Friday, 31 July 2015

To Kill Dramaturgy: Catrin Fflur Huws @ Edfringe 2015

To Kill A Machine
7th – 31st August, Zoo Aviary (Venue 124)
8.55pm (No Show on Tuesdays)

An ‘Absorbing, provocative and, sometimes uncomfortable’ look at the life and work of Alan Turing

“Don’t expect some wishy-washy story of a nice geeky guy who happened to be homosexual. No, this is a hard-hitting look at the nature of humanity when confronted with a person who won’t – or perhaps just can’t – conform.”
Arts Scene in Wales

Following a successful tour of Wales, and a very well received performance in London, Scriptography Productions is pleased to announce that our latest production To Kill A Machine will be taking up residency at Zoo Aviary from Friday 7th August.

This new play, described as a ‘sensational piece of theatre’, examines the life and work Alan Turing, the World War II Cryptographer, focusing on his pioneering work into Artificial Intelligence, questioning whether machines can think. At the heart of the play is a powerful love story which questions the meaning of humanity, and the importance of freedom, and considers how these questions are played out in relation to Turing’s own life, death and posthumous re-evaluation. It is the story of Turing the genius, Turing the victim and Turing the constant, in a tumultuous world.

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

Catrin Fflur Huws: It started with a visit to Bletchley on the day of
a reunion, so they had the replica Turing-Welchman bombes working with a sound 'like a thousand knitting needles'. On the wall there was the story of Alan Turing's life, including the fact that he was convicted of gross indecency and given injections of female hormones. 

In a glass case there was the front page of an article that Turing had published in a journal, Mind, which asks what is the difference between a man and a woman? Alan Turing's story really touched me - the lengths society goes to to force people to conform, and this combined with the feel and the sound of Bletchley, and the question of what is the difference between men and all blended together to provide the initial inspiration. I can't say it was one thing, it was a lot of things connecting at once. 

Where does your piece at the fringe fit with your usual work?
There are similarities of course. I write in a way that's very much inspired by absurd writers like Beckett and Ionesco, so I don't try to
emulate the real world. I'm very much influenced by children's books of conveying very complex ideas very simply, so there's a straightforward story, but lots to think about beneath the surface. However, in other ways it's very different - I write a lot about magic, talking animals, abstract people, so writing about a real person in a real situation was quite a different approach. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
It's a very real production and a very honest one. I think you get to know Alan Turing the man not Alan Turing the genius - you see him in the environment in which he lived and worked, with friends - and with enemies. 

That means you see him being a likable person and you see him struggling with situations that he doesn't handle well.  A lot of the Alan Turing stories seem to be a little bit embarrassed about his sexuality - he is homosexual off stage. To Kill A Machine is a play about a gay man. It makes no apology for that. In terms of the production it's a very intense production - as an audience you are very close both emotionally and physically to what Alan Turing undergoes. Audience members who saw it on the tour said that they really needed to talk about it and discuss it with friends afterwards, and felt a real need to explain what they felt about what they had seen, and to relate it to their own experience of alienation and loss. 

The Dramaturgy Questions

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

I don't think To Kill A Machine was dramaturged in the modern sense, although there are elements of it in the dramatic process. As a writer, I was keen to ensure that themes were established and paid off, for example the repetition of the line "sorry, you deserved so much better." 

The development process helped with this, for example by strengthening the narrative of the game show elements of the play, and directorially, Angharad Lee sought to use the imagery and the choreography within the play to emphasise some of the themes, such as for example, the separation of Alan from those who might care for him. 

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?
Some aspects are very traditional - it's very much Alan's story, so it's very classical in that way - it's a hero with a tragic this case honesty. I was very strongly influenced by the film Cabaret with its 'real world' story and its 'theatrical story' - partly because I love the film and partly because the play from which it was adapted was the work of someone who did exactly the same job as me in exactly the same place. 

It also draws on work such as Maupassant's short stories in terms of the emphasis on society's disregard for people who do are not approved of. But different people have seen other influences - Fritz Lang, Beckett and Camus have been spotted in there. I think the one tradition it probably has very little of, oddly, is verbatim theatre - even though this is a real story with real people, that draws heavily on Alan Turing's work, it does follow a very classical structure. 

I don't think there's one craft of writing. Sometimes it’s doodling with words. Sometimes it's knowing what to say but not knowing how to say it. Sometimes it's trying things in different combinations. Sometimes it's rehearsing - what would you say to someone in this situation. Sometimes it’s writing without stopping. Sometimes it’s leaving it to sulk. 

Sometimes it’s walloping it repeatedly into submission. All of this is quite lonely. There's no one to help you and frankly you often don't help yourself. Other people can mentor you and buddy you, but it's a bit like being a dancer - someone else can choreograph you and give you a wonderful costume, but you've also got to do lots of things that will make your body hurt - a lot.  Once there is something there, then collaboration is essential. Having people, especially actors to read it really helps you to test it. You hear the repetition and the exposition. 

An actor doesn't just appreciate the funny lines, he or she is there to do a job, and if the character doesn't have a function in the piece, the actor knows when they're there to fill up space and it's excellent when they tell you what you don't realise. A good director is also essential - Angharad Lee made me really aware of the visual aspects of the play - what the audience sees is really important. Writing a play is a one person job. 

Getting a play out of the two dimensions of a page and onto the stage is  definitely the work of a team. I couldn't have produced it, directed it, designed it, created the sound or the performance, and it's important to realise how much more expertise other people have. 

What do you feel the role of the critic is?
For the audience, the critic is often judge, jury and executioner. A respected critic's review can encourage or discourage the audience from seeing a play. A review can alert people to a play they might not have considered, or can dissuade them from attending something that might otherwise have appealed. 

A critic can sort the chaff from the wheat - picking out gems that audiences should not miss. However, critics can also raise audience's expectations for something that disappoints, or underplay something that a particular audience member might love. 
For the company, a critic can often alert the director and the writer to flaws in a play - the critic may identify aspects that might be tweaked in the short term or improved in the long term. This is invaluable if a play has a long run, or is likely to be performed again in the future. 

However, critics are like doctors - a good diagnostician is needed in order to identify the weaknesses correctly and cure them. 

Starring Gwydion Rhys (Hinterland, and S4C regular) as Alan Turing in an astonishing performance described as ‘fragile beautiful’, along side Francois Pandolfo (Dr Who, EastEnders, Casualty), writer and performer Robert Harper and newcomer Rick Yale.

"It is clear that Gwydion Rhys's fragile-beautiful portrayal has benefitted from the detailed developmental work, and for me he outshines Mr Cumberbatch in the film… The same is also true for the other three actors in this extremely strong cast."
Paul Griffiths (Translated from his welsh language review)

Following a tour of Wales, and a performance at The Arcola in London, during which its overwhelmingly positive reviews included, “a sensational piece of theatre”, “absorbing and provocative” and “a hard-hitting look at the nature of humanity” the new play by Welsh playwright Catrin Fflur Huws the company will be visiting Cardiff’s Gate Arts Centre before heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival for three weeks at the Zoo Aviary venue. 

The production was funded by Arts Council Wales including being selected for one of only ten Wales in Edinburgh awards to take the best of arts in Wales to the festival, it was also supported by a worldwide kick-starter funding campaign with avid Alan Turing fans supporting the portrayal of their hero. 

The main role of Alan Turing is played by Gwydion Rhys in an astounding performance alongside ensemble of Rick Yale, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper who between them play 14 characters covering the range of friends and colleagues throughout Alan Turing’s life. 
The play covers a vast range of Alan Turing’s life story from his early school days and the tragic love story of Alan and Christopher Morcam, through to his days at Cambridge, Bletchley Park, Manchester University and his arrest for gross indecency before his tragic early death. 

The play is beloved by computer scientists not only for its endearing, humorous and realistic portrayal of Alan Turing but the embedding of Turing’s own words and works within a macabre and grotesque game show sequence which runs through the play. 
It was produced in association with Cwmni Arad Goch who supported and mentored the company through rehearsal and production and made it possible for the new company to achieve such astonishing success with its first touring production.

Scriptography productions is also an associate company at Aberystwyth Arts Centre who are supporting the production at Edinburgh Fringe festival as one of two Arts Centre associate companies to have secured Wales in Edinburgh funding to visit the festival. Both of these productions, To Kill a Machine and Gwyn Embertons will be at Zoo Venue .

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