Thursday, 9 July 2015

Unknown Dramaturgies: Ross Ericson @ Edfringe 2015

The Unknown Soldier

After a very successful couple of years touring the UK Grist To The Mill are looking forward to their return to the Edinburgh Fringe with the world première of this much anticipated new play from the award nominated writer of Casualties, Ross Ericson

Ericson's story of The Unknown Soldier is moving, often humorous, but above all thought provoking. It looks at the First World War from a new perspective, through the eyes of a man who has survived the carnage but who finds it hard to return home. It is a story of the betrayal of the men they called heroes, of the deep friendship that can only be found between those who fight and die together, and of a world that was changed for ever. 

Ericson uses his military experience to give this play an authentic voice. He brings to it his usual attention to detail and even includes some family stories, making this a very personal piece. It is as gritty and as moving as 'Casualties', for which he was nominated for an Off West End Award, and shows a writer true to his form. 

6th to 31st August
17.55 (50mins)
Spotlites, Venue 278, 22 Hanover Street, EdFringe
Written and performed by:   Ross Erison
Directed by:                   Michelle Yim
Designed by:                   Grist To The Mill
Suitability:                   12 and over 

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
I suppose you could say that Michael Gove was the inspiration - I bet you weren't expecting that.  

My Gran-dad served in World War One and survived it, but even though this gave me an interest in the conflict I was reluctant to add yet another play to the long list of those already written about the subject.  Then I came across an article in a newspaper - that's how things often start for me - about the men that stayed behind after the armistice to clear the battlefields and create the great cemeteries. Reading around the subject I soon discovered something new about a period of history that I thought 

I was very familiar with, something that revealed that there was a great deal of unrest and disappointment in the men returning from the trenches with a Government that seemed, despite their rhetoric, to care very little about them. However, I still wasn't convinced that I should write a new play.  

Then Michael Gove started preaching in the Daily Mail that the reported futility and suffering of the First World War was nothing more than left wing spin, and that we should be honouring the sacrifice made by the men who fought for King and country.  There was that vile patriotism that sent millions to their death in the first place, and as I heard them turn in their graves I put my metaphorical pen to paper.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
That's what I keep asking myself. I love the Fringe and I love being part of it but, to quote Steve Coogan, you'd be better off putting your money in a bucket and setting fire to it - and these days it's a lot of money so you'd be able to toast a fair few marsh mallows. 

However, it is still a great place to showcase a new piece and to increase your profile, network with venues, and if you manage to attract some good reviews then there is a slim chance of a transfer or a tour.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Above all I hope they will find it entertaining, after all that is what they paid their money for - I endeavour to write with both drama and humour -but I also hope it will leave them with questions. There are ideas and issues raised in the piece that I hope will provoke a certain amount of discussion. 

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I find it hard to divorce dramaturgy from the writing itself.  When I am writing a piece for the theatre I am always thinking of how it will be staged, of how I want the audience to react or feel at a particular point and how the physical aspects of production can aid in this interpretation.  

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 think my writing style has a wide number of influences. I enjoy the work of Pinter, Martin Crimp and Jess Butterworth, to name but a few, but I tend to write in a voice that reflects the piece. 'Casualties' was modern play so that differed in many ways to my adaptations of Chinese classics 'DiaoChan' and 'The Autumn of Han', and they all differ in rhythm and language to 'The Unknown Soldier'.  

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 quite simple; write, rewrite, give it to my other half to critique, rewrite, rehearse, rewrite.  Always rewrite. Writing is rewriting and this I was taught by a well known playwright.  I was performing in a production of his and he rewrote, what I thought was a particularly good scene, just after press night and he was right - it was better.  Always rewrite.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Without the audience there is no point.  I write for the theatre, therefore I write for an audience.  To write without an audience is like cooking a meal without eating it - you're just flushing it down the toilet - and I always think a good meal like a good performance should be satisfying and provoke discussion.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Yes - Have you ever worked with a dramaturge and if not would you? If you have would you again? My answer would be no and I am not sure - I think I might find the involvement of a dramaturg a little awkward and intrusive..

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