Monday, 27 June 2016

Wonder Dramaturgy: Lucy Rivers and Hannah McPake@ Edfringe 2016



Wonderman tells the story of a WWII RAF pilot who finds himself in a hospital bed, badly injured. He slips in and out of a world of dreams, hallucinations and nightmares, down the strange and unexpected corridors and rabbit holes of Dahl's mind. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
LR: The big inspiration for this performance is Roald Dahl’s brilliantly dark and twisted short stories, which were first introduced to me when I was a child. The “Tales from the Unexpected” theme tune would come on the tele and my parents would tell me it was time to go to bed. 

That certainly fired my interest. From then I went on to read all of his books, and they seemed to chime with my love of stories with a sense of fun and macabre. A couple of years ago, when we realised it was his centenary coming up we thought it would be a great match to do a show of his wonderful wicked and imaginative short stories with our darkly theatrical gig-theatre style. 

HM: Like Lucy I grew up reading Dahl and have always been a massive fan. When we realised it was Dahl’s centenary it felt like a perfect opportunity to make a show based on his macabre, mischievous adult stories. We hope it’s a perfect fit with our anarchic playful approach to theatre making.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
LR: We often work with Gagglebabble associate writer Daf James as a dramaturg and thought he would be the perfect lead writer on this project. I had enjoyed working with Amy Leach and Hayley Grindle on another show recently, and they brought in the amazing lighting designer Josh Carr. Other members of the team are regular collaborators Dan Lawrence (sound), and a fab band of musicians and actors who have also been in on the developments over the last two years. 

HM: Lucy, Daf James and I have worked together regularly over the past few years, it’s brilliant to be working together again with Daf leading on script and lyrics. Lucy has worked with Amy Leach our director and Hayley Grindle our designer before and they also felt like a perfect match for this show. 

The band and actor Adam Redmore (who looks uncannily like a young Roald Dahl) have been on board since we first started R and D’ing the project. And we’ve recently been joined by Joe Shire.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve been making shows with friends since I was young, and having parents in the business probably didn’t help me snap out of it. I was also lucky enough to get taken to a lot of brilliant and inspiring theatre by companies like Kneehigh, Complicite, RSC and of course local Welsh companies. 

After studying Drama at Exeter University, where they really encouraged us to make our own work, I did a post grad at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and worked as an actor for years. 

It took me a while to pluck up the courage to form a company (with Hannah McPake) and make my own work, but there’s nothing better than collaborating with a group of trusted and talented people in a style and process that feels exciting and new.

HM:  Like Lucy I’ve been working in theatre as an actor for years. Lots of the companies and work I’ve made has been devised or had a very collaborative creative process - this inspired me to make my own work. As a company we wanted to create work to fill a gap we felt existed in work being made in Wales.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
LR: All the shows we have done so far have been very different but we always make sure we have a decent Research and Development process before we go into any rehearsals, and with this show, we had the luxury of two R&D’s over two years so we were probably more prepared with script and music than we’ve ever been before. 

The process is always very collaborative and open and in rehearsals we encourage ideas from everyone, and this brings a good sense of ownership and quality.   

Of course Music plays a big part in every Gagglebabble show, and this often informs the style and world of the scenes, with a lot of underscore and songs.   The script and music will usually continue to shift and develop through rehearsals and even through a run. With The Bloody Ballad, we re-worked that every time we went back to it. We always try and serve the story and maintain a sense of fun, bravery and rebellion.  

HM: Research and development is really important to us. Often we start with a general idea or basic script that will then be developed collaboratively with the team in the room through improvisations and conversations. 

We like working on our feet. Wonderman has been slightly different because we are adapting pre-existing stories. We’ve had to get permission from the Dahl Estate and they ask to see a script in advance. This means we have a full script and songs before we go into rehearsal which is unusual for us. Although I’m sure things will continue to change and develop.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
LR: We hope the audience get properly entertained, being moved to tears of laughter and sadness. We want them to have a total theatre experience where all their senses are stimulated, and they are on the edge of their seat with the unexpected twists and turns. We believe that the audience are an essential part of the performance and want them to have fun and invest with us in the shared experience. 

We also want them to come away feeling like they have learnt more about Roald Dahl’s incredible adult stories, and to even gain a greater respect for the man himself. Hopefully everyone will run out and read the stories.

HM: A great night of live music and macabre stories with a sting in the tale.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
LR: We often break down the forth wall and have a lot of direct address to the audience, for example we occasionally use an ensemble of narrators. We also have characters singing songs directly to the audience. We don’t like to pretend they aren’t there. We have a brilliant piano trio band who play throughout and add to every scene and dramatic moment. 

This story has an element of a thriller about it, where we are
following a protagonist who is trying to find out what happened to him. We are hoping all audiences will enjoy the show even if they know nothing about Roald Dahl’s stories and life. 

HM: Gagglebabble aim to create shows that are anarchic and fun but also have heart. One of the problems with adapting short stories is that there is no central character for the audience to empathise with and invest in. We hope we have created an overarching story that links the Dahl tales together and takes the audience on a journey along with some great live music and lots of visual treats!

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
LR: I think Gagglebabble draw influence from a number of old theatrical traditions i.e cabaret, vaudeville, music Hall, bouffant. But we also mix that highly theatrical style with a live band/gig aesthetic, which can help bring a real buzz to the atmosphere that isn’t reliant on story, and can be seen as quite filmic too. 

Lynch and Tarantino always seem to come up as good references for our style. It’s still early days so it’s hard to analyse or find patterns in anything that clearly yet.

HM: I think we’re influenced by lots of types of theatre and film. We love the work of Kneehigh, Told by an Idiot, Complicite to mention a few. And we’re always asking “what would Tarantino do?

Two of Wales’ most innovative theatre companies will combine forces with one of its leading writers at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, for a night that celebrates some of the darker, adult stories written by Roald Dahl, who was born in Cardiff in September 1916.

Gagglebabble are renowned in Wales for making roof-raising shows that combine sizzling hot live music, unforgettable original songs and a gleeful love of all things wicked and unexpected. 

They return to Edinburgh following the success of their multi-award-winning 2013 Fringe hit The Bloody Ballad (winner of Best New Musical and best Music MTN, Emerging Talent award Brighton Fringe, Best Music and Best Ensemble Theatre Critics Wales 2014 and Argus Angel Winner for Artistic Excellence 2014). 
National Theatre Wales – the country’s English-language national theatre company – returns for the third time. In 2011 they teamed up with Told by an Idiot to stage The Dark Philosophers; a twisted, grisly staging of some of Gwyn Thomas’ short stories. 

Two years later, they staged Tim Price’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (which won that year’s inaugural James Tait Black Prize for Drama 2013) just as Manning – now known as Chelsea – was being sentenced.

Lucy Rivers & Hannah McPake of Gagglebabble said: “We are very excited to be working on Dahl’s brilliant short stories, and feel that they’re a perfect match for our own anarchic, dark and playful style of theatre. It’s also great to be collaborating with National Theatre Wales on this show during his centenary year.”

Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating on this new work with Gagglebabble. It promises to be great fun, witty and anarchic and with a spirit of adventure that both companies are renowned for.”

Daf James is an award-winning writer, composer and performer, working in theatre, radio and television in both English and Welsh. His work has been performed across the UK and internationally in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan and the USA. He trained in the Lecoq pedagogy at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA) and has a PhD in Theatre Studies from Warwick University. 

Amy Leach is an award-winning director. She trained on the National Theatre Directors Course and is an Associate Artist of The Egg in Bath, The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster and Shakespeare Schools Festival. 

Lucy Rivers is a writer, composer, actor, and musician, and is co-founder of the multi-award-winning company Gagglebabble.  She is also one half of the Welsh folk duo Olion Byw. 

Lucy has just finished an international tour performing in Kneehigh’s acclaimed production of Dead Dog In A Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) and is currently developing a new show for Gagglebabble and The Other Room called The Sinners’ Club.

Hannah McPake is an actor and theatre maker. She graduated from RWCM&D in 2003. 

Gagglebabble & National Theatre Wales
with Wales Millennium Centre and British Council Wales
A play with music adapted from Roald Dahl's Stories for adults 
Script and lyrics by Daf James
Music by Lucy Rivers
Conceived by Daf James, Hannah McPake and Lucy Rivers 
Director: Amy Leach 
Designer: Hayley Grindle
Lighting Designer: Joshua Carr
Sound Designer: Dan Lawrence
Cast: James Clarke, Peter Komor, Hannah McPake, Mark O’Connor, Adam Redmore, Lucy Rivers & Joe Shire

Dates: 3rd-28th August 2016 (except Mondays)
Time: 6.05pm (1hr15min)
Venue: Underbelly Potterrow (Topside)

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