Sunday, 28 May 2017

Brutal Dramaturgy: Bethany Pitts @ Edfinge 2017

Brutal Cessation
Assembly George Square (The Box), George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ
Thursday 3rd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th), 16:20

Brutal Cessation is a savage new play by Milly Thomas (Clique BBC3, A First World Problem and Clickbait, Theatre503) exploring violence in relationships, our expectations of gender and what happens when we're no longer in love but refuse to let go. 

Following the story of a rotting relationship and the purgatory that follows, the show asks: Is having no reason to stay a reason to leave?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

After taking a case of sexual assault to court Milly was astonished by the how she was constantly labelled a victim and how she was made to feel. It led her to think about victimhood as a concept and where that lies with us on an everyday level. 

Do men and women experience victimhood differently? This is where the idea for the actors to swap over parts in the performance came from. By the time I read the initial short version of the play, she had decided to examine this in the form of a relationship - when things are becoming cruel, brutal even, why do we stay when we know we should leave? 

What struck me immediately – and I think will connect with everyone that sees it – is how we struggle to get away from everyday gender roles within our relationships and how a level of brutality can develop and fester in our most intimate relationships.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Definitely. While it isn’t as accessible as other art forms such a television, I do believe theatre has the potential to affect those it reaches – there is a great deal to be gained from sharing experiences in a space with a live audience. It doesn’t allow you to become passive! 

I also believe it has the power to spark empathy in a way that other art forms can’t quite match. I would hope that when people see Brutal Cessation they come away feeling the questions that it raises, not merely studying them from an intellectual point of view.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve always loved live performance, whether theatre or gigs or dance. I liked acting and being in shows when I was younger - I wasn’t a very good actor but I loved the collective experience, My A Level drama teacher suggested I direct our final project  - before then I hadn’t even really realised that directing was a job! 

I’m not from a theatrical background and had no connection with the industry at all. But I immediately loved it.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

This show is having quite an extensive R&D process as there is a great deal to figure out. Although Milly and I have worked on it intensely dramaturgically together, the script remains in many ways quite open. 

This is partly due to the central device of the actors swapping parts, which is something we are playing around with actors in the room before Milly writes a final rehearsal draft. Even in initial readings there is such an immediate difference in how the parts come across when played by one gender or the other that this is something that really has to be practically explored.

We also have a week of R&D planned with Greenwich and Lewisham’s Young People's Theatre during which time we're opening our doors and inviting their young people into our process. 

I’m quite a fan of opening up rehearsal processes at various points. Their opinions going to be very informative for us as we shape this unique show, and I hope it will be a useful experience for them in terms of their outlook on relationships and gender.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It is more formally ambitious– which I’m very excited about. Both Milly and I are preoccupied with how gender is presented on stage and with exploring the idea that dialogue or language may be somehow gendered rather than character-led - the actors swapping roles during the show helps us to achieve this. 

We are also looking at the idea of narrative possession and how repeating scenes will work, which is a challenge that is informing the form of the play It will be a very stripped back production, which I’m generally in favour of (and is fringe friendly!). 

All the creative team are keen to push our own limits on this production to make something that is bold, exciting and visceral, that tackles the darker side of us as human beings. We want to move the audience out of their comfort zone so we need to move out of our own too.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope the audience will be moved – both out of their comfort zone and also empathetically. I hope – and think - that they will recognise themselves in it, in the tender and disgusting intimacies of relationships and in the power but also the brutality of love.

I really hope that it can challenge some of our preconceptions about gender too – I’m fascinated by the roles we play and by swapping the characters we can really examine how this affects our relationships too – both intimate relationships and in wider society. The play will ask if we can ever really get away from that.

We’ve been genuinely touched by the number of people who have approached us to tell us that they've been there, or they get it, or simply talking about how much love there clearly is between the characters. 

Milly’s not convinced that there is love – but love comes in its myriad forms and I imagine people will be split on what they see in it. But we want them to take what they see on the stage and hopefully use that to really question what it is that makes us, as human beings, stay - particularly when there's nothing left to stay for. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We're playing with various possibilities of where and how to swap the characters over - is it in the control of the audience? The actors? Do I set it in advance for the audience? Who is in control of the story and what does that mean for the audience? We’ll be looking at this in our next phase of development and examining what the potential different outcomes for an audience are.

Having a stripped back production isn’t just to save money on the budget either! It’s deliberately to push the focus onto the two people and the transactions between them.

Our space in Edinburgh is very intimate which is ideal. Nothing is hidden –actor and audience will be close enough to see who is sweating more (and I promise everyone will be sweating)! 

In this kind of environment, there is a huge amount of trust engendered, and therefore intimacy, which we hope will bring our audiences closer to the ideas and questions we are exploring. 

Thomas’s production is about the absence of love, that gnawing feeling that is left behind after a relationship. When you’re too proud to admit you were wrong, what lengths will you go to in order to emerge unscathed? 

Laced with dark humour, Brutal Cessation is a unique exploration of traditional power play as the actors swap roles throughout the sixty minute show, offering a refreshing perspective into both men and women’s experience of victimhood as their reality becomes emotionally and physically unsafe.

The current statistics show that roughly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are suffering violence within their relationships. There is a lot of work to be done in creating an environment where people are able to come forward and share their experiences. 

In 2015, Thomas herself took someone to court over sexual assault on public transport and was astonished at how she was made to feel. She may have won the case but, because of the lack of respect for ‘victims’, it didn’t feel like a victory and she saw how other people may be discouraged to report abuse due to the lack of support given. Brutal Cessation explores how violence, suggested or actualised, can so easily pervade our everyday lives, sometimes without us even realising it.

Milly Thomas comments, I'm utterly fascinated by what happens when we know we should leave a relationship but we don't. At what point the fear eclipses the love and which way round. Although this piece isn’t autobiographical, it began as a short play when I was in a relationship that wasn’t right for me. 

I was astonished by the games my own mind came up with to avoid what was bothering me. I wanted to explore the difficultly around frank conversations, especially when the issues at hand have moved into harmful territory.

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