Monday, 10 July 2017

Dramaturgy of the Gent: Gina Schien @ Edfringe 2017

Salvation, Schizophrenia and The Gent

Part ghost, part protector “The Gent” is 221 years old and has been assigned to the other side of the planet to minister to Morgan, a young modern Sydneysider living with Schizophrenia.

Shifting between families, centuries and hemispheres, Morgan Stern is an enthralling and ultimately uplifting one-man play exploring relationships, mental ill health and the search for internal peace.

Its setting is a barely understood realm – the human mind. It is deeply informed by the experience of AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild) award-winning playwright Gina Schien’s own brother.
A moving monologue, directed by Goldele Rayment, Morgan Stern was described by critic Lisa Thatcher as: “A troubling, beautiful, uplifting ninety minutes that will leave you breathless". Veteran actor Graeme Rhodes has been praised by The Sydney Morning Herald for his “exceptional performance” as The Gent.

• Theatre (new writing, true-life)
• Venue: C primo (Venue 41)
• Dates: 6-28 August (not 14)
• Time: 18:45
• Duration: 75 minutes
• Age Guidance: 12+
• Tickets: Full price £9.50-£11.50, Concessions £7.50- £9.50. Two for one 7-8 Aug.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

My brother, who had schizophrenia, was the inspiration behind the script of Morgan Stern. He dealt with the frenzy in his brain by writing reams of poems and not very good Gothic-flavoured stories.

Apart from sharing bits of his work and life, I wanted to write the most compassionate and honest and dramatic piece about schizophrenia that I could.

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

I think people still get stirred up by performance. We’re sitting there being completely subjected to whatever’s thrown at us. We can’t escape so we have to feel the indignation or the delight or the anger in the room, and in us. And maybe because we’re sitting next to someone else who’s feeling raw and emotional, a conversation is born!  Often the discussion lasts for years.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I met two playwrights when I was at an artist colony in America.  I was there trying to write a second novel. The novel died a death after 30 pages but I started to write a play soon after I came home.  

I'm still not sure if it was generated by bonding with the playwrights or if dialogue suddenly looked a lot easier than hundreds of pages of prose.

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

Quite seriously, my biggest concern was to cast the best possible person to play the character. This is a one man show and if our actor had failed, the show would have failed, regardless of my beautiful script!

Luckily the director found the right man. And his instinct and approach was to immerse himself in the character he plays. Well, in all the characters he plays…

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The Company of Rogues director Goldele Rayment says her company is all about giving audiences ‘a visceral and poetic experience of the human condition’. Morgan Stern fits that bill. It gives the audience the human condition on a cliff edge with a story in its hand.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Confusion at first, then fear and anger, then heartbreak. And ultimately a new way of looking at people on the street who talk to themselves.

The production commands the audience’s attention throughout as the English Georgian gentleman slowly recovers heartbreaking memories of his daughter, whom he committed to the infamous Bethlem insane asylum. With these come a growing realisation that he must make amends and try to save Morgan from the same fate as his daughter.
Rayment says: “This is a powerful piece of storytelling about two families in different centuries, cultures and countries who share the same search for release from the turmoil of life. It’s a play with a sense of Gothic tragedy but which is filled with compassion in its approach to Schizophrenia – an illness that remains feared and misunderstood.”
Places, people and stories crystallise and dissolve throughout the performance, and the image of a one-eyed ornamental goldfish will come back to haunt you.
Morgan Stern has particular power and resonance because many of the team from Company of Rogues have an interest in mental ill health through their personal or professional lives.

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