Saturday, 22 July 2017

Local Dramaturgy: Try This At Home @ Edfringe 2017


Try This At Home Presents

The Local

Olive Studio, Greenside at Infirmary Street (Venue 236) 

Tickets: Tickets £9 (£8 concessions)

Previews: 4-6 Aug 2017  
Dates: 4-19 Aug 2017 (not 13) 

During this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Try This At Home Theatre stage the World Première of The Local – a new musical about community and change against the backdrop of pub closures in Britain. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The initial inspiration was hearing about the sudden closure of my local pub from home, ‘The Alexandra’. It shocked me that a place I had such emotional investment in and that tethered me to my hometown could, without warning, cease to exist. Cate and I started asking ourselves – when pubs are gone, what communal spaces will Britain have left? What will replace them? And what does it say about modern Britain that our pubs are being demolished to make way for supermarkets and luxury apartments?

There was another inspiration for the show that has only recently manifested itself. We were putting finishing touches to the 90 minute version of the script when Britain voted to leave to EU. Then our preview run at The Rutland Arms in Sheffield took place 3 days after the US election. For the Left it had been an humbling year during which the comfortable bubble of our social interactions had burst and we were forced to realise that the views we held were not as mainstream as we had assumed. 

For The Local, new themes emerged of frustration and powerlessness. The characters became less united and Liz, our protagonist, is forced to realise that she can’t rely on them to share her values. Initially, the pub is preyed upon by ruthless property developers and chain franchises but the more disturbing truth is that it is the indifference of the community that threatens the pub. That’s what we learned from 2016.

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

I think that this largely depends on the medium of performance. Live performance largely requires some amount of forward planning so music, theatre, dance etc. tends to be very thought out and, though effort is certainly no guarantee or success, at least attempts to explore ideas in an eloquent and nuanced way. 

One disadvantage of live performance is that it rarely allows for discourse – if I don’t like the message of a play you’ve written, I can write my own to contradict yours but you won’t see it for at least six months, that’s if you want to see it at all. The other limitation of live performance is financial. The more expensive it is to produce, the more the artist has to charge for a ticket and these costs can make live performance prohibitive to many.

This is where social media has the advantage and should be considered a legitimate medium of performance. Anyone can share their views on Twitter and Youtube for free and, once uploaded, those tweets and videos are there to be accessed by anyone, forever. Content can then instantly be shared, dissected and discussed. 

And yes, the majority of social media interaction passes without mainstream public attention but there is always the potential for it to have a profound effect on people, particular the younger generation. It may not be as entertaining as live performance, but social media is a kind of performance and should not be underestimated as a space for the public discussion of ideas.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Try This At Home Theatre was the result of mine and Cate’s frustration with aspects of the performances we saw, as well as our failed attempts to get cast in any of them. A lot of what we were seeing centred around individuals (usually straight white men) whereas we were more intrigued by communities, movements and ideologies. 

Young people are often, even disproportionately, the subjects of stories but rarely, we found, did these stories explore what makes us tick as a generation and how we differ to our parents and grandparents. We thought we could kill two birds with one stone - if we wrote and directed our own material we wouldn’t need anyone’s permission to perform and we could also enjoy total control over the content we created.

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

Our approach drastically changed over the first year of writing. Initially it was going to hyper-naturalistic, with the audience immersed in the real-time action and watching the scenes as if overhearing conversations at a pub. 

The story was going to be more simplistic too, with no major twists and turns but just a group of people drinking together and discussing the fate of their pub. This was how it went when we previewed it the 2015 Platform Performance Festival.

After Platform, we interviewed former pub managers and campaigners from the Campaign for Real Ale, at first just for a little more detail and authenticity, but the research made us think more about British society and wonder why fewer people are drinking at local pubs. 

We split the story into two acts – adding the first act, which covers the campaign to save the pub and created new characters through whom to explore the themes of loss and change such as Jack, the school teacher who worries about the younger generation’s political apathy, or Cassie & Erin, two best friends who drift apart when one moves away.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

We have only had one previous production so we can only compare The Local to that. Our first musical Character Limit was similar to The Local in that we explored how people behave in communal spaces (social media in the former and British pubs in the latter). The Local, however, is far more focussed – we felt confident enough to paint on a smaller canvas so there is no multi-roleing, all the action takes place in the same location and the band features only piano, acoustic guitar and cello with no amplification. 

Initially we also wanted to have the show be in real time but abandoned that when we realised the story we wanted to tell had to take place over a larger time scale. Still, our intention was to bring the audience into this tight knit community that we had invented, whereas before we’d focussed on comedic parody of current events. This time around we felt more confident that we could make the audience emote with our characters that we didn’t have to make them into caricatures.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We hope the audience never feel like they’re attending a lecture. Before research and development, our own opinions about UK pub closures were strong but uninformed. When interviewing experts, we discovered the situation is more nuanced than we originally supposed. 

That’s why we made the characters a cross section of the pub-going public, so that both sides of an argument could be explored in Ken-Loach-film-style group discussions wherein the audience are encouraged to come to their own conclusions.

Ultimately though, I hope we successfully put forward the argument for the preservation of the local pub. While we tried to avoid using archetypes, one of our characters – Terry – is the quintessential ‘barfly’ and perhaps someone the audience will feel like they’ve met before. At the emotional climax of the show, Terry shares his fears that, without the local, he will have nowhere to feel like a part of a community. 

We hope audience members – particularly those who don’t see pub closures as any great loss – will spare a thought for those who have built their social lives around these institutions.

On a Friday night many of us have faced the dilemma of whether to go out to the pub with friends or to stay in with a discounted bottle of supermarket wine. In our dialogue, the act of going to the pub is always framed as a choice, and we often hear about it from the perspective of Liz and Martin, the two staff members, who rely on people deciding to come there. 

We hope that, after seeing The Local, audience members will make the right decision and understand that their choices as consumers have a very real effect on the people who make a living serving drinks.

Every week, up to 29 pubs are closed in the UK alone. This once-booming industry is slowly being bought out by property developers and huge corporations, and the people behind the bar are losing their jobs and livelihoods.

At Try This At Home we wanted to explore why this was happening, and if there’s anything you can do to stop your local closing: ‘We kept seeing some of our favourite pubs, including where I had my first drink, being boarded up and shut down, and we felt pretty powerless, so we just knew we had to write something about it’ – Composer and Musical Director Dominic Lo. 

The Local follows Liz, who has managed her pub for over 15 years to discover it’s been bought by a property developer, and so bands together with her regulars to help save the pub.

A heart-warming and moving new musical, The Local is the second musical from Try This At Home Theatre, whose previous work has been described as 'a genuine find' and 'brutally acerbic' Broadway Baby.

Time: 14:00 (55min)

Box Office: 0131 618 0758


For further information, images, or to request a media ticket please contact Ms Cate Berry on trythisathometheatre@gmail.comor 07851917930.

Twitter @TryThisAtHome1


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