Saturday, 11 June 2016

Rosy Dramaturgy:Martin Foreman @ Edfringe 2016

Arbery Productions presents J B Priestley's rarely-seen The Rose and Crown. 
9.10pm, 22 - 27 August 2016
Venue 9 (theSpace on Niddry Street) 
In turns comic, moving and spine-chilling, a powerful one-act play by the author of An Inspector Calls and Time and the Conways

Post-war 1940s Britain is cold, rationed and bleak. In a London pub a group of drinkers are complaining about their lives when a stranger enters and makes an unusual request.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I have always been a fan of Priestley. Although his work can seem
old-fashioned to modern eyes, it brings together many essential
elements of good theatre -  clear characterisation, social
awareness, tension. Add in the element of the supernatural which
comes into his best known works to strengthen the points he is
making. And in this play there is a definite comic element which
brings in the laughs in the first half

I discovered The Rose and Crown when looking for a one-act play
for the SCDA Festival earlier this year. It was one of the first
plays written specifically for television (we're talking 1947) and
although it has been put on the stage occasionally since then, few
people know it.  It was so rare that even Samuel French did not
have it and I had to track down a second-hand copy.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The original production was under the auspices of the Edinburgh
Graduate Theatre Group and the cast was drawn from their
membership. Unfortunately, EGTG were already committed to other Fringe performances this year which meant they could not put on The Rose and Crown. However, after the positive reactions we got in the SCDA One-Act Festival, the cast and crew wanted to reach a wider audience, so here we are . . .

How did you become interested in making performance?
I got into theatre late in life when I was living in London. I

took some part-time acting courses with the idea of being a radio
actor. (I like doing funny voices and, yes, I have a great face
for the wireless.) That led to roles in several fringe productions
and short films. In Edinburgh I still act occasionally and am
currently (June 2016) playing a role in Close to the Bone, a short
film commissioned by Creative Scotland for their Scottish Shorts
season. (Here's the nod to writer / director Kevin Pickering and
producer Lewis Wardrop.) On the whole, however, I prefer

The more I acted the more I noticed differences between directors.
Some were more interested in blocking than character; some were
collaborative and others dictatorial. The one who influenced me
most - partly because of her talent and partly because she
directed three one-(wo)man plays that I had written - was Emma
King-Farlow of Shadow Road Productions. Her focus on the meaning
and dynamic of the text and how that creates energy and movement
on stage helped me when I started directing.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes, given my limited experience in that this was only the fourth
play I have directed and the first with a cast of more than one.
Before I start, I have a rough idea in my head of the emotional
dynamics of the play and the action. I try that out with the cast.
As rehearsals progress, the depths of the play begin to emerge
(that's a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I usually
find myself surprised at the end result because it is so much
stronger and clearer than the vague idea I had at the beginning.

At least once in each rehearsal I ask the cast and the assistant
director what they think about what we're doing. I've heard
rumours that some cast members like my approach of regular
consultation  while others want me to be more decisive. The fact
is, I am decisive, but I make my decision after hearing from
actors whether a particular speech or blocking works for them.

Sometimes I accept, sometimes I overrule - remembering that actors are on the inside and don't always see what the audience does.  At the end of the day I would say that 70% of the result is my
vision, 30% is the actors' and 100% is their ability to present
that vision to the audience.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Catharsis. Enlightenment. Nirvana.

Seriously, though ...  This play was written in 1947 and set in a
London pub, at a time when Britain had won the war but was beset
by rationing. Life was dull and difficult for many people.
Priestley's genius was to introduce a serious subject that goes
far beyond the mundane concerns of its characters. He deals with
Life and Death, but in a 40-minute time-span, which means that it
is not going to answer all the audience's philosophical

We hope that the audience first laughs as they are drawn into the
lives of this disparate group of people; there some seriously
comic moments that still make us laugh as we rehearse them. But as
the play progresses, the audience should feel a tingle up its
collective spine; by the end they should see in each character
much more than the caricature they first appeared - and there may
even be a tear lurking in some people's eyes.

So maybe the first step rather than the final stage of Catharsis,
Enlightenment and Nirvana.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience
To do the best that I could. Watch the cast. Listen to the cast
and crew. Absorb myself totally in the text.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Nope. I'm a part-time theatre buff with only a hazy idea of
different theatrical traditions. My personal motto is to present
thought-provoking theatre: that's a tradition that stretches back
to Aristophanes so I suppose it's the one I adhere to.

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