Thursday, 11 May 2017

The B*easts Dramaturgy: Monica Dolan @ Edfringe 2017

The B*easts
Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX Thursday 3rd – Sunday 27th August 2017 (not 14th), 18:00

Setting the modern obsession with putting your own child first against our responsibility as a society towards our children as a whole, this dark tale, written by and starring BAFTA award- winning actress Monica Dolan (W1A, Appropriate Adult, The Witness For The Prosecution), explores how far one mum will go to put what her child wants first.

Dolan’s first solo play, a searing ‘What If?’ production, explores the pornification of our culture and the sexualisation of our children. In a society where sexuality and gender are such a huge part of who we are, how we identify, and how we are defined, The B*easts looks at how soon is too soon to strive for perceived sexual ideals. Can the journey to reach that supposed perfection start before we are even consciously aware of the journey we have begun?
The B*easts follows the repercussions of an event which could plausibly present itself and unfold within today’s culture.

The central concept of The B*easts invites us to examine our culture from an extreme perspective, taking a circumstance that we see as abhorrent and abnormal and showing how it can germinate in what we have come to regard as normality. As Tessa, the central character says, ‘you only have the choices you can see’. So when, and how, do you start noticing that your moral compass may be being directed by popular culture?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

A fake statue next to a swimming pool at Penny Hill Park Spa, a bunch of magazines and a couple of years research on another play that's still in my drawer (if the last one can be called "inspiration"!)

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

From the question I am presuming you mean as opposed to discussion of ideas online - or on TV for example? The time and space for ideas to be deeply explored on TV is quite limited and TV is controlled by a small number of people who are worried that viewers are going to change channels. 

Online, if someone is hurt or angered by a remark, you can't see them, so that could remain a secret forever. In a live space you get people's instant physical reactions to what they are experiencing and since we are animals too and most of our communication - and reaction to ideas - doesn't happen in words and is involuntary, each person in the space picks up and engages in the response of the others. 

The performer and audience having an experience at the same time and in the same space is a very powerful thing.

In a live space there is more scope for people to respond to their feelings as well as their thoughts. I think you embrace and remember feelings more powerfully than thoughts - which you can tend to forget if they do not have emotions attached to them. In a space there is more 3D equipment available to the performer to provoke feelings and thoughts and unite them to persuade, it is vulnerable contact, something truly offered, and the audience has the opportunity to listen to an entire view before discussing it later.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in creating work! I have been working in theatre, television and film for 25 years!

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

It is very much a storytelling piece and since the ideas could be seen as quite sensitive and complex, we have kept the format very simple, so I suppose the approach is fairly traditional and methodical: a good deal of writing and editing. Then I learn it and rehearse it with my director, John, and then share it once I've had a lot of practice. 

The thing is to try and remember what was important to you - what you were trying to say with it originally and don't want to lose - in the later stages when you are trying to come up with practical solutions to reality problems. This can be challenging once you are really buried in it! 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I am quite lucky in that lots of the shows I have appeared in have been quite varied. The creating
of this is a completely different experience from my end because I have written it and the artistic buck stops with me instead of trying to engage with and fulfil the artistic vision of someone else. It is the first time I have performed on my own and without the support of other artists on the night. I have done all sorts of physical theatre work when I was younger, some devising and a lot of Shakespeare and a good deal of work with new plays. I suppose what unites them all is coming up with the best storytelling you can. Hopefully I have absorbed some of this over the years.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that the audience will experience the feeling of pennies dropping and looking at their own thoughts as they engage with the material. I think this is what satire really means - looking at your own, or accepted thoughts objectively as they have just dawned on you.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Artistically, for me, it is all about getting the audience to listen, getting them to take in the information and questions you want them to absorb and consider without realising they are doing it, so the important thing is to have a Major Dramatic Question. That means basically having them wonder what is going to happen next in the story. 

I tried to hold onto that. It's not easy and I am sure there are some points where I have succeeded and some where I have failed. To be honest, a lot of the whole process seems to be quite ad hoc and hit and miss and much seems to have been governed by perceived common sense, experience and just what pops up in my imagination in taking each next step - also riding the momentum of notes, opinions and opportunities I am given from the outside. 

I did my writing in the library. Two libraries actually. Doing it in a library is good because you are surrounded by books which are evidence that someone has managed it before. I did a reading of the whole piece at North Wall Arts Centre which helped us to spot where the audience became more or less engaged, and then had a day of dramaturgy with John Hoggarth, the director, after we had both percolated the experience a bit. That was hard, because you realise in those moments how different even yours and the director's experience of the piece are! So then it is a matter of coming back to it with a cool head after all the feelings have died down and being honest with yourself. 

I am afraid that I think the control of the audience experience is limited. And in some ways none of my business. Realising this is a release actually! I can only think in terms of shaping the tale I want to tell as beautifully and truthfully as I can and hope that I have communicated it enough for them to find it interesting and engage with it as closely as I did. When you are performing you work with the audience and the present moment - something neither of you are in control of.

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