Thursday, 8 June 2017

Part of the Dramaturgy: Tom Cooper @ Edfringe 2017

Bletherbox present:
Part of the Picture
2-28 August I Pleasance Theatre Jack Dome I 12pm

In 1987 a young Scottish artist spends a week on a North Sea oil platform, creating a series of paintings and prints that record the lives of those that work there. A year later, that platform, Piper Alpha, is ripped apart in a series of explosions. 167 men lose their lives.

PART OF THE PICTURE is not a straightforward account of this terrible tragedy, but an exploration of art, memory, and how the rest of the world understands the industrial world. It examines how we deal privately with very public tragedy.

PART OF THE PICTURE is a play with songs about the 1988 Piper Alpha oil platform disaster in the North Sea, following the story of a visual artist who visited the platform a year before it was destroyed in a series of explosions. Inspired by interviews conducted by the company across Scotland’s oil and gas industry, weaved into one compelling narrative, the play uses highly physical and inventive theatricality and an original score written and performed by internationally-renowned musician and composer Brian James O’Sullivan (The James Plays, NTS). This is important Scottish story is told with an urgent punch by Glasgow-based Bletherbox.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Last year I read a couple of newspaper pieces about how Scotland’s oil industry was experiencing sharp decline. I’ve always wanted to make a piece about the sea in some way, so this sort of fitted. Then I thought back to John McGrath’s 1970s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil, the final section of which dealt with what was then an emerging industry. I thought: could we make a piece that covers the other end of this story, like a bookend to McGrath’s play?

So a couple of actors and I started meeting and interviewing oil workers. Some of them were old enough to have started their careers as the industry had got going in the 1970s, and were reaching retirement age now, so their own careers and lives perhaps mirrored a rise and fall of North Sea oil. Also I was aware that Scotland has a tradition of visual art that explores industry, and I managed to find a Scottish artist who creates paintings, etchings and prints based on people that she’s encountered on a series of trips offshore. This seemed like it could be an unusual way in to the story.

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

Yes. What I like about theatre, as opposed to, say, the newspaper column, is that it can explore ideas through story, character and poetry, and at length. If you can find emotional connection, complexity and human truth underneath all the information and polemnic.

How did you become interested in making performance?

When we were kids my brother and I had bunk beds, and the bottom bunk formed a proscenium arch for our little shows. We were very very little, so I think it’s instinctive – I think a lot of children are like that. People stop when they’re older, at different points, when they realise theatre’s basically not economically sensible. Doing the Fringe certainly isn’t economically sensible, but we really want to tell this story.

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

We thought it would be probably be a verbatim piece when we started working on it, but it’s made more sense for this particular play to take lots of the snippets of our recorded interviews and use them only as a starting point, building something more crafted and hopefully poetic with them.

Working with composer Brian James O’Sullivan, who also performs in the piece, has been fantastic – the music is key to how the piece works.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Most of my own directing has been musical theatre and opera, but it’s all the same thing: telling a story clearly and vividly, searching to reveal truth.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope it will take them into a world that they know little of, but can connect to because it feels vivid and rich and truthful. I hope we can then raise some compelling and provocative points and ideas about both that world and our own world. And, simple as it sounds, I hope they like the people that we introduce them to.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Both through the writing process and then the rehearsal process, we’ve taken it up a number of avenues that we’ve then retreated back down. But I think that’s the best way to work. You find what something is by working out what it isn’t. It’s exploratory, it’s playful.

Part of the Picture
2 – 28 August
2nd -28th August – 
2-4 August previews £6
7-8 August 2 for 1 tickets £10 (£9)
No show 14 August
15, 21, 22, 28 August £7.50 (£6.50)
5, 6 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27 August £10 (£9)
9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24 August £9 (£8)

Tom Cooper (writer and director) 
Tom directs theatre, musical theatre and opera. As an assistant or associate director he has worked for the Young Vic Theatre, English National Opera and Scottish Opera.  His directing includes Gianni Schicchi (Opera Bohemia, Scottish tour); the European premiere of Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns (Finborough Theatre, London); La Traviata (Heritage Opera, national tour); Henry IV parts one and two (York Shakespeare Project); L’Antologia di Spoon River (Rapallo Festival, Italy); La Bohème (Clyde Opera); and The Trojan Women (Edinburgh Festival Fringe).  

Tom was a member of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme.  His writing includes Doors: the Great Exam Cabaret (Wild Cabaret, Glasgow); and adaptations of The Trojan Women (Edinburgh Festival Fringe) and The Visions of Simone Machard (Hackney Empire and tour). 

Catherine McLauchlan  (set and costume design) 
Catherine trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Designs include Tales from the Mall (NTS); Scots of the Spanish Civil War (Wonderfools); Let the Bitch Burn (RCS); La Bohème (Clyde Opera).  

Charlaye Blair (performer and choreographer) 
Theatre includes: Cinderella (SECC Glasgow); The World Goes Round (Wild Cabaret, Glasgow) Honk (Brickhouse Theatre, Glasgow). Radio: Real Radio Scotland (Clyde One). TV: CBBC Sport Relief Does Glee Club.  

Ross McKinnon (performer)
Theatre includes: Muzzy boy and dance captain in Thoroughly Modern Millie (concert, Adelphi Theatre London); We’re all mad in here by Grant Redman (Leith Depot, Edinburgh Festival Fringe); Sunshine on Leith (Websters Theatre, Glasgow). 

Brian O’Sullivan (performer)
An actor, writer and musician. As an actor, Brian's recent theatre work includes playing Ui in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Dundee Rep), The Winter’s Tale (Royal Lyceum Theatre), It's A Wonderful Life (No Nonsense Productions), Keep Right On to the End of the Road (tour), The View From Castle Rock (Stellar Quines) and The James Plays (National Theatre of Scotland). 

In 2015 Brian wrote and directed the musical Newcomer with Triple Threat Theatre Academy in Queensland, Australia and continues to work for Triple Threat as an international member of staff. Brian is delighted to be returning to the Edinburgh Fringe with this exciting new production.

The Piper Alpha oil platform in the Central North Sea was destroyed by fire resulting from a series of explosions on 6 July 1988. It was operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd. 167 lives were lost; 63 were rescued from the water. Today it remains the world’s worst offshore oilfield disaster in terms of lives lost and the impact on the industry. 

It resulted in the Cullen Inquiry and subsequent report, which was critical of Occidental’s safety and maintenance procedures, and made 106 recommendations on safety to the offshore industry, which were all accepted.

Bletherbox is a young theatre company, formed in Glasgow in 2016. We make work that is contemporary, physical, musical and exhilarating. 

Part of the Picture features actor, musician and composer Brian James O’Sullivan (The James Plays – NTS; A Winter’s Tale – Royal Lyceum; Oliver! – West End); Ross McKinnon (Thoroughly Modern Mille, West End); and Charlaye Blair (Cinderella - SECC). It is written and directed by Tom Cooper (previously an assistant director at the Young Vic and Scottish Opera); with design by Catherine McLauchlan and lighting by John Holding.

Concession (Concession tickets are valid for anyone under 18 years old, registered students, registered unemployed, registered disabled, or over 60 years old. Concession tickets are only valid when accompanied by appropriate identification.

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