Saturday, 23 July 2016

‘Playback’ – Laurie Motherwell @Edfringe 2016

Playback’ – Laurie Motherwell
Paradise in Augustine’s 
(Venue 152), 15.20, 6th - 13th. 

The newest show by Stag Hart Productions after an acclaimed production of ‘Yellow Moon’ (**** theSpace, 2014). ‘Playback’ brings a brand new play by Playwright Laurie Motherwell to the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Boy can’t sleep. Audiobooks help. At least they did. But what happens when the story they tell takes on a life of their own? When the tape skips and the boundaries of binaries are blurred? When the rewind button refuses to work, or goes back over something that was fast forwarded past? When it tells a story that should have ended in a completely different way?

Max was happy with Mum and Dad. Max might be a werewolf. Max feels most comfortable in trousers over a dress. As Superman and not as a Princess.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

‘Playback’ came from a strange place. A mix of two different impetuses that clashed together one fateful evening when I couldn’t sleep. One of these was a growing awareness of ‘Trans’ in the media, and generally around us in society. As I encountered more of these stories and some of the amazing people who began to identify in different ways, I started to think more about ways in which you could take stories that may have conventionally presented Trans characters in very particular ways, and begin to have stories in which being Trans wasn’t the defining part of the story. But was a story that we could all empathise with, and relate to and enjoy.

As someone who is not Trans, I felt I had to think very carefully about the way in which I presented this story; what I was trying to say and how I wanted to say it. As part of my journey I applied to part of Imaginates workshop regarding Trans stories for young people. This went some way to reaffirming my belief that I could still tell this story, no matter my difference to the main protagonist. I may not know how being Trans is, but I understand what it’s like to be young, not sleep, and listen to audiobooks. That then leads to the second inspiration.

As a kid I was raised on cassette audiobooks. I loved them. Their nature as a degradable physical medium. I guess it is the sense of nostalgia which has driven the resurgence of vinyl. I then resolved to try and tell this story through that medium. The chorus tell the story through the prism of a young person’s audiobook, despite some of the traumatic events that happen, it still presents itself as a story for young people. Whatever that actually means.

So after this one night in which I couldn’t sleep, these two considerations came together. And thus Playback was told.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

In this respect I was very fortunate. And happy to admit it. Julia Carstairs the Artistic Director of Stag Hart Productions, and Director for this piece, contacted me asking if either I had some writing that I’d be happy to show her, or whether I knew someone who may. And well… I’m obviously far too selfish to pass on an opportunity like that.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Performance of some kind is just something that I have been lucky enough to have in my life. As a child I was taken to the theatre, the cinema, I read books… listened to audiobooks. In primary school I even tried to stage an abridged performance of Macbeth. Fair to say I think it went over the Primary 1’s heads. Philistines.

The more theatre I see the more I realise the sheer power of performance. The way that it can show people new and inspiring things, different cultures, and how we all live on a world that is more diverse than we could ever realise. And I realised pretty early on that that is an amazing thing to do.

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

The original draft was written in a very quick and haphazard manner. After beginning to cultivate my own craft of playwriting I revisited the script and brought some of my new skills to the piece; breaking it down scene by scene, trying to give it structure and conflict throughout.

I would say that the process that I use now is far more typical. But I have to admit, I did find it difficult to come back to this script after an extended time away from it. I had to re-enter the world of it; the flow and language was a difficult thing to catch again.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Ideally, other than being able to sit through the piece and enjoy it, I’d like the audience to disassociate any of the Trans elements in the story and concentrate on the narrative. How different events in the young characters life are more influenced by fate and not anything else.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I’m a huge fan of fast narrative, using the ensemble as a chorus telling the story and generally mixing things up. In this piece I try to develop a sense of inexorable story telling. Pretty much like an audiobook. The story only ever stops between cassettes, as they degrade and change over.

For is more entertaining than other artistic mediums because of ‘Liveness’. And this is something I always try to consider when making work.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

If it is a tradition by now, I would have thought that my work sits quite firmly in the Scottish Contemporary style. As in no real definable style, but an energy, and use of theatricality that flows through many of the best Scottish pieces of theatre.

I’ve been telling people that will listen to me, that ‘Playback’ is a mix of David Greig’s ‘Yellow Moon’ (a huge inspiration of mine) and ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’. Not in a lofty, ‘I can do that’ way, but as a ‘I’m stealing these amazing things’ way. Coincidentally, ‘Yellow Moon’ was Stag Hart’s last production at the Fringe (2014). I saw this piece – that production, and the Citizens’ Theatre original - and really enjoyed the way in which Julia used the huge swathes of dialogue that David Greig has written. Hopefully she can manage something as revolutionary with my messy un-ascribed lines. 

Laurie Motherwell is a Scottish playwright. A graduate of the MSc in Playwriting at the University of Edinburgh. Credits include touring educational play ‘CyberBuddy with Hopscotch Theatre, Glasgow; ‘The History of a Life’ with Modest Predicament Theatre Company; ‘The Captain’s Heart’ as part of Pre-View, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; and currently developing ‘Come’s Around’ – a play about the rise of STIs in the over 65s.

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