Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Replay Dramaturgy: Nicola Wren @ Edfringe 2017

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

When a fiercely independent, workaholic police officer finds herself on the street where her brother once lived, she is propelled back to her vibrant childhood and forced to confront his tragic suicide. Flooded with memories of the times they spent together, she remembers the wonderment with which she used to see the world.

Replay is an intimate, moving and
ultimately uplifting new monologue, written by Nicola Wren (501 Things I Do In My Bedroom) and brought to you by Edinburgh Fringe favourites DugOut Theatre (Swansong, The Sunset Five, Fade, Inheritance Blues).

What was the inspiration for the performance?

I am really interested in idolisation – whether that be in a religious context, celebrity worship or hero-worship of a loved one. I wanted to write a play that captured, in some way, what happens when you discover that something, or someone, you have believed in your whole life isn’t what you thought at all. 

Does that person or thing that brought you so much joy and happiness in the past have to be totally eradicated from your life, or is there a way of accepting and embracing the good things that came from it and moving forward? I wanted to write an intimate and personal story about a woman who lost her adored older brother to suicide when she was very young, and how that impacted the decisions she made moving forward with her life. We meet her at the point of her major inner battle where she has to decide whether to continue to ignore her past, or embrace it and allow the memory of him to live with her, even though the relationship, as it was, is gone forever.

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

Absolutely.  You have to properly hear an opinion in order to disagree or agree with it. Performance is a powerful way of showing multifaceted sides to any argument that it’s audience may not have considered before. Also, the shared experience of watching someone bear their soul on stage can allow the audience to drop their own barriers and be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings afterwards.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was always be performing as a child, making up characters and doing little ‘bits’, largely for laughs and attention, but it while I was at drama school seeing other people making work (Engineer Theatre Collective were 2 years ahead of me) that I thought I might like to do it in longer form. 

I realised how stories and performance could help people to get more in touch with themselves, so I set out with the objective of making work that could make everyone in the audience feel better about the things they are embarrassed about. That being said, I also just really enjoy doing it, so it’s not entirely selfless thing!

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

Because I knew I wanted to write a very personal and intimate story, I chose to work very closely from the start with director George Chilcott who knows me very well and who I was able to be open with. We had a lot of discussion about personal loss and the aftermath of it, whether that be loss of a loved one, a break up or simply finding that your parents are seriously flawed people.  We then talked to other people about these experiences. 

I thought a lot about different types of loss and was particularly interested in how we react when someone really wants to leave. I looked into how mega fans reacted to Robin Williams’ tragic suicide and wondered how that would change their perceptions of him. I had also received a poorly written business card from a rather suspect ‘spiritual healer’ who promised to heal anything including “return of a loved one” and this fascinated me. I wanted to create and story and a character that felt totally real, but include a more spiritual element. George set me the challenge of writing a first draft culminating all the things we’d discussed and what came out was a story about a cynical policewoman who had lost a brother to suicide met a spiritual healer and started to have conversations with her dead brother. 

This draft was a mess, but there were a few moments in it that we clung to and then went into more exploration of this role of a police officer and what that might tell us about this woman’s personality and life experience. Police officers are supposed to represent safety and stability, but I was interested in what was going on behind the uniform. I started redrafting the play and watched a lot of Met Police documentaries to see how women of the police force conducted themselves, I was joyfully surprised to find that the female experience was generally very positive and that the there is a lot of pride from everyone within the police. I took that work into rehearsals and George and I worked with improvisation around the text and did a lot of physical exploration of the character which then fed into the script. 

Music and sound is a big feature of this play and so we worked from the start with the main song, to which the character is very attached, and Max Perryment gave us some brilliant sounds to help capture the dream like, nostalgic sequences in the play. Jen McGinley came on board to design set and costume, making very simple and powerful choices that allow the audience to just focus on the story. Lastly, Tom Kitney created a beautiful lighting design. We previewed the play over six nights in London before bringing it to the Edinburgh Fringe where it will, no doubt, continue to develop.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This is only my 2nd show and, like the first, it is a monologue. The story is very different and the character is a much bigger stretch for me, but at its heart it is just a very personal story told in an intimate setting.

This is the first time that I have worked with DugOut Theatre, who are known mostly for doing devised, comedy plays with music. This play is a slightly new direction for them in terms of form, but the heart of the play and the use of light humour is in keeping with their previous shows. They always make ultimately uplifting work, and this play is no exception to that.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that they will feel like they’ve spent an hour with a real person going through real things and that they will have gone through various emotions of the character and leave feeling uplifted.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping the audience experience?

For me, the most important thing with a monologue is just being sure to really speak to the audience and connect with them, rather than just perform at them or over their heads, so I’m always working on that. It makes an audience feel fundamental to the character’s journey, which, of course, they are.

This is the story of a woman revisiting her childhood, coming to terms with the significant pain of her past and finally realising that she needs to embrace the memory of her brother in order to move on with her life. Heart, honesty and humour are at the core of this moving play in which Wren explores what it is to grow up, accept loss, be vulnerable and celebrate the past, however painful.
Beautifully directed by DugOut Theatre’s George Chilcott and heightened by Max Perryment’s intricate sound design, alongside Linbury Prize winner Jen McGinley’s set design and lighting design by Tom Kitney, Replay is the kind of play that will stay with you for a long time.
Wren comments, I’m fascinated by the lengths people go to in order to hide pain and vulnerability, especially when they feel it’s embarrassing, ‘silly’ or insignificant in comparison to what’s going on in the rest of the world. I wanted to create a character who has, subconsciously, made life choices that allow her to avoid thinking about her feelings. As a police officer she is able to remain calm in a crisis but buried deep behind her façade is a wide-eyed little girl who desperately misses her older brother. She needs to come to terms with her past in order to move onto her future.
Director George Chilcott comments, Replay is a play about loss and coming to terms with loss. It touchingly speaks to anyone who has experienced loss – be that a death in the family or a break up. Watching 501 Things I do In My Bedroom (Nicola's last play), I was drawn to the honesty and humour in Nicola's writing – she writes from the heart and, therefore, has the ability to profoundly move her audience.

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