Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Netting Dramaturgy: Morna Young

A co-production between Allie Butler/Morna Young and Woodend Barn

Written by Morna Young
Directed by Allie Butler

NETTING is a story of fishing widows trying to live their lives after a tragedy. A story about real women – strong but flawed – the play explores how grief changes their relationships.

Keep busy, eh? Hope we’ll get a body, mebbe. The widden spoon. A knock on the door wi a wooden spoon.

A father and his two sons are lost at sea.
Three women adapt to their lives as widows. Kitty can’t stop knitting. Alison needs looking after. Sylvia wants to forget.
Then, one day, a knock on the door. A body has been found. One body, three women. Who does it belong to?

Set in the north of Scotland, NETTING is a story of finding closure after unimaginable loss.

Written in Doric and set in a small fishing village in the North East, playwright, actor and musician Morna Young took inspiration from the many “strong” women in her family. She said: “As a born and bred fishing quine from Burghead, I grew up surrounded by amazing women, many of whom have experienced their own tragedies and, although a fictional story, I took inspiration from their great spirit, dark humour and wonderful personalities”. She added: “There’s a really special quality in many North East women – the ability to say something that makes you want to laugh and cry – and I wanted to capture that honesty. It's important to me to present  ‘real women’ with ‘strong’ characteristics.”

What was the inspiration for this
About five years ago, I wrote a play called Lost at Sea (in pre-production with Eden Court for a 2017 tour) as a personal tribute to communities that have lost men and boats at sea. It’s a big story spanning forty years of the fishing industry and featuring a cast of ten actors. Later, I decided that I wasn’t quite finished with exploring the fishing. There was another story, a female led narrative, that I wanted to consider. So, I made the decision to write a sister play and, there, the idea for Netting was born.

Initially, I developed Netting through my New Playwright’s Award (Playwright’s Studio, Scotland) and it featured in the Spring 2015 season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor, Glasgow and The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. This tour – a co-production between myself / director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn, Banchory – allows us to take the show to the rural / coastal areas that inspired the work. 

Netting is a restricted story. The drama is set entirely in one, controlled space and focuses on the female characters and their inter-personal relationships. I wanted to isolate them from the industry that had dominated their lives. I wanted to understand the effect of a body being recovered from sea. 

I knew the story I wanted to tell and, almost immediately, I heard the character’s voices. There they were – Kitty, Sylvia and Alison - demanding for their voices to be heard. 

The story is set three months after a fatal fishing accident. One day, there is a knock on the door informing the women that a body has been found. As the women wait for the body to be identified, we see their back-story, their changing relationships and shifting dynamics under pressure. 

Essentially, it’s a story of finding closure after unimaginable loss. It’s about what happens when the phone stops ringing and the sympathy cards stop piling up and life, somehow, goes on. 

Although a fictional story, Netting is inspired by the many strong female voices that I grew up surrounded by. There are Kitty’s, Sylvia’s and Alison’s all around the Scottish coastline. It was important to me that this show toured to the areas most affected and dominated by the fishing industry. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Initially, I was mentored by playwright Clare Duffy during the New Playwright’s Award. With a Play, a Pie and a Pint (PPP), I knew I wanted to work with a female director and, around that time, a mutual friend introduced me to Allie Butler. Allie and I connected through our work as feminist makers and I’m really pleased that this has led to us forming a continued work partnership. 

Heather Fulton (Creative Scotland Hub Producer for Woodend Barn, Banchory) saw the PPP show which instigated initial conversations about forming a creative partnership because of our mutual interest in rural touring. Pauline Morgan remains on board as Sound Artist / Composer and, joining the team, is designer Alice Wilson, production manager Jools Walls and lighting designer Laura Hawkins. 

We’re really delighted that this female led show is being created by an all female team. 

In terms of casting, I knew from the moment that I wrote Kitty’s name that this was a part for the amazing Carol Ann Crawford who had been involved in the initial reading of Lost at Sea back in 2013. I was truly delighted that she was available for the PPP production and even more delighted that she could re-join the cast for this coastal tour. She is a wonderful actress and it’s joyful to watch her become Kitty – armed with her knitting. 

Also returning to the cast is the wonderful Sarah McCardie as Sylvia and, this time, I’m joining the company in the role of Alison. I’d never considered being in the show before so it was a bit of a curveball when the suggestion was made – after a bit of stalling, I finally agreed to take off my ‘retired’ performers hat and, now, I’m genuinely really excited. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
That’s an interesting question. Does performing in the back garden as a kid count? Being from a small fishing village in the north east of Scotland, there was very little arts provision when I was growing up. Once a year, we would go see the pantomime in Eden Court and maybe an occasional touring musical too.

I was pretty fortunate that I was selected in school to play the violin and received lessons through the Moray Council. That was really my first step into the arts and I continued to play instruments throughout my childhood. 

Then I joined a local theatre group, St Giles. We’d put on a musical once a year and it was always a brilliant experience. Later, I studied drama at High School and I remember reading Rona Munro’s play “Bold Girls” which was on the syllabus. I loved it. It’s a play for four women and, for the first time, it made me curious about other types of theatre and I wanted to read and watch more. 

Despite all of this, I never really thought that theatre could be a viable career option and, so, I found myself studying journalism. It was only in my third year of this course that I turned my attention back to drama and applied for drama school which led to training at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. 

After working as an actor-musician for several years, I finally wrote Lost at Sea – inspired by the loss of my own father when I was a child. I moved back to my home village and spent months researching, interviewing and, eventually, writing the play. 

In 2013, I produced a rehearsed reading of this in Lossiemouth alongside Stellar Quines , Out of the Darkness Theatre Company and The Moray Council. The decision to write Lost at Sea is the entire reason for where I am now. 

Over the past few years, my interests have developed and changed as my experience has grown. In addition to playwriting, I have begun to make my own work with a particular focus upon multi-disciplinary work, collaboration and female led narratives. 

Marginalised voices also play a central role within my work and I am passionate about audience development and touring work rurally. 

My interest in making performance has definitely been a gradual journey rather than one key moment and it’s been really interesting for me to see the changing influences within my work as experience grows. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
This completely depends on the project. 

As a playwright, I tend to veer towards academia and research. My initial training as a journalist and subsequent acting career has given me a strong desire to explore verbatim text and docudrama, using investigative research to deliver a creative output.  I tend to begin with a rough idea or theme and this influences all of my reading / viewing over a certain time period. 

At some stage, I usually write about ten pages of dialogue to hear the characters voices then step back and begin the plot planning, structuring etc. I tend to think slowly but write quickly. It never fails to amaze me how long a creative process can take – for example, Lost at Sea has been five years in the making and Netting was initially conceived in 2013. I continue to be interested in gender roles and a theme of community plays a central role within my work. I’m also hoping to develop my first musical this year. 

My theatre making tends to come from an interest in collaborative work methods. Too often, I find that productions are dominated by individual company roles and the dreaded phrase “that’s not my job”. 

Moreover, it often seems like the creative conversations haven’t had a chance to fully develop and to merge as one overall artistic vision. The design, the direction, the music – often, they exist as singular entities on a stage rather than one immersive performance. Many of my current projects have begun with a desire to explore the boundaries of collaborative working. HEROINES (a study of strong female characters with AJ Taudevin, Belle Jones and Catrin Evans) has provided an opportunity to explore joint working methods and co-writing techniques. Similarly, my project FOLK (development commences later this year supported by The Tron) brings together a group of actor-musician-writers with a view to co-writing, co-performing and co-composing a music driven performance. 

This core team of performers will directly influence the entire production including the design, presentation, marketing etc. Another project in development – a sound / text collaboration with Sound Artist Kate Carr – allows a focused opportunity to add my interest in verbatim text to the mix and I’m looking forward to exploring presentation forms. 

Essentially, I’m really interested in the idea of creating immersive performance that pushes the boundaries of ‘traditional’ roles within a company structure. All of these projects also embrace multi-role artistry. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Audience development is key to my work and I actively continue to try to engage with under-represented audiences whilst providing a platform for marginalised voices. I write primarily in my native dialect, Doric, and continue to be fascinated by the natural lyricism within this. 

Being from a rural community, and having experienced first hand the lack of arts provision, fuels my interest to tour work and to connect with rural audiences. Social media provides an instant platform for this but I’m also interested in exploring connection through outreach and education work.

Most of my work uses universal themes – love, loss, identity - to explore specialist subjects which I think allows audiences to connect emotionally to the material. 

Netting, for example, explores three complex female characters and how their relationships shift under pressure. Even though the background is specialist – the fishing industry – the characters’ grief and reliant relationships are universally recognisable.  

I’ve always said that I don’t need an audience to like the characters I write but I want them to identify with them – their strengths, weaknesses and fallibility. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I fully believe in the value of local campaigning as the best way of engaging with non-traditional theatre audiences. 

Whilst planning this tour of Netting, we tried to plot a journey across coastal and island communities where we believe the show will resonate most. I’m really delighted that we’ve also connected with the Scottish Fisheries Museum and will present a performance there - next to a full sized Zulu boat which is pretty extraordinary.  Another highlight is performing on the HMS Frigate Unicorn, located in Dundee. 

I was also really keen to build a comprehensive Outreach and Education strand into this tour and I shall be leading playwriting / theatre making workshops along the way to engage with rural communities who don’t always have access to arts provisions. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Scots language, feminist, working class, identity, cross-discipline… no matter what direction my work moves in, I find myself returning to these same ideas. Ultimately, I’m a curious person and I think this is reflected in my work; I never write or create with an answer but, rather, with questions that interest, disturb and provoke. It’s important for me that my work transitions alongside my development. 

NETTING was first presented as part of a A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Òran Mór (Glasgow) and The Lemon Tree (Aberdeen) in February 2015. This Scotland wide tour opens on Friday 11 March at Woodend Barn (Banchory) and is a co-production between playwright Morna Young/director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn.

NETTING boasts a stellar cast including CAROL ANN CRAWFORD returning as KITTY alongside SARAH MCCARDIE in the new role of SYLVIA with MORNA YOUNG joining the cast to play the role of ALISON. 


Fri 11 Mar | Woodend Barn (Banchory) | 7.30pm | £12/£10 | 01330 825431 |

Sat 12 Mar | Mortlach Memorial Hall (Dufftown) | 7.30pm | £9/£7/£6 | 

Sun 13 Mar | New Pitsglio Village Hall | 7.30pm | £9/£6 |

Tue 15 Mar | Tullynessie & Forbes Hall (Alford) | 7.30pm | £10/£8 | 

Wed 16 Mar | Royal British Legion Hall (Buckie) | 7.30pm | £9/£8/£6 | 

Fri 18 Mar | Blairgowrie Town Hall | 8pm | £10/£8 | Blairgowrie Information Centre

Sat 19 Mar | Eden Court (Inverness) | 8pm | £12/£10 | 01463 234234 | 

Mon 21 Mar | HMS Frigate Unicorn (Dundee) | 7.30pm | £10/£8 | 

Tue 22 Mar | Scottish Fisheries Museum (Anstruther) | £10/£8 | 01333 310628 | 

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