour across Scotland, including a residency at ACT Aberdeen, and a week of special village hall performances across the North East.

This tour is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, Aberdeen City Council and North East Arts Touring.

Listings Info


Assembly (Rainy Hall) 1.30pm (Run Time 80 Mins) 6th – 31st August (not 12th, 17th, 24th) £14 / £12/ £8

Creative Team:
Writer: Elspeth Turner
Director: Matthew Lenton
Composer: Matt Regan
Production Designer: Richard Evans

Lighting Designer: Kai Fisher
Cast includes Elspeth Turner, Bridget McCann and Mark Wood 
Company Production Manager: Susan Martin

Producer: Aiyana D’Arcangelo

About Stoirm Òg

Stoirm Òg is a meeting place for powerful and honest acting, courageous new writing and big ideas.

Based in Scotland, they look to the riches of music, history, poetry, languages and folklore as a point of origin in their work. They embrace these not as relics, but as compelling teachers. Re-interpreting this intangible heritage with theatricality and a contemporary pulse, they are building productions to be engines of progress.

They are a company led by artists. They are a company led by women. Through storytelling that surprises - that makes us all ask more, challenge more, sense more – they engage audiences in a dialogue about how we live today. Stoirm Òg is currently Company In Residence at Cumbernauld Theatre. 

Elspeth Turner

Elspeth is an Edinburgh-based actor, writer and musician. Originally from Fife, Elspeth first studied and worked in London, before attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Following this, she went on to appear in such NYC productions as The Pillowman (Theatre Row), The Yeats Project (Irish Repertory Theatre),Titus Andronicus (The Queens Players) and The Odd Couple (Engeman Theatre). Film work includes Frolf (Award of Merit, Indie Film Fest.) and Real-Life Malllory (Official selection, Women’s International Film Fest.) Elspeth is currently filming the new feature from Scotland’s Lyre Productions – a road movie love story dealing with schizophrenia. In 2012 Elspeth returned to Scotland and founded theatre company Stoirm Òg. The company made its debut with Elspeth’s first play, The Idiot at the Wall – a re-telling of a Hebridean folk tale in English and Gaelic. After opening at the Edinburgh Fringe, the play then completed an extensive tour of rural Scotland in 2013. Elspeth’s new play, SPECTRETOWN is set in contemporary Aberdeen, and has been in development with Cumbernauld Theatre, where Stoirm Òg is the current Company in Residence. Other writing includes short film Staran Na Sanntachd, short play Running With Sadists for the Village Pub Theatre, and The Vision Splendid, currently in development. Elspeth also makes up one half of Edinburgh folk-outfit Rolasg. Elspeth was generously supported in her recent research in the North East by the Tom McGrath Trust.

Matthew Lenton

Matthew founded Vanishing Point in 1999 and has directed all of the Company’s productions. Current and recent work includes Tomorrow a coproduction with Brighton Festival, Cena Contemporânea Brasilia, Stanislavsky Festival Moscow and Tramway, (opening in May 2014), The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler (a co-production with National Theatre of Scotland), Wonderland (a co-production with Napoli Teatro Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, Tramway), Saturday Night (a coproduction with Teatro Nacional Sao Joao, Teatro Sao Luis, Centro Cultural Vila Flor and Tramway), and The Beggar’s Opera, (a coproduction with the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Tramway and Belgrade Theatre). Recent work outside Vanishing Point includes Home (National Theatre of Scotland), Mister Holgado (Unicorn Theatre London) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyceum, Edinburgh). In 2010, Matthew was chosen to be the first British director of the Ecole des Maitres, a European theatre laboratory led by leading European artists and directors.

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