Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dramaturgy According to Saki: Jessica Lazar @ Edfringe 2016

Life According to Saki
August 3rd-29th (not 15th)
14:15 (70 mins)
C +3 (Venue 34)
Award-winning children’s author Katherine Rundell’s debut play Life According to Saki comes to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, inspired by the short stories of Saki. 

‘Saki’ was the pen name of the early Twentieth Century Scottish writer Hector Hugh Munro, described by The Guardian as “a master of the short story”. Like a cross between Oscar Wilde and Roald Dahl, Saki’s creations are witty, absurd, and peculiarly optimistic, and Rundell and Atticist Productions bring them to the stage through acting, music, dance, clown, and puppetry. 

The production is a family show, suitable for 9+.

1916. In the trenches of the Battle of Ancre, a soldier tells stories. That soldier is Saki. 

Beginning with early misrule and school-age rebellion, his stories move on to the complexities of youth and adulthood, obsessions and games, charm and chaos, friendship and jealousy, and, finally, death.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Saki was! There’s a gleeful sharpness to his writing that I was excited to bring to the stage. ‘Saki’ (otherwise known as Hector Hugh Munro) wrote satirical short stories, and our play is inspired by them as well as by his own life. Although he is well known in some crowds, I think Saki deserves wider recognition. It's the centenary of his death at the Somme this year, so the timing of the Edinburgh premiere seems particularly fitting.  

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I worked with Anna Lewis (the Designer) on Alexander Darby's Round and Round the Garden and I really loved what she brought to the film - so having her involved was key. The writer, Katherine Rundell, is an award-winning children’s author and we've been planning to work together for several years. 

When Saki came up it was immediately clear that we were on common ground. From that point, there was no question that he would be our subject. The rest of the team grew organically as the project took shape. The actors were selected from a round of auditions followed by a smaller round of ensemble recalls. Some were direct submissions but most applied via Spotlight and Casting Call Pro.

How did you become interested in making performance?
To say that it all goes back to when I was eight years old and glitter flew out from the Barbican stage during a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is slightly embarrassing but not entirely untrue. I love being inside a story. I always have. I want to see every angle of it and I want to understand what makes it unfold the way it does. To tell a story in theatre is to do exactly that; you have to understand it from within or you’re simply not going to pull it off. And then you have to take as many people with you as possible. I think that’s what that glitter did.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Possibly my favourite aspect of production is the chance to collaborate. So although I don’t always work with an ensemble cast, it’s a good example of the kind of process I like to use - fusing different talents and experience to create something new. In the same way, I try to bring together varied design elements to tell a cohesive story. My style of direction isn’t isolated and the threads that tie everything together is something I think about from inception.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they laugh! I hope they feel some of the magic of theatre - that liveness and aliveness that theatre can give. And I hope they encounter a version of Saki that rings true.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We use different visual elements (lighting, projection, puppetry, movement) to tell a story beyond the words. In Saki's writing, a lot is left unsaid and that's something we want to translate into theatre. And in terms of the writing itself, wit is spliced with truth in a way that I hope makes the audience - whatever age they are - laugh and think in equal measure.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I am particularly interested in Brecht and Lecoq - but in naming such different practitioners I should be clear that I am not in either tradition. I’m a great admirer of companies like Complicité and Cheek By Jowl. I try to think about what an individual production requires and attempt to work outwards from there rather than inwards from a set methodology. As a young director, I'm definitely still exploring.

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