Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Goody Dramaturgy: Lucy Roslyn @ Edfringe 2017

Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 15th), 14:15

Lucy Roslyn’s new play, Goody, winner of Les Enfants Terribles ‘Greenwich Partnership Award’ 2017, is a striking and darkly funny exploration of the extraordinary, heart-breaking world of performing apes and the humans who live with them, love them and break them.

1934, Dustbowl America. Backstage at the travelling circus, the complex relationship between one man and his performing chimpanzee is revealed. Marooned in a world she does not comprehend, Goody finds comfort with her only companion - her trainer Frances. 

How do they communicate? How do they cohabit? Who is in control?
Our closest biological relative, the chimpanzee is capable of laughter and loyalty, frustration and rage. Today, chimpanzees are recognised as endangered animals struggling to survive in a dwindling habitat. 

They are loved as human sons and daughters but denied the rights of a person. Creating Goody, Lucy Roslyn visited ape sanctuaries and zoos, interviewed animal handlers and researched case histories of apes who used to be entertainers to find out how the animals who survived the journey adapted to their new lives, and to the humans who shaped them.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I'd been thinking about the dynamic of two characters who are very close but unable to cross a boundary and communicate on an equal level. We'd also been discussing the idea of creating a series set within the community of a circus - the danger, security and also isolation this might bring.  Goody is one such story.  An ape, marooned in the circus. A world she does not comprehend. What would a character like this hold onto in order to survive?

I do a lot of research on all my plays and this research, both historically and today (in various sanctuaries and zoos) inspired the character of Goody. She is a fictional character based on fact. As is Frances.

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

I think so, absolutely. Of course some plays can just be enjoyable escapism, but a director friend once told me that if you come out of the theatre and the play has started a conversation then you've done your job right. It is exciting when a play asks questions of you and it is also fascinating when the answer is not straightforward. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have loved theatre and film since I was a kid.  It took me a while to gain the courage to go on stage and, after drama school, it is very satisfying to now also write the work and hopefully make some interesting opportunities. You can feel impotent as an actor in many ways, so in making the work I would like to be able to create the characters and stories that I would love to see, and that will hopefully stay with people after they leave.

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

This show has proved more complex in many ways as one character is an animal. Their communication is something we've had to think about from scratch. The majority of what they say shows through in the minor ways of how they move, how one small shift can change things. The first show I wrote was about a person who was extremely clever with their words, but in this one there are more levels on show. The play is not necessarily in what is being said, but beneath that - it is how they are physically communicating. At least this is what we are out to achieve.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It has the same dark humour of the others, very character based, a foundation of research  - but is proving an interesting challenge to have an "animal" on stage.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We would like them to experience the behind the scenes relationship of one man and his ape to piece together the story of how this situation came to be, and what this means for both of them. There is love here, but there is also danger, and there is not always the ability to communicate it. An ape is immensely strong and volatile and it is The Dustbowl... there is nowhere to go.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Set in the 1930s we've looked at sound and costume to create an atmosphere - the language at the time, the historically typical ways of containing an animal in a circus - these things will hopefully land us in that period. Mainly it is a peek at a relationship backstage, something private, so we want to create intimacy for the audience, we are all in the same room. We are hopefully offering the audience a puzzle, watch carefully - who is manipulating who? 

Goody is a play about communication - how you can struggle to communicate, how your body language may betray you, and how you may choose to interpret a moment. Writer Lucy Roslyn comments, When a member of my family became hearing impaired, I was able to see the challenges of communication first hand. Losing the ability to express yourself and to be understood is not for the faint of heart. And this is what Goody explores – it is a play full of physical clues about what cannot be said.

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