Thursday, 18 May 2017

Assessment Dramaturgy: Robert Dawson Scott @ Edfringe 2017

What are we going to do with all the old people?

by Robert Dawson Scott

What’s your life worth? That’s the question at the heart of “Assessment”, a timely new play by theatre critic turned playwright Robert Dawson Scott which will be premiered at the Gilded Balloon’s new Rose Street venue at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In the very near future, a new government is grappling with the ever-rising pensions bill. Already it represents one pound in every five of government spending. So it has come up with an offer; a lump sum in exchange for your future pension rights. 

There’s just one condition; and pensioner Alan McDonald isn’t having any of it.  But what begins as a Swiftian satire - on austerity, arms length quasi-government organisations and family values - morphs into something more personal, more reflective and more damning about what it means to be old in Britain today. 

With the end of the triple-lock pension deal firmly on the political agenda, “Assessment” is set to be one of the most talked about shows at this year’s Fringe.

An all star cast from Scotland is led by Stephen Clyde (Best Actor – Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2012), with Karen Bartke (star of Scot Squad and winner of the Norman Beaton Fellowship in BBC Radio Drama 2016).

Gilded Balloon: Rose Street, Basement
August 3 – 28 (not 15)

What was the inspiration for this performance?
A number of things; the question which heads up the press release (What are we going to do about all the old people? - aka the democratic timebomb), the shocking beahviour of companies like Atos (the welrare assessments) and Capita (setting target for BBC licence fee collection); Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"; my own advancing years (I'm 60) may have been a factor (mortality and all that).

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I hope so. I think I'd say the dramatisation of idea (through character) rather than "discussion" but the three-dimensional, personal, shared in the moment experience of theatre is still like nothing else.

How did you become interested in making performance?
So long ago can barely remember. Doing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at primary school? Being taken to sumptuous red and gold splendour the Royal Opera House as a child to the ballet? Acting and directing shows at University (a welcome relief from the Law books)? But then I decided I wasnt good enoguh to do it myself and became a writer about theatre rather than for it. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a 40 year master class as a critic

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Not really; but the text is important (as you would expect from a journalist. This is not some visual fantasy - not that there's anything wrong with that - but it does have narrative drive, a plot, stuff like that. Wildly unfashionable, therefore!

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
No; my previous shows was described by one reviewer  as "a summer pantomime with added history" and it was set in the 19th century. This is naturalistic and set in the future (though only just) and more serious altogether.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
There are three points, perhaps four if we're lucky,  where I hope they will shudder. And then I hope they will have animated conversation with their freinds and partners about the issues the play throws up. 

Some will be outraged, others will say it's all too plausible, one or two may be upset (though that's not the intention).  

What strategies have you used to enable this experience?
Not sure what you mean by this; the shudders are at turning points or revelations in the play. The animated conversation should be driven by the dramatisation of the issues and their audiences; sympathies for or against the characters. If we do it right.

The production is directed by Alice Langley, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland MA directing course, and produced by Effie Scott and her Shows on a Shoestring company which brought “Coup de Grace” to Sweet venues at Fringe 2016.

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