Saturday, 4 June 2016

Flipping the Dramaturgy: Phoebe Eclair Powell @ Edfringe 2016

jFlipping the Bird and D.E.M. Productions 
Torch by Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG Thursday 4th – Sunday 28th August 2016 (not 16th), 20:50
Girl. Woman. Bitch. Mother. Lady. Vixen. Virgin. Whore. We’re all told we’re looking for something, that some part of ourselves is missing, that somewhere we fall short – we’re not political enough, not skinny enough, not sexy enough, not brave enough. The search is over. Stop looking.

Part gig, part refracted and reflecting stories, Torch explores what it means to be a woman. From Flipping the Bird, in collaboration with Channel 4 Playwright Phoebe Eclair-Powell (Wink) and actor Jess Mabel Jones (Backstage in Biscuitland), comes a show that looks at freedom and celebrates choice in the world today.

Songs from the likes of David Bowie and Pattie Smith to George Michael and Viv Albertine are interwoven with stories of contrasting female experience. Torch does not set out to solve feminism but provoke it, laugh at and with it, and detonate it.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Jess Edwards, director of Flipping the Bird theatre company, and I have known each other and made work with one another since university (nearly eight years).  She came to me with a bit of a loose proposal – a play, show, thing about women and activism initially, an area I’ve always wanted to talk about, but didn’t have any clue how to make a play about.  And then Torch sort of morphed from that, from discussions, images, songs and articles.  It became a bit of a running conversation between us and the performer Jess Mabel Jones and continues to be a weird sort of dialogue.

How did you go about gathering the team for

Jess Edwards is a master of gathering a bloody amazing team – she always has been. We didn’t stipulate women only on the team, but it soon became an important part of the process and by Christ it is a damn fine group of intelligent and creative women: the producer Rosalyn Newberry and the designer Amelia Jane Hankin who we worked with on our previous show The Box and who have a very good working relationship with Jess’ company. 

And now we have been joined by the excellent motley crew of sound designer Alex Braithwaite, the stage manager Anna Hunscott, the lighting designer Zoe Spurr and the performer Jess Mabel Jones.  It’s a bit of a powerhouse of which I am overwhelmingly joyed to be working with. It’s been that really lucky thing where you just look around the rehearsal room and go – yeah, yeah this is an exciting group of people and they make me feel like I’m not being mental trying to make this smattering of poems into an actual show.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have been a big theatre nerd since I was a young precocious teenager in youth theatre – we used to go up to Edinburgh festival and piss everyone off singing songs on the Mile and aggressively flyering. I saw all sorts of shows and realised the scope of what theatre could be and how boundaries barely existed.  

Then, when I left uni, I worked for BAC for a while and that expanded my eyes to bulging point. Afterwards, I was very lucky to work at the Royal Court and I saw how I could merge the types of theatre I loved best  - new writing and performance-based work.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

No, actually it’s been really eye-opening because recently I’ve been working on very solid and traditional new writing – going away, writing a play, and then sharing that with a team of director/actors, and Torch has been incredibly different. I wrote a load of very personal poems basically and then realised that I didn’t have a traditional actress in Jess Mabel Jones - I had a performer and theatre maker - and that is a very different creature all together – I’ve had to play with merging our voices. 

It’s been challenging, but brilliant – and I knew that Torch was my chance to try something different, a little bit more loose structurally and more experimental with narrative form.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they recognise shards of themselves. I hope they have fun. I hope they feel like they’ve witnessed a gig and they get that slightly exhilarated sweaty feeling you get when you leave a communion of bodies and get your first bit of fresh air.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

This is another area in which I struggled, due to having worked in new writing and a bit of telly land recently, it’s as if I forgot about that very live element – and Jess Edwards and Jess Mabel Jones had to remind me of the way you bring an audience into the writing – how you ask questions of them, how you make them implicit in the action. 

I had to inhabit a Jess Mabel Jones character in my head and imagine myself talking to the audience on stage – a bit like my mum doing her stand up. I suddenly thought – how on earth does she do this? It made me feel vulnerable, and then, sort of more confessional.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I would say I normally work in new writing, whatever that is – but I want to experiment and be an interesting and dynamic artist – so I hope to make more work like Torch in the future, stuff that scares me. Stuff that might not make itself entirely obvious at first – then sneaks up on you.

Conceived and developed by an all-female creative team, Torch is inspired by material contributed to an anonymous online survey inviting women to share their experiences of gender. Writer Phoebe Eclair-Powell comments, Torch is a show about being a woman now which is something I've always been too scared to write about. But this has become a liberating constellation of voices, looking at the brilliant and dynamic range of feminist thought - from the big to the exceedingly everyday and the beauty in our differences.
Torch has been developed with the support of Old Vic New Voices and The Richard Dawkins Foundation.
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Notes to Editors
Title Torch by Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Performance Dates Thursday 4th – Sunday 28th August (not 16th), 20:50
Running time 1 hour
Location Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG
Box Office Tickets are available from
Previews: £6 Weekday: £10 (£9) Weekend: £11 (£10)
Twitter @FlippingTheatre, @PhoebeEclair, @FollowTheCow, #TORCH
Developed with and directed by Jessica Edwards Performer Jess Mable Jones Writer Phoebe Eclair-Powell Designer Amelia Jane Hankin Sound Designer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite Lighting Designer Zoe Spurr Producer Rosalyn Newbery
Notes Ages 14+
Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Phoebe Phoebe Eclair-Powell, Writer, Channel 4 playwright for 2016 and Playwright in Residence at Soho Theatre. Theatre Credits include: Fury (Verity Bargate runner up 2015, Soho Young Company Award Winner 2015, Soho Theatre Upstairs 2016), WINK (Theatre 503, Nominated for four Offies including ‘Most Promising New Playwright’, published by Nick Hern), BEATS for NYT as part of their Epic Stages Course, CARE (Miniaturists at the Arcola), Elephant and My Castle (SALT Theatre at Southwark Playhouse), The Box (for Flipping The Bird Theatre at Theatre Delicatessen SPACED festival and Latitude Festival), Coal Eaters and Glass Hands (RWR for Theatre503), Bangin' Wolves (Courting Drama at The Bush Theatre Upstairs, published by Playdead Press, later with Poleroid Theatre for Wilderness Festival), One Under (Pleasance
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Below), Mrs Spine (OUTLINES at the Old Red Lion). Other credits: Soho Alumni group, Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2014-15, Soho Writers Lab 2014-15, RCYW 2013. Phoebe is represented by Ikenna Obiekwe at Independent Talent Ltd.
Jess Mable Jones
Jess is a theatre maker, performer and puppeteer. She makes work that incites change, investigates what makes us human and is really good fun. Her work spans physical theatre, improvisation, street theatre, burlesque, cabaret and community arts. She is an Open Space practitioner, creative enabler and relaxed performance advocate. Jess is co-founder of the Extra- Live movement and associate artist at Battersea Arts Centre. Upcoming: Hardboiled (Rhum & Clay, The Watermill/The New Diorama), Backstage in Biscuit Land (Touretteshero/national & international tour), Madhouse: ReExit (Access All Areas). Previous: Broadcast From Biscuit Land (Battersea Arts Centre/BBC4), A Little History of the World (Reading Rep/The Watermill), Women Centre Stage (Sphinx Theatre/Temporary Theatre), Beauty and the Beast (OneOfUs, Improbable/Young Vic), We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Little Angel Theatre), The Table (Blind Summit), Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Pants on Fire).
Jessica Edwards
Jessica is a freelance director and Artistic Director of Flipping the Bird. She is represented by Camilla Young at Curtis Brown. Upcoming: Bear (Flipping the Bird/Marine Theatre 2016).

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