Friday, 29 July 2016

Immortal Dramaturgy: Nicole Burley @ Edfringe 2016

Five young World War Two airmen trapped behind enemy lines face a life or death decision in Ciaran McConville’s critically-acclaimed Immortal.

With two already dead from the crash, the survivors take shelter in an abandoned Dutch school, while attending to their wounded comrade.

As the enemy closes in, each soldier’s loyalty is tested as they argue whether to stay behind or make a break for survival - before an unwelcome visitor comes knocking.

Fourteen years since debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe, Immortal returns for a two week run this August at
Greenside’s Forest Theatre.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I first read the script in 2014 while I was at the Rose Youth Theatre in Kingston and being mentored by Ciaran McConville, who wrote Immortal

I fell in love with it -  it really bridged the gap between the old and new generation. 

Immortal was the first show we ever did as a theatre  company, and when we decided to take a show to the Fringe we wanted something we knew very well that we could produce to a high standard. 

And because we're a young theatre group, we wanted a show where the characters were all young men and women. The play is about a group of World War Two fighters in their early twenties facing up to their own mortality. It's in turn funny, tense and incredibly poignant, and it really pushes the performers to the limit. We wanted something that was going to challenge us, and Immortal does that. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

The Immortal cast has evolved over the last couple of years. We still have three original cast members from the first production, but we held auditions for the rest with young people in our area, so a lot of the actors have trained at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, where I started myself. 

Many of the crew have been with us since the beginning, with a few new additions. Georgia Rolfe, who went to school with our executive producer Olly Fawcett, joined as production manager last year. Georgia Cross is our stage manager and she works with us between studying theatre production at Bath Spa University. Some of us have been friends since school and by starting GreanTea we've kind of carried on our learning together, in an industry we love. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was first offered the chance to assistant direct whilst I was in the Rose Theatre.

I'd always loved acting but my directors would always tell me "You're too in your head, stop thinking so much." So I asked to assistant direct instead, where I had to use my head, and fell in love with production. 

I directed my first show at the Rose when I was 17, which was mentored by Ciaran. If it wasn't for him I never would have found my passion for production. After that I created GreanTea along with producer Olly Fawcett, because we wanted to make our own opportunities in theatre. We didn't want to wait for one to come along. 

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

Yes, although the more shows we do the more focused and disciplined the process becomes.

In the original run we went straight to bringing the play up to its feet, which made our first production of Immortal feel a bit disconnected and two-dimensional. During our 2016 we really broke apart the script, focusing as much as we could on understanding contet and making sure we applied verbs to every single line, and laying out a strict unit structure. The play feels more concise, better grounded and is a lot clearer to understand. 

We have had many practitioners in to see Immortal during its process, including Samantha O’Reilly, who taught us how to “mark” important moments onstage, using simple but effective means such as exchanged eye contact for the characters to connect to one another. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope some of our audience members might be old enough to remember the war and recognise the play as a realistic representation of the time. But we also want people to relate to the characters, and maybe see something of themselves in them, to realise how that generation were not that different to us. They were normal people with jobs and families, thrust into extraordinary circumstances. 

We're incredibly lucky to be born in a time when it's unlikely we'll ever be forced to put on a uniform, and I hope people will be appreciative of that when they see our show. Ultimately I want to create a credible picture of what life would have been like for these five bombers. I'm looking for the audience to connect with them and the incredible things people like them experienced during what was often a brutally short life. 

This play encapsulates Britain's sense of honour and what it was like for these men to fight for their country. The audience will hopefully go on a real cathartic journey and be able to relate to the characters and warm to them.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I researched into Staniflavski's emotion memory to try and make the actors relive their characters experiences. If the actors created a believable, human character it would hopefully make it easier for audiences get a sense of what they were going through. It's very difficult for any of us to truly understand what life must have been like for those soldiers, but we felt the best way to do so is through human empathy. 

The set also plays a big part - we have a giant parachute that forms the walls of the school the crashed bombers hide in. In one sense it's obviously symbolic, but it also creates a more claustrophobic atmosphere, a sense of being trapped in a small space. It will hopefully create a more immersive experience for the audience. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Realism, I suppose. We aim to create a show that's as naturalistic as possible; real characters in real historical situations. Whether you lived through the war or not, we've all grown up learning about it, and we wanted to depict the scenario as accurately as possible, even though the story itself is a work of fiction. 

Having said that Immortal features small elements that you could describe as supernatural or fantasy, and there's maybe at least one moment of horror, so I guess it doesn't fit easily into a single category. 

Grean Tea Productions was formed by a group of 17-year-olds at Esher College in 2013, and is now run
by Olly Fawcett.

Since crowdfunding their first show the company has produced critically acclaimed work in theatres
across London.
Immortal will be the first play the company has taken to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

1 comment :