Thursday, 2 June 2016

Blood For Blood Dramaturgy: Jonathan Holloway @ Edfringe 2016

jA Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood
Pleasance Courtyard (Beyond), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ Wednesday 3rd – Sunday 28th August 2016 (not 10th, 17th, 24th), 14:40

Dickens’ classic of heroism, espionage and revenge is thrillingly reimagined by multi- award-winning writer-director Jonathan Holloway. The show makes its European premiere direct from an acclaimed Hong Kong season.
This powerful ensemble production relocates the story in the present day, shunning cosy Dickensian theatricality in favour of a world of shadows and fakery. Six actors in a sea of empty chairs and discarded shoes recall ‘the disappeared’. Here, there are no wigs, no period frippery and very few of Dickens' original words. 

Dickens' well-thumbed classic is hurled into the arena of duplicitous hotel room fixers and secret assignations that reverberate through a lifetime.

Original music underscores an exquisitely designed production building on the success of 2015’s UK/Hong Kong Chung Ying collaboration with Jekyll & Hyde. A group of accomplished UK artists including Graeme Rose, Nicki Hobday and Eric MacLennan has once again been recruited to create work of international standing with one of Hong Kong's most impressively ambitious and accomplished theatre companies. The show is created and presented with the UK's legendary Red Shift Theatre Productions, and Olivier Award winning producers Seabright Productions.

Note:Parental guidance

Preamble: Red Shift was for 27 years a national and international touring company based in London.  In 2008, we surrendered our Arts Council RFO status and became a test bed for new work including the immersive show The Fall of Man (Edinburgh 2009 and UK touring, since revived by other companies here and in the US)  and the crowd embedded Invisible Show I & II (Latitude, Edinburgh 2011 and UK touring).  Some of my work as a writer has over the last 15 years received new productions by Chung Ying which have been in Cantonese.  

It was an easy decision that Chung Ying and Red Shift should collaborate on projects written, directed and lit by me. The request for a version of A Tale of Two Cities initially came from Chung Ying.  

They are concerned to re-establish a thread of English language performance which has been neglected in recent years.  They also want to move forward in terms of style of production and need both to service an established HK audience and attract a more diverse audience, particularly younger people who are interested in music, film and exhibitions alongside theatre.  This project is also part of a plan to ‘internationalise’ Chung Ying and seek credibility at international festivals throughout the world. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I was initially unsure about the title because it feels so traditional and in a way artistically claustrophobic.  After careful thought, I decided it was actually a very good idea, provided I made the show less about epic narrative, and more about love and loss – essentially the bereavement of the Defarges and Carton’s obsessive desire for Lucie Manette, which leads him to sacrificing his life.  

These fundamental and quite scary elements are, of course, shared across cultures, and should work equally well for a UK and HK audience.  At our first speculative design meeting, Neil Irish (Designer) and I hit a simple but demanding concept which would provide an unexpected visual motif and bring with it a set of rules to which we had to adhere when making the show.  

This is the 100 empty chairs (80 in Edinburgh) arranged in a rigid grid pattern and with the same number of empty pairs of shoes underneath each chair.  We felt this resonated beautifully.  Every empty chair implies a missing person, consumed by revolution, suicide, disease, accident.  The rigid layout means the actors have to negotiate the rows of chairs, which are to some degree a constant impediment.  

The layout gives an architectural impression, as if looking down on the map of a city.  When emotional and physical violence takes place, it leaves disruption of the chairs, which stays, reminding us of past events.  It was very important that a chair should not be manipulated as if it is imagined as something else.  Instead, a chair is always a chair – an obvious point, maybe, but it seemed very important to us.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I have become less and less interested in recent years in the usual
process of choosing a play and then casting actors to the roles.  It seems to me much more valuable to assemble a team of artists who will be committed to creating the artefact represented by the show, and who will bring the show to them rather than moulding themselves to it.  Hence for Tale of Two Cities: Blood For Blood we have a team of six performers (seven if you include me) from diverse backgrounds.  

Youth can also be an issue in this kind of work, and I have been concerned to assemble a company that brings a lot of texture to the show.  Roughly speaking the performers range from early twenties to late fifties.  Several performers have experience of creating their own work either as individuals or as part of companies.  

Eric McLennan has just won Arts Council funding for his own new show A Voyage Around My Bedroom, and his credits include DV8, David Glass, Citizens Theatre Glasgow, Red Shift, Volcano and Shunt.  Graeme Rose co-founded several companies inc Stan’s Café and The Resurrectionists, and is closely associated with Bodies in Flight, Talking Birds and the Modified Toy Orchestra. 

Nicki Hobday makes her own shows and has recently worked with Forced Entertainment, Michael Pinchbeck, Annie Siddons and Richard de Dominici. We also have performers who come with a conservatoire background -  Mike Rogers, James Camp and Abby Wain – who bring a wealth of technical and emotional expertise.  I have worked with Linbury Prize winner and Venice Biennale exhibitor Neil Irish regularly since 1995, and with composer Sarah Llewelyn since we worked together in 2007 at Red Shift and Giffords Circus.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I am a lapsed Catholic brought up in a South London (part-Irish) working class household steeped in the imagery of Calvary and the Resurrection.  I discovered I wanted to work in theatre through the influence of a charismatic teacher and through Greater London Education Authority sponsored free visits to London shows,  and a mesmerising 1972 visit to the Edinburgh Fringe where Steven Berkoff, Lindsey Kemp and Max Stafford-Clark changed my life.  

I am a theatre-maker who has also to make a living, and the theatre I make is for my own entertainment, accompanied by the hope others will also be entertained.  I am rubbish at networking and have little interest in the theatre establishment, which is a career inhibiting failure on my part.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance? 
The process on this show has been deliberately a-typical.  It has been about layers, the imposition of seemingly arbitrary rules, constantly interrogating easy choices.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they will be involved and moved (I don’t understand it when theatre makers talk disparagingly about emotional manipulation), and surprised that an apparently capricious set of choices add up to a marvellous evening.  I’m and entertainer.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Deliver big words, big emotions, big imaginary images, hold them in the grip of a worthwhile yarn, celebrate the emotional plain of everyday existence as if it has the status of Greek tragedy.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I hope I’m a watertight storyteller who packages the work in unexpected ways.

Jonathan Holloway Playwright, Director, Lighting Designer, Performer Neil Irish Set, Costume & Props Designer Sarah Llewellyn Composer & Sound Designer
James Camp Cruncher/Charles Darnay Mike Rogers Monsieur Defarge/Stryver Abby Wain Lucie Manette/Barsad Graeme Rose Sydney Carton/Evremonde Nicki Hobday Mme Defarge Eric MacLennan Jarvis Lorry/Magistrate Jonathan Holloway Dr Manette
Jonathan Holloway
Jonathan is best known as founder and Artistic Director of Red Shift Theatre Company which toured throughout the UK and beyond from 1982 - 2011, and was subsidised by Arts Council England from 1986. His work as a director, writer and teacher has been seen and heard all over the world. He has directed events ranging from crowd-embedded performance to pocket musicals to landmark reinventions of the classics; run companies and venues; written over 70 professionally produced plays; collaborated with some of the most important writers, designers and composers in British theatre. Jonathan has contributed a huge body of work to BBC Radio 3 & 4, the world's most prolific broadcasting outlet for quality drama. 

His work as a writer and director has won numerous awards including a First Prize at the 2013 Prix Italia, three consecutive Scotsman Fringe First Awards, the Shakespeare Prize and Best Actor Award at Chile's World Festival of Theatre, The Stage's Edinburgh Festival Best Actor Award and a Best Actor nomination for Jo Millson at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2014, nomination in the final six for Best Adaptation at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2015. 

In 2015 Jonathan directed his radical adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde for Chung Ying in Hong Kong and London. In 2016, work for the BBC includes a new commission for a substantial drama examining the phenomena of radicalisation across the centuries, and a new adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel starring James Purefoy for Johnny Vegas' Woolyback Productions. Jonathan's original play Big Time, written for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, will be broadcast by the BBC in April, while his new version of Brave New World will be aired later in the year.
Chung Ying
Chung Ying is one of Hong Kong's largest and most influential companies presenting ambitious work in English and Cantonese and delivering theatre of the highest calibre to the people of Hong Kong. Under the leadership of its Artistic Director Ko Tin-lung it promotes cultural exchange and enriches local life. It has staged more than 250 productions since its inception in 1979, and attracted over 100 nominations and 75 awards at the past 20 annual Hong Kong Drama Awards ceremonies. The company has its own extensive premises and maintains a close relationship with the Theatre Department of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Acts.

Playwright and director Jonathan Holloway comments, This Tale of Two Cities is just what Dickens would have wanted in 2016. He was a social campaigner, a romantic, an unconventional artist and a polymath who adapted and performed his own work for live audiences. He was committed to watertight narrative and a populist who knew audiences think they know what they want, when what they really want is to be taken by surprise.

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