Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Criminal Dramaturgy: Jilly Bond @ Edfringe 2016

Retired detective Norma Bates has solved every murder case presented to her. Except one. It's quite literally coming back to haunt her.

Performance Dates: 6 - 27 Aug 
(Not 8 or 15 Aug)
Venue 13 21.30 (35 min)  
27 July (19.15), Bute Theatre, Cardiff                                
When her lecture is hijacked by an apparent ghost in the machine, Norma is forced to confront the details of her unsolved case. Reliving her encounter with the pivotal witness, whose own prejudices cast a lingering shadow over her investigation, she uncovers a tale of racism, betrayal and lost love. The figure who walks among the misty Scottish woods carries a lantern to light his way, but the very nature of the killer is called into question.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
 Discovering the first ten minutes of the play itself at a dramatised reading I was involved in as an actress - I was gripped by the idea of a traditional ghost story being wrapped in the sterile atmosphere of a university lecture theatre, but still having the power to terrify.  I have always been drawn to ghost stories anyway - not blood and gore, but the creeping realisation that something supernatural is at work - and is inescapable.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?  
We were very lucky to get Tommo Fowler on board as director - he and I had worked together at the Finborough Theatre last year, on a production which won the Studio Theatre Award for best play of 2016.  He directed and I acted.  I knew he was able to help me navigate my way through a monologue delivered directly to the audience, as I had done in I Wish to Die Singing, but also that he has a fantastic eye for visuals and the combination of technology and theatre.  

Originally my husband, who was a successful actor for 16 years and then switched careers, was going to play the non-speaking part of the Technician and take three weeks' holiday in Edinburgh while I performed - but then Tommo pointed out that he was perfect casting for the other main character - the Laird.  Julian has Scottish ancestry and red hair!  

And he went to public school, as we imagine the Laird to have done.  And he's still a brilliant actor!  Our third cast member will have just graduated from the drama school - Drama Studio London - at which Julian and I both trained, and where I still teach.  I auditioned a number of young men for the role, and Antonis stood out as having imagination and physical flair - a perfect combination for our mysterious technician.  And when I looked for a PR expert, Miriam was the obvious candidate.  

Our play sits absolutely in the centre of her sphere of interest, she did wonderful work for a company last year, and she and I got on like a house on fire (I use that term advisedly!!) when we skyped.

How did you become interested in making performance?  
I've been an actor since 1983, working in theatre, radio, TV, film and audiobooks.  I really love to keep pushing my own boundaries - I think it's the way to stay alive and vital - so in 2009 I started producing my own work (sometimes), with a writer I'd known since university, who'd written a part I wanted to play!  

And last year I helped to devise a piece about neurotransmitters in the brain and how they bear on addiction.  That experience increased my desire to keep working with new writers and helping to bring their work to the stage, if a play or a part seizes my interest.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?  
I think as an actor I have certain basic building blocks in my method which I use when I'm preparing a role, but aside from that, every piece and performance is different, so the way of working is different too.  There is a certain shorthand between Julian and myself because we worked together as actors for 18 months in one company when we first met - and again a couple of times after that - so we share a language.  And Tommo and I have some of that too (a different language from mine and Julian's though!).  

What is most different about this performance is actually that the writer is rather geographically remote, as she was only in London for a short course and has now returned to the U.S. - she is helping to run a summer camp, so we can only contact her by email about once a week.  This has made the process of discussing and modifying the script slightly trickier than having the writer in the room with us, but the upside is that there is a very clinical focus on why and how certain parts of the text adapt.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?  
We hope the audience will be afraid, in the enjoyable way of people choosing to confront themselves with their fears and test their own boundaries!  We've thought a great deal about what frightens an audience as they watch both supernatural and crime stories - because our play is set in two different times and situations, what creates suspense in one part won't be the same as the other - and we have to keep the tension up throughout!  We also hope they'll recognise the dilemmas of the two main characters - and that we'll provoke discussion and thought afterwards about a number of prevalent themes:- the fragility and mutability of memory; how we define someone as an outsider; and how we all deal with what we find beyond our comprehension.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?  
We hope the audience will have an experience which surrounds them - so that they feel truly part of the 'lecture theatre' - and the other space into which Norma, the Professor, guides them.  We also thought about what frightens us as individuals, and have tried to incorporate those aspects – chaos; a sense of undefined menace; the inability to help someone in danger about whom you care; our own inevitable mental decline as we age.  

To create this, we'll use the technological paraphernalia of the lecture hall, with which many of the audience will be familiar - but we'll also use this to threaten the audience to some extent, as well as feeding in an unpredictable element from the cast and their behaviour.  And we hope that the audience will recognise in themselves the potential for self-destruction in Norma - particularly with regard to the unreliability of her memory which, again, we intend to enhance using the technology.  The audience shouldn't be sure what's true and what's not.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?  
I think it's very much in the tradition of the best ghost stories - M R James's A Warning to the Curious; The Monkey's Paw by W W Jacobs and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.  We hope we can follow in the footsteps of the stage version of The Woman in Black too!  

But the flawed female detective at the heart of the narrative also puts our play into the genre of the most current television series, where wonderful actresses like Suranne Jones, Lesley Sharpe and Anna Friel wrestle with their personal demons, while trying to do a decent job in a traditionally male arena.

 The work of promising new writer Rose Miller, 'Criminology 303' is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut for Tangent Theatre Company. By embedding the traditional ghost story in modern digital society, this play unearths deep fears about the vulnerability of human memory, while reminding us that nothing is really forgotten in the internet age.

"The ghost likes it when people lose sight of themselves" Rose Miller, Writer

About Tangent Theatre Company:

Born out of a match made in theatre heaven, Tangent Theatre has championed new writing - which they call 'the life blood of theatre for the future' - for just over a decade. Actress Jilly Bond and writer Peter Kesterton partnered on a number of projects, beginning with 'Air Guitar' for Bristol Old Vic, followed by Afternoon Dramas for BBC Radio 4, and a production of 'Glasshouse' in 2009. Most recently, Tangent commissioned and produced the World Premiere of ‘The Most Gorgeous Lady Blessington’ by acclaimed radio writer Martyn Wade, at the Wallace Collection in London.

Jilly Bond is known for her work with the National Theatre, with BBC Radio 4 (including 'The Archers') and for her award-winning audio books. If Jilly Bond is the famous voice, then her partner Julian Gartside is the face you'll recognise. Julian has made regular appearances on TV ('Casualty', 'Poirot', 'Morse' and 'Jeeves & Wooster') and film (Kenneth Branagh's 'Henry V’ and ‘Twelfth Night' and Stephen Poliakoff's 'Close my Eyes'). Director Tommo Fowler was Assistant Director for 2012 play 'Rainbow', which took home a Scotsman Fringe First Award, and recently directed award-winning 'I Wish to Die Singing' (also starring Jilly Bond).

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