Saturday, 4 June 2016

Traditionally fabricated woolly anarcho-syndicalist Dramaturgy: Robert Shaw @ Edfringe 2016

Underbelly Med Quad (Ermintrude), Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG Wednesday 3rd – Monday 29th August 2016 (not 17th), 15:20
Profit always simplifies things. It appeals to the simple.

Sex, politics and the power of love are explored in the world premiere of this brilliant, provocative Scandi noir thriller from Northern Ireland’s multi-award-winning Abbie Spallen (Pumpgirl, Strandline, Lally The Scut - Irish Play of the Year, Irish Times December 2015)

Bryony Adams is an idealistic government scientist working to create a new and humane form of punishment, within a justice system crippled by prison overcrowding. But when a cabinet minister with a reputation tries to exploit her idealism for profit she feels betrayed. Her response is extreme and unexpected and will have devastating consequences for her and those she loves.

Commissioned and directed for Inside Intelligence by Robert Shaw (Product, Assembly 2014), Poena 5X1 also has music specially composed by twice Grammy-nominated Tarik O’Regan, described by Gramophone Magazine as one of the leading British composers of his generation. Poena 5X1 has a fierce political edge and one final terrifying twist.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I’ve wanted to collaborate with writer Abbie Spallen for some time.  I loved her plays PumpGirl (a massive hit at the Traverse in 2006) and Lally The Scut.  As soon as she suggested the story to me, I knew straightaway that I had to be the one to tell it.  

Also, I was looking for another chance to work with our composer, Tarik O’Regan, since our 2015 production of his opera, The Wanton Sublime.  He’s a really cool artist, interested in crossing boundaries. 

Check out this brilliant upcoming project at Latitude, featuring his music. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I worked with Tarik last year.  He wants to get involved in theatre and I didn’t need to be asked twice.  Glasgow-based Gillian Argo is my designer of choice.  I’ve worked with her regularly since 2013 and it’s a growing partnership.  I first worked with our lighting designer Conleth White in 2013 in Edinburgh.  I’ve been on the lookout for a chance to work with him again.  He’s a brilliant artist and incredibly busy and in demand in Ireland, so I’m really lucky to get him.  I’m really proud of my incredible team and excited about what we can create together.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Truthfully, I’ve never felt I had a choice.  My great-grandfather James Shaw was an organist and composer.  He was the organist at St Johns Church, Princes Street from 1862-1864.  I don’t think he had a very happy time there, but he stayed in Edinburgh for several years after he left, being the organist at St Paul’s and St George’s Church on York Place and giving piano recitals at the former Hopetoun Rooms in Queen Street.  He was responsible for reviving the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, which is very active today.  

He made a big contribution to music in Edinburgh and the Scotsman paid him a very handsome tribute when he left at the end of 1869.  My grandfather Martin Shaw was a composer, conductor and producer who work worked with Ellen Terry and Gordon Craig in his youth and toured Europe in 1906 and 1907 as conductor for Isadora Duncan.  My cousin Sebastian Shaw was an actor who was an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company and played Darth Vader in the sixth Star Wars film.  I’m afraid making performance is in the genes; it’s been with me since I was in a nativity play aged 2.

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

Yes and no.  We haven’t commissioned a new play before, so I’ve had to learn about how to develop a play with a writer.  I wanted to be as collaborative as possible and also to leave her work as untouched as possible.  I don’t see new writing as done by a committee.  Trust the writer.  Let him write.  Do your best to interpret what she gives you.  

At the same time, the rehearsal process will be very much the same as usual, I think.  Working with Tarik has been amazing.  He’s created some brilliant soundscapes based on samples of one of his choral pieces.  I’m really looking forward to working them into the text and performance to give the play just the right edge of excitement.  That’s been a whole new experience for me.  I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

It’s a noir thriller, so I'm hoping they’ll be excited, moved, surprised and maybe just a little bit thrilled.  It’s also a political story, so I guess I’d be happy if they saw something to think about, whatever they end up thinking.  I’d like to think we’ll give them an experience that’s different from anything else available in Edinburgh this year.  And of course, it’s world premiere, so they we’ll be the first to wow them with this incredible piece of writing.


What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Very simply, I wanted to give the artists as much freedom to express their creativity as possible.  So I thought I’d let them do their jobs and see what happened.  If you’ve got brilliant people, it very often works.  I've got really brilliant people.  Really, really brilliant people.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Oh, I’m an anarcho-syndicalist story-fabricator with a predilection for black wool-based caps.  That, really.  Traditionally fabricated woolly anarcho-syndicalist dreams, wearing caps.  It’s a growing movement.

Director Robert Shaw comments, I’m really excited to be working with Abbie on our first new commission. We look forward to honouring her play as we develop this key aspect of our work.

Rosie Kellagher, Literary Associate, Traverse Theatre comments, Gripping, enormously relevant and impressive. I particularly like the fact that it’s an overtly political story that places a woman centre stage in exploring issues of global significance.

Abbie Spallen is a renowned writer, actor and film producer. Her awards as a writer include the Stewart Parker major award, The Tony Doyle award, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Clare McIntyre Bursary from The Royal Court, the Peggy Ramsay award, the Dublin City Council Bursary for Literature and the HALMA Foundation award for excellence in the European arts.
Abbie Spallen
Abbie Spallen’s plays include Abeyance (Druid Debut, Druid Theatre Co), Pumpgirl (Bush/Traverse/Manhattan Theatre Club), which won the 2007 Susan Smith Blackburn Award, the Stewart Parker award and was nominated for the Irish Times Best New Play, Strandline (Fishamble) which was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and nominated for the Meyer Whitworth Award, and Bogwog (NPC) O’Neill Centre Connecticut. Her short plays include Thirteen (Women in Power and Politics, Tricycle Theatre), Shaving the Pickle (59E59 NYC) and Rubberfoot (Pentabus).

Her work is published by Faber and Faber and has been translated into many languages and produced across Europe and the USA. She has completed one attachment to the Royal National Theatre and two to The Royal Court. In 2014 she was writer in residence in the Lyric Theatre Belfast.

She is currently under commission to the Royal Court, the Lyric Belfast and The Tricycle Theatre London and in 2014 was awarded the Major Individual Artist Award by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her play Lally the Scut (Tinderbox) was the Irish Times’ Irish Play of the Year in December 2015. In 2016 Abbie was awarded the Windham Campbell Prize for Literature.

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