Thursday, 19 May 2016

More Paper Dramaturgy: Lesley Eadie @ Southside Fringe

A new play by award winning playwright Heloise Thual. A and E are playing in the garden that A changed into a graveyard for books. Unable to find her other brother’s (J’s) body, A is burying his books. A and E are playing games, taking on different roles: life and death, Greek tragedies, poetry. With a paper bag.  In a house controlled by the despotic and violent Auntie who has forbidden them to imagine, remember and read, A teaches her brother to resist. But the last book, J’s favourite, will change her beliefs, opening a world where a pragmatic mind struggles and where the limits between stories and memories collapse.  Directed by Lesley Eadie.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration was the text itself and Heloise’s formidable ability to multi-layer her work. I love the way she plays with classic texts and mythology in her writing; always finding a way to make it relevant to society today or using it to make a social or political point in the piece.

I love the ‘mud’ imagery in the play. The characters are literally stuck. Stuck in a situation. Mentally, stuck in a moment. I also loved the imagery of birds; the thought of the papers (her memories) flying away and leaving ‘A’ and helping the characters to unstick themselves from the trials their lives have given them.

Originally I wanted the actors to construct an enormous birdcage around the action as they spoke; trapping themselves in the garden, becoming the memories as the horror of their situation overwhelmed them. The idea was to stage the play in the round and have the audience part of the garden, sitting on garden furniture or on the artificial grass itself. Let the audience feel the grass and mud on their feet: we all have memories we can’t escape and I wanted them to reflect on that as they encountered ‘A’ and ‘E’s predicament. 

Unfortunately we were not allowed to use the space in that way, so we compromised with the mud and the trees. Despina (Isaia - our head Designer) understood where my ideas were coming from and managed to do a marvelous job of creating the sensation of mud and isolation that was required within the set.

Overall I just wanted the performance to be seething with memory, with the angst felt by ‘A’ and many women before her, and with hope that you can escape from any situation regardless of how dark.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I knew Elaine’s (McKergow) work and on a first reading of the play could see her in the role of ‘A’. She has this presence about her; a strong, don’t mess with me attitude but she is also incredibly caring with those around her and meticulous with her roles. She is the embodiment of a strong Scottish woman: perfect for ‘A’, who is, as Heloise writes, “strong like mum”.

Filling the role of ‘E’ was trickier. He is an incredibly complex character; 2 in one really and we knew we had to find someone who had an instant sparky relationship with Elaine. As soon as Euan (Cuthbertson) started the scene in his audition we all (myself, Elaine and Heloise) knew he was the man for the job.

Heloise had worked with Jen (Martin – Sound Designer) and Despina before and I had worked with Oliver (Gorman – Lighting Designer) on a previous production at the Tron and loved his ‘lightscape’ creation so was eager to work with him again.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve been interested in performing since I was a little kid, making up stories for family and dancing around whenever I could. At drama school I discovered writing and devising and have been in love with making new work ever since. 

Life got in the way for a while but in 2014 I started a new young company Urban Fairytale and have been making work solidly since then. The ethos of the company is to give young theatre makers a chance to get their feet on the professional stage. I work with a core of actors/performers and bring in other people when the script or performance piece requires it. I teach (Drama/ English) in a high school during the day and the bit I always liked best was the creation process, I thought I would use that as the basis for my company and get the young people to do what they like best – create theatre with a purpose and entertain and engage audiences. 

The idea behind the name of the company is to create/present stories from the city to people from the city by people from the city. We try to use public engagement in our devising process and try to bring theatre to spaces where people might not expect it – performing BOYS in a brewery being just one example.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
In rehearsal, I am definitely a collaborator. I love nothing better than everyone mucking in and having their say. I loved having Heloise in the room during Paper Bag rehearsals – it meant if you had a question about the writing or if I wasn’t sure about how much poetic license I had with an element of the play I could get the answer right there and then. Very liberating. The whole team we had around us were very flexible which was lovely.

Design wise it was thrilling having a tiny fledgling idea and watching the designers grow it into something exciting. Despina is a genius – we had a lot of issues through our way with regards to the space we could create and how we could use it. She took every setback with grace and turned it around into something usable and beautiful. 

She worked tirelessly for hours creating our ‘muck’ which looked spectacular under the lights. Oliver’s lighting design was stunning. I asked the poor guy to change the direction of the sun on stage and never to have the lights static so that we get the idea of the days constantly rolling by for the characters! He did a beautiful job of it. I hope people notice his ever changing lightscape – there is not one moment on stage when the lights are not fading into another state but it is so subtlety done, beautiful. Jen had a rare old time creating our drone and ‘storm of voices’. 

She wanted to create the grim dark noises out of something joyful so took a wedding crowd cheering reversed it and slowed it down to create our ‘auntie’. We saw the sound as another character in the piece, personifying the Creon character of auntie. In the Tron version of the show auntie was ever present in this new version at the baths she ebbs and flows throughout, almost as if she is coming into and out of the scene with the main actors.
Acting wise the guys worked tirelessly on their characters, constantly questioning their motivation and finding new information in their words. That is the beauty of Heloise’s writing there is always something to find. I like to give actors space to find their character and flexibility of movement on stage. I like them to listen to each other and both Elaine and Euan are fantastic listeners.

This was a very long winded way of saying... Yes, definitely.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
‘A’ is such a strong character, gathering her strength from sorrow. As a lifelong Glaswegian, I understand this mentality; having seen it in my family role models. One of my favourite comments from our Tron run was, “I didn’t know whether to hate ‘A’ or run onto the stage and save her”, that’s when I knew we had achieved an understanding of both her uncompromising strength and underlying vulnerability. I hope at least one member of our Govanhill audience feels this strongly about the characters and the play.

I also hope that they are captivated by the setting and situation. This play is a rollercoaster ride that doesn’t stop to let you breathe. It’s visceral. For me, the hour feels like it is over in a fraction of the time.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? How did the composition of the music come about - was it part of the scripting or production process?

I’m lumping these questions together as one sort of answers the other. We saw ‘Auntie’ as a character. We wanted the audience to feel her there with them. That’s where the idea of the drone (sound) came in. The humming beneath the surface; the undercurrent of danger. Jen took this idea and created this uncomfortable sound in a very low register that we were able to put through subs to make the space vibrate. I really wanted it to be annoying, like white noise that gets under your skin. 

I wanted it to be part of the experience for the audience. I like to push elements of production in that way to see how the audience reacts to it. We had some people who raved about the unseen auntie character and for them it really enhanced the experience, others, however, found it grating. I loved that. I loved that it grated them, it was supposed to. 

For me, the noise annoying people means that the audience experience I wanted, succeeded. I know that may seem a little bit twisted, to be happy that people felt uncomfortable with ‘auntie’, but that was part of the experience we had designed for them and they got it.

The music composition was part of the production process in the initial version of the show but our revised idea makes it part of the script. We have weaved ‘auntie’ in and out of the scenes, building her part and making her move around the house that we don’t see. She is not so grating anymore – or she is but in a different way. If anything I think she is more foreboding now and hope that the audience sense her and are still horrified by her existence.

One element of musical composition which was always part of the script was the ‘storm of voices’. Heloise wrote this into the script from the beginning and wanted a build up of character voices almost like it was overwhelming ‘A’s mind. We decided we would add a different voice to represent the character of J (who is normally ‘played’ by Euan through ‘E’) to show her memory of her other brother. Danny Holmes plays this character in the voiceovers.

Why Antigone, why now?
There has been a real resurgence of Greek theatre in recent times so I am not surprised Heloise chose this play to produce. Antigone is a strong woman, who knows her mind and stands up for what she thinks is right. She’s a feminist. Who doesn’t love that in a character?

For me the lines which resonate for this play from Antigone come from Ismene,

“Our own death would be if we should go against Creon
And do what he has forbidden!
We are only women, We cannot fight with men, Antigone!”

Auntie is Heloise’s representation of Creon, this beast who controls their little world, and I see a lot of Ismene in the character of ‘E’, scared to go against the regime. ‘A’ is fighting everyone for the right to bury her brother regardless of how dysfunctional their relationship was. But she is strong (like mum), strong like women are, even although they aren’t often represented in that way.

The beauty in Heloise’s multi-layered writing lets us take a lesson from Antigone, from her strength and from the universal themes within it (freewill, determination, power, mortality) which are, as Heloise has so beautifully showcased, relevant and prevalent in today’s society.

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