Friday, 20 May 2016

A Wee bit of Dramaturgy: Philip Rainford and Adam Tomkins @ Leith Dockers' Club

Theatre Imperative (in association with The Leith Festival) present

The Wee One

By Philip Rainford



Written by Leith playwright Philip Rainford, The Wee One is a brand new comedy about family life, love and rediscovery.

Following the lives of Marie, John and their thirty-something son Danny, The Wee One is a truly heart-warming original play about the true-to-life challenges of a modern day family in working class Britain. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

In 2014 writer/performer Philip Rainford wrote a short monologue about an older gentleman who chickens out of an internet date because, as he puts it, "they probably just got rid of a bloke like me". It was warmly received at 5MD in Serenity cafe and Discover 21 Edinburgh and quickly grew to become The Wee One. Philip wanted to explore the isolation and vulnerability of older men in a family context. He recognised that for such a theme to be palatable, it must have the right balance of humour and pathos. Inspired by the likes of Shelagh Delaney, Tony Warren, Ken Loach and John Osborne with echoes of John Cooper Clark, Philip set about writing his first "proper" play.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

Having worked together on numerous projects including readings at 5MD and Discover 21, Philip Rainford and director Adam Tomkins joined forces to produce their first funded run of The Wee One in Discover 21 in May 2015.

AT: I wanted to work with new and emerging actors who were enthusiastic about the process of developing a new script using different techniques. I knew I didn't want to audition for this play, so we organised a read-through, which enabled us to produce a workable rehearsal script. Once the initial edits were done, we contacted a number of local performers and we were very lucky indeed to arrive at the cast we have. Both Philip and I felt it was really important to work with new actors who could not only bring freshness and skill to rehearsals, but who could create realistic characters who are memorable and lovable.

How did you become interested in making performance?

PR: I stumbled upon performing by accident. About eight years ago after having a stroke, I was left with the reading and writing ability of a primary school boy, along with other physical disabilities. Part of my rehabilitation was to learn how to read and write again. At Transition in Edinburgh, I learnt how to use a computer and gradually regained my literary abilities. As my memory eventually returned, I mentioned my previous enjoyment of theatre to one of the Transition staff who recommended the 'Introduction to Theatre' course at (the former) Telford College. We were under the impression that this would involve trips to the theatre, backstage visits and writing short reports. After about ten minutes of the first day, it dawned on me that it was an Acting course. I stopped the tutor mid-flow and said "excuse me,I think I'm on the wrong course. Is this an acting course?". "Yes", replied the tutor, "this is Introduction to Theatre. It's for budding actors. Would you like to stay or leave?". I stayed. 

AT: I've been involved in theatre and drama groups since the age of eight. I studied Theatre Arts at Dundee college and gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Acting from QMUC in 2000. Since then I've mainly worked as an actor in theatre in and around Scotland. I moved into professional directing three years ago, when I was confident I had learned sufficient skills and knowledge to give it a proper go. It's risky and unpredictable, but I wouldn't have it any other way. For me, theatre is all about the process of taking a story from scratch and turning it into a memorable stage event. Having the creative freedom of running a new writing theatre company is a joy and it enables me to guide other people through that process.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

AT: Theatre Imperative are a brand new company - in the forthcoming years we will explore different ways of bringing new scripts to life. Workshops are invaluable - not just for actors, but also for writers who are new to the process of developing a script for production. The great thing about working with creatives is that they bring so many skills and talents to the table. That's part of the joy - not knowing precisely how a process will unfold is exciting and presents people with the chance to pitch in ideas and experiment with their talents. The important thing is that people learn something valuable from the process.

PR: Being quite new to this game, everything is a learning curve. For me there are no typical processes as such. At sixty-two, I can offer a broad life experience, whilst my younger colleagues can offer their theatrical talents. Between us, we can bring a fresh approach to each production. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

AT: If people feel connected to the characters and the story, that's a good start. You have to feel emotionally invested and challenged on some level, otherwise it's an hour and a bit of your life you'll never get back. A good laugh and a wee cry is far better for the soul than two and a half hours of trying to stay awake watching a bad play that's already been done three times in the past ten years. Leith is full of people who love the theatre, but there is not nearly enough theatre here to sustain their demand. New plays need to reach out to people in ways that acknowledge who they are and what they hold dear. 

PR: Enjoyment, empathy and to recognise a little piece of themselves in each of the characters.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I knew it was important to help Phil create a story that is entertaining, relevant and recognisable to modern working class audiences; I suppose that's who we are, so the language and the characters reflect aspects of ourselves - hopefully our audiences will connect to the play on that level. If nothing else, it's very funny and it makes me cry. I think that's a good sign.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

AT: I'm a lover of social realism but I also really relate to absurdist plays. In an academic sense that could be a contradiction or a dilemma; a marriage of the two would seem ideal. That's what The Wee One has and it's why I think Phil is a gifted writer. I often look for hooks in a script and go with whatever winks at me the most. 

The Wee One was winking so much I knew it was trying to tell me something. That said, I don't limit myself or choose what I work on simply based on what appeals to me. I'm just interested in working with people to help them understand their own capabilities a bit better - that's what others have done for me.

After a sell-out run at Discover 21 Edinburgh in 2015, brand new company Theatre Imperative are very proud to present this production for the people of Leith as part of The Leith Festival 2016.

About Theatre Imperative

Established in 2016 by Leith based writer/performer Philip Rainford and director/performer Adam Tomkins, Theatre Imperative are a new writing theatre company whose vision is to harness and develop the talents of emerging writers and performers. Their aim is to produce high quality inclusive theatre productions that address the interests of the local community and enrich the cultural landscape in Leith.

A wee bit more about the play

The play began life in 2014 as a five minute monologue about an older gentleman who chickens out of an internet date because, as he puts it, “they probably just got rid of a bloke like me”. 

The monologue went down a storm at Discover 21 and 5MD (aka Five Minute Dramas at Serenity Café) in Edinburgh. With guidance from director Adam Tomkins, writer Philip Rainford quickly seized upon the opportunity to create his first ever feature length play around his reluctant anti-hero, John. By turns original, familiar, laugh-out-loud funny, touching, tragically sad and memorable, each character has a vividly recognisable and thoroughly believable presence in the story, bringing freshness and life to this feel good show. 

With echoes of Shelagh Delaney and John Cooper Clarke, The Wee One is the flagship production from an exciting new Scottish theatre company.

With Philip Rainford, Catriona Joss, Alexander Staniforth, Emma McKenna and Wendy Barrett. Directed by Adam Tomkins. With kind support from EPAD and the Scottish Recovery Consortium.

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