Monday, 5 June 2017

The Delights of Dramaturgy: Rosalind Blessed @ Edfringe 2017

Rosalind Blessed 
The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People
Space Triplex Studios I 4 – 26 August

The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People is a harrowing and darkly funny exploration of the path to domestic abuse, exposing the delicacy of relationship dynamics and blame. Drawing from personal experience, it is written by and starring Rosalind Blessed in her first full length play. Directed by Caroline Devlin. 

The play sharply observes the torture of human-to-human love and the unconditional nature of dog-to-human love and loyalty. 

Taking both visceral and comedic approaches to storytelling, the play tackles the real inner workings of a rotting relationship, the obsessiveness of love and the horror it can inflict on two people who think they just want to be together. 

The inspiration for this performance was to share some of my personal experiences from unhealthy and abusive relationships, to act as a warning. I wanted to say that it is very easy to find yourself in a dangerous situation – that you are not stupid and that you are not alone. I didn’t want to portray victim and villain but vulnerable and faulted humans. 

I also wanted to advocate for rescue dogs, particularly the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who are very often treated cruelly by humans and demonised in the press. The cages of my local rescue centre are filled with Staffs. The empathy I have received from them over the years has helped me through my darkest human times. I am not overstating to say the love of my dogs has been a literal life saver.

I hadn’t realised quite how much dialogue would be opened up by this piece until it’s run at The Courtyard Theatre. After each performance people would feel empowered to tell me their life experiences afterwards. The problems are so much more widespread than I had realised. 

I suppose we tend to keep these experiences of abuse to ourselves as there is such a feeling of residual shame. The beauty of the level of immersion in watching an intimate play like this is that it unlocked that isolation. Watching an honest piece clearly made the audience feel less alone and able to talk. 

Some found it so close to home that they found it difficult to sit through, which made me sad but afterwards the general feeling was that if punches had been pulled that it would be doing all of us who had experienced these things a disservice. 

It also proved useful for a lovely woman in the legal system who works with abusers. There is some possibility of taking the show to prisons – the idea being if abusers could see their actions at a remove that they might be able to get past their denial.

To be honest the approach to the creation of the play was a great deal of trial and error. It was developed over a few years working with several very talented actors. 

It started as an idea for a 5 minute short play about a woman eulogising next to a small grave – the assumption being she is talking about her child, then it is revealed she is talking about her dog. This then became extended into a one act play about the sadness of a relationship ending which finally grew to the darker full length piece it is now. 

I had several small runs in London which I directed myself and I learned a huge amount from my actors and audience about what was reaching out. 

When the play reached its final form I stepped down as director and played the female part myself as the subject matter was so incredibly close to me. I was always fluid to suggestions from my casts to change and improve as we worked. I’m sure that will happen again over this rehearsal period….it’s never finished!

4. All my productions use humour to deal with pretty grim subject matter. I think you have a better chance of reaching a person if you allow them to have a giggle at the mistakes that we make. I certainly tend to switch off a bit if things are too earnest so I attempt to maintain an irreverent tone in all. 

There is quite a bit of direct audience connection / participation in my work. In the past the audience have been fed and even given vodka jelly shots! In this slightly more serious piece the audience are still directly addressed and one of the actors actually becomes the dog so you can pet him! 

This inclusion hopefully makes the audience at times feel like friend and confidant and sometimes guilty voyeur.

5. I hope the audience will experience laughter, sadness, horror and anger but ultimately leave uplifted. I hope they will feel a sense of camaraderie with both the actors and fellow audience members as they go on this challenging journey.

6. I think honesty is the best policy. I think if you are as honest as you can be with your production the more likely the audience will trust you with their response. I also hope that the humour and quirky structure and approach will keep everyone engaged as we ask them to look at some pretty challenging stuff.  

The stark honesty of Blessed’s writing creates material that is both funny and discomforting, as the play flits between the present and the past. In this two-hander, one of the actors doubles as the dog, juxtaposing the human-to-human and human-to-dog relationships and ultimately highlighting the sinister potential of human behaviour.  

"I have experienced several abusive relationships and found it difficult to forgive myself for allowing that to happen. Exploring the two characters in this story enabled me to better understand how easy it is for things to go badly wrong for both parties - to slip into abuser and abused without even realising it. It is a widespread problem and I wanted people to know that they are not weak or stupid or wrong or evil. And most of all that they are not alone.”
Rosalind Blessed.

 “The play of the year for me was The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People – funny, moving, insightful, and ridiculously well acted. In an orderly world it would run for a 100 years. Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins will break your heart whilst making you think, which is the hallmark of a great drama. Definitely the play to see at this year’s festival fringe.”
Andrew O’Hagan, New York Times

Space Triples Studios
19 Hill Place EH8 9DP
Box office 0131 510 2395
Previews Aug 4-5 £6
August 7-12 4pm; 14-19 12.30pm; 21-26 4pm
All other shows £10/£8
75 minutes

Rosalind Blessed
Blessed trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Roles include, Henrietta in The Hollow (Mill at Sonning), Gonoril in King Lear (Guildford Shakespeare) with her father in the title role, Emilia in Othello, Wife of Bath in Canterbury Tales, (Southwark Playhouse) Tamora in Titus Andronicus (Arcola) Molly Brown in Iceburg Right Ahead (The Gatehouse), Sylvia Plath in Letters Home (New End Theatre) 
As a writer Rosalind has written with many sketch shows but most notably many years of Fat Hammond’s Bango Lounge, which went to the fringe twice. She co-wrote Wedded Bliss and Wedded Bliss – Through Therapy (Lion and Unicorn). She wrote two one act plays Smothy and Lottie (The Etcetera Theatre). The Delights of Dogs and The Problems of People is her first full length play. She is working on the next, a play examining mental health issues called Just Sick.

Duncan Wilkins
Duncan trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Moscow Arts Theatre. Theatre credits include: Romeo & Juliet (MokitaGrit, The Chocolate Factory), The Return of the Exile (The Yard Theatre; Athinais Theatre, Athens), La Dispute (Owl Farm Theatre, Edinburgh), A Life in Theatre (Hiraeth Productions, Upstairs at the Gatehouse), The Government Inspector (Gravel, The Tabard Theatre), A Dreamland Sideshow Christmas (Tom Thumb Theatre), SUN (National Art Service, St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch).

Caroline Devlin, Director
Trained: Drama Centre London, has been a professional actress for 21 years and latterly a Director also. For The Guildford Shakespeare Company: A Winters Tale, (2016) King Lear (2015), Othello (2014), Macbeth (2013)The Merry Wives of Windsor (The Public Reviews pick of 2012) and Richard III in (2012), Hamlet in (2011). For Creation Theatre Company, Oxford: Jekyll and Hyde (2012), Kean Productions: In Extremis (2012) and R-3 with her own company, Centre Five Productions, (Off West End Award nomination for Best Director). Caroline is excited to be returning to Edinburgh, her last production being Eunuchs in my Wardrobe written by and starring Silas Carson in 2011. Caroline is currently writing her third play, which will be produced by the Guildford Shakespeare Company in Autumn 2017.

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