Saturday, 1 August 2015

Ascending Dramaturgy: Daniel Elliot @ Edfringe 2015

The King’s Players present

The Ascension of Mrs Leech

The story of Mrs Nelly Leech (aged 74, Chairman of the Boules Club) and her usurpation of God

When Mrs Leech dies, she is fortunate enough to be afforded a place in heaven. It isn't long, however, before her busy-body attitude and grey-haired determination get her caught up in a celestial squabble. Whilst forming friendships with a group of dissatisfied angels, Mrs Leech finds herself inadvertently usurping the petulant, spoilt God and sitting on the divine throne herself. Which isn't very comfy - it could do with a pillow.

Having been written by Chortle Student Comedian of the Year finalist Daniel Elliot, The Ascension of Mrs Leech is at its heart a comedy, but the play also opens up conversation about important issues: homosexuality as a sin, non-believers going to hell, as well as the existence of evils in the world. 

Moreover, the play touches upon questions we less often think about; if we were to go to heaven after death, what would it be like to be reunited with the loved ones whose loss we had already mourned? The company’s hope is to give audiences a chuckle, but also to make them think. 

The Ascension of Mrs Leech by Daniel Elliot
7th - 29th Aug 2015 (Preview 7th, no performances on the 16th or 23rd)

Time: 21:55 (50 minutes)
Venue: Greenside @ Infirmary Street (V236)
Tickets are free

What inspired you to write the play?
Daniel Elliot: I wanted to explore some of the issues that I and many other people have with organised religion, but in a comic way. And I’ve always really enjoyed writing bossy old women. So I put the two together and made Mrs Leech.

Why take it to Edinburgh?
As well as writing, I’m also a stand-up comedian - so I know how great the fringe is as a place to put your creative work out there. Doing it night after night, to a (hopefully) diverse range of audiences, is going to teach us a lot.

What can your audience expect?
I think that the characters - particularly Mrs Leech - will be recognisable to most people. We’ve all met a quintessentially British matriarch. And we also all have some idea of what God would be like if he were real (although I suspect our version of ‘God’ might be a little unexpected). It’s fun seeing those two powerhouses coming up against each other.

What do you hope your audience will take away from the show?
It would be great if people left the play and had a bit of a sceptical think about the ideas we are fed by religious institutions. But more than anything, I just want people to have a good time, and a hearty chuckle.

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I wouldn’t say that we have followed any particular format or style. It’s been quite an organic process; I wrote the play in a way that felt pleasing and fluid to me. I suppose my taste is quite naturalistic - I’m a fan of a bit of realistic stuttering, pauses and rambles. But again that was never a conscious decision, it just happened that way because it felt right, and fit the mood of the play.

The standup comedy side of my life has also probably had its influence on certain aspects of the play. I’ve definitely noticed that I think a lot about areas like comic timing, line delivery and ways of phrasing certain things in relation to my own experience of trying to work an audience.

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?
The idea for Mrs Leech had been lurking around in my mind for quite some time, and in the ‘notes’ section of my phone, with a few scribbled ideas for character and plot. At first it seemed like it was going to be a short story, but when I started thinking of it as a play, it all came out a lot better.

The actual rehearsal process has been really key in the play’s development. We have a really lovely cast, and over the months of rehearsing some of the characters have taken on entirely different shapes to how they began. It was very common to hear “What if I said ___ here?” in our rehearsal room, and the play is a lot better for it.

What do you feel the role of the critic is? 
I’m not entirely decided on this. I can see the value of criticism in helping an audience to select what to see, and in helping the artists to analyse and improve their work.

But if I get a real rotter of a review, you will probably see me eating my body weight in peanut butter

The King’s Players is an award-winning university theatre society which champions new writing. The group won the “Best Writing” award at the London Student Drama Festival in both 2013 and 2014. After fantastic responses to the company’s London performances of The Ascension of Mrs Leech, they are excited to bring this new play to the Edinburgh Fringe for the very first time.

The Ascension of Mrs Leech is part of Death on the Fringe - a series of shows and events looking at death and dying which takes place during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each year. It is part of the ongoing charity-led initiative, Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, which works to promote more openness about death, dying and bereavement.

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