Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Dramaturgy in the Heather: Tomas Eccleshare @ Edfringe 2017

A beloved author reveals a disturbing new narrative. Explosive new work from award-winning Dancing Brick

A reclusive children's writer becomes wildly successful. Her books are treasured across the country. 

But when a troubling narrative starts to unfold, we find ourselves asking: what matters more, the storyteller or the story? Brilliantly imaginative and theatrically original, Heather is
a short, sharp play about language, prejudice and the power of stories. 

What was the inspiration for this performance/show?

I was reading one of the Harry Potter books (which I love) and I started thinking, what if it turned out that the writer of these books wasn’t this pleasant, middle-aged, innocent woman, but was someone very different to that? 

What would that do to the books? What would it do to our relationships with the characters in the books? How important, basically, is the storyteller to the story? 

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

Definitely, but I think it discusses ideas in quite specific ways, and because of that it is more suited to some ideas than others. For example, to my taste, I don’t think theatre necessarily discusses breaking news, or even very recent news, as well as other media. 

But I think there is no better space for sparking the imagination, or for the thrill of a communal experience.

How did you first become interested in making performance?

I think I have always been a show off. I have recently had a baby and, looking at the way he already has such a clear personality, I find it hard to believe that I wasn’t kind of ‘making performance’ from a very early age!

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

Compared to some of my other work, the making of Heather was definitely what you might call a more ‘traditional’ process. I had the idea, I wrote the play, then the director, Valentina Ceschi, and I began collaborating with actors, designers etc, to bring it to life. In terms of the writing of it, it was very quick. I was on a bus actually, and began writing the email exchange which begins the play. 

By the end of my journey, I think I had the whole first part sketched out. I’ll leave you to make the JK Rowling on a train comparisons…

Does the show fit with the style of your other productions?

I have made work in lots of different ways; devising with actors, writing with designers, writing with puppet makers,  improvising as an actor, writing alone in my room. 

I studied English at university and then trained at Lecoq, and I think that broadly defines the two categories of my work: more ‘text-y’ on the one hand, and more ‘devised’ on the other (though of course those two things are constantly informing and challenging and overlapping with one another). 

In terms of that distinction, Heather is definitely on the more ‘text-y’ side. Having said that, I think the play will have a lot to offer audiences who like experimental work; it’s a text that definitely attempts to play with and interrogate the material of the theatre and the telling of stories in (I think) interesting ways.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the play inspires the audience to ask questions: about the way stories work, about the ability of a work of art to stand alone, about the complexity of Good and Evil. I hope they will be kept on the edge of their seats as the story twists and expands. And I hope they kind of get a kick out of my Harry Potter pastiche, ‘Greta and the Pen of the Necromancer’.

Thomas Eccleshare is the Verity Bargate Award-winning writer of Pastoral and the co-artistic director of Arches Brick Award winning company DancingBrick.

In three acts, the play explores the two characters’ relationships to the books and to each other, forcing them to question their own responsibility and motivation. Each act takes the performers into a different mode of communication, forcing the audience to engage with the different ways in which the text is being manipulated, mediated and interpreted.

In a world of fake news, now is the perfect time to question, challenge and interrogate the idea of authorship, objectivity and whether a text can exist in isolation.

Heather is based on Eccleshare’s short play Helen which had a 4 performances in 2014. It is directed by Valentina Ceschi who has extensive experience in theatre and opera. 

She is co-director at Dancing Brick with whom she has toured nationally and internationally since 2008 (her latest production of the Snow Child, commissioned by the Unicorn Theatre, will transfer to the Lincoln Centre in New York later this year). 

She is associate director for OperaUpClose for whom she is directing The Magic Flute in a new version by Glyn Maxwell at Soho Theatre, opening in September.

Thomas Eccleshare is a writer, performer, and theatre maker who trained at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. As a playwright, Thomas has won the Verity Bargate Award, the Catherine Johnson Award and been nominated for an Off West End Award for Most Promising Writer.

He is the co-artistic Director of Dancing Brick with whom he has toured work nationally and internationally, been nominated for two Total Theatre Awards and won the Arches Brick Award. 

Paul Jellis is an award-winning independent theatre and events producer. His work encompasses new writing, multidisciplinary performance, interactive theatre and immersive experiences. He has worked with leading theatres across the UK including the Young Vic, Old Vic, Lyric Hammersmith, Sheffield Theatres and Birmingham Rep, and internationally in New York and Bangalore. 

His production of Barbarians at the Young Vic was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. He has also developed and produced experiential events with global brands including Ray Ban, Courvoisier and PlayStation.

Listings information

Venue: Summerhall, Cairns Lecture Theatre, Venue 
Dates: 2-27 Aug (not 3, 14, 21) 
Time: 18.00 (60 mins) 
Tickets: £12, £10 (previews 2 Aug £8, £6)    
Venue Box Office: 0
131 560 1581  

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