Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Agent of Dramaturgy: Sarah Sigal @ Edfringe 2016

Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More
Underbelly Cowgate (White Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG Thursday 4th – Sunday 28th August 2016 (not 15th), 14:40
Mid-calf, navy blue day dress with pearl buttons by Victor Stiebel. Dove-grey tweed jacket and fox stole by House of Hartnell. Hat by Elsa Schiaparelli. Perfect for luncheons, jaunts around town and spying on fascists.
Lady Pamela, fashion columnist and socialite, is recruited by MI5 to keep notes on Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, suspected to be colluding with the German Embassy. But, Pamela suddenly realises that what began as an adventure has led to a deadly struggle for power in a world in the shadow of war.
After the critically acclaimed World Enough and Time by Sarah Sigal (Park Theatre 2014), Rebecca Dunn reprises her role as the beguiling Pamela More in this new piece. Writer Sarah Sigal comments, Some characters take on a life of their own. Pamela was always very demanding. Now she has her own show. And a Twitter account. Who knows what's next?
In the depths of a darkened bomb shelter, Lady Pamela tells a tale of adventure, espionage and intrigue, of glamorous cocktail parties, socialites and high fashion. This is a world where the news is filled with reports of economic crises, authoritarian governments and refugees fleeing war-torn countries.
From Jessica Beck, the director who brought Whiskey Tango Foxtrot to the Fringe in 2015, comes a journey of 1930s glamour and fear.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
My grandmother remembered reading about the Wallis Simpson/Edward VIII affair in America in the 1930s (where the newspapers didn't adhere to the reporting blackout) and wondering if it must have been a plot between MI5 and the CIA to get the fascist sympathising king off the throne. 

That curiosity passed down to my mother, and then to me. I find the 1930s particularly interesting now because I feel we're living in a parallel time - refugee crises, the rise of political extremism and isolationist policies. The choice between taking action or sticking your head in the sand in a period of uncertainty and fear feels universal. The spy story felt like an exciting way of exploring these themes.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I had already worked with Becca Dunn to develop the character of Pamela over a number of years for our last play together, World Enough and Time (Park Theatre, 2014). The director, Jessica Beck, and sound and lighting designer, Phil Hewitt, are both long-time collaborators, having worked with me on Dogfight (Underbelly, 2007) and Alice's Adventures in the New World (Old Red Lion, 2010), of which Becca was a part as well. 

Our assistant director Katharina Reinthaller has worked with Jessica on other shows and directed a short piece of mine last year. Our illustrator, costume and set designer Alberta Jones is a collaborator of Phil and Jessica's and our producer Carla Almeida is a friend. It's wonderful to be able to work in a team that I know so well and trust so much. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
I started acting when I was a child, then directing in high school and then writing when I was at university. I was lucky to have gone to a university that encouraged me to produce my own plays and discover different approaches to making work independently, not just through classes for my drama BA.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes and no. Agent of Influence involved research, discussion, devising and work-shopping that fed into the scripting process. This is often typical of the way I work. However, the character of Pamela came from a previous play and we developed her into a one-woman show, which is something I've never done before.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will be able to laugh and enjoy Pamela's journey, but also learn something about the history of the inter-war period and be able to connect the themes and ideas in the play to the world we live in now.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I wanted to create a one-woman show that engaged with storytelling so that the audience could develop an intimate relationship with the main character and become invested in her journey. Some of the material in the play is quite heavy so I felt humour was essential to explore the period.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
For this particular project, I drew inspiration from Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Eric Ambler, John le Carré, Alfred Hitchcock and the film noir tradition. However, I wanted to take the style and subject matter of the 1930s and view it through a feminist lens, focusing on the particular experience of a woman. In our society, we do not spend enough time telling the stories of women in history.

Sarah Sigal

Sarah Sigal has a BA in English Literature and Theatre from Gettysburg College and an MA and PhD from Goldsmiths College. She is a playwright, dramaturg and director working in physical theatre, devised work, site-specific performance and new writing. Sarah has made work for the Shunt Vaults, the Union Theatre, the Cheltenham Everyman, the Arcola, the Edinburgh Festival.

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