Friday, 28 July 2017

More Moira Dramaturgy: Alan Bissett @ Edfringe 2017

credit: Stephanie Gibson
a sequel
written and performed by Alan Bissett, directed by Sacha Kyle
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30) | 2­–28 August (not 14/21) | 7pm (1hr) | £15 (£12)

 “The most charismatic character to appear on a Scottish stage in a decade” (The Scotsman) is back! After two sold-out Edinburgh Fringe runs, Alan Bissett’s indomitable character Moira Bell, truth-teller, straight-talker, cleaner, single mum and The Hardest Woman in Falkirk, returns in a brand new sequel to 2009’s well loved The Moira Monologuespremiering at the Edinburgh Fringe in
credit: Stephanie Gibson
August 2017.
Moira’s a gran now – ‘can ye believe that, Babs?’ – but still telling hilarious home-truths about online dating, her estranged sister, cleaning posh people’s houses, and the return of her ex, Billy. 

With the same balance of uproariously incisive observation, brilliant character comedy and heart-wrenching emotional content as the original show, this is a post-indyref, post-Brexit Moira, switched on to politics and still blowing away preconceptions about class.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

This is the follow-up to my 2009 ‘one-woman show’ The Moira Monologues, which was best on the experiences and attitudes of the women in my family – my sister, my aunties, my cousins – the sort of working-class women I’d rarely seen represented on a Scottish stage before.  

I figured I would catch up with the character eight years on, as Scotland – indeed the world – has changed a great deal since 2009.  Back then, we lived in a pre-indyref, pre-Tory govt, pre-Brexit, pre-austerity, pre-Trump climate.  I wondered what Moira’s take on these things would be, and where she currently is in her life, so I wrote a sequel.

credit: Stephanie Gibson

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

 Yes, I think so.  The rarefied space of the theatre allows the audience to slip outside reality – away from the barrage of screens, advertising and media verbiage we are surrounded with every day – and give themselves over to a different way of seeing. 

Also, the communal element of performance – it is literally the oldest artform, going back to fireside accounts of hunts in our prehistoric days – taps into the sort of communal and social atmospherics that late-capitalism has attempted to erode. 

We experience these things with the other people in the room, sensing their reaction to the material and letting that inform our own. All of that means a powerful space opens up to examine ideas from an angle otherwise denied to us by consumer culture.

How did you become interested in making performance?

It happened rather organically as an extension of my twin careers as a teacher and a prose writer.  If you publish a novel you get used to having to read aloud from it at book festivals, in schools, in libraries, and even in prisons.  

I’ve always felt a responsibility to make that entertaining and engaging for the audience, which meant not only ‘performing’ the material but selecting the scenes which had a strong dramatic shape and through-line and which lent themselves well to the stage.  I just refused to fritter away their attention spans with some deathly-dull recital of the internal consciousness of the protagonist.

credit: Stephanie Gibson

Also as a teacher you have to be able to stand in front of a class of, say, thirty young people – some of whom perhaps don’t want to be there – and take them on a journey through a lesson using only verbal tricks and body language, reading their responses and being able to judge what the sound (or the silence) coming form them meant. 

Fuse these things together and you get a performer-in-waiting.  Theatre felt like a natural sideways step from that.

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

 The main approach to the making of the show is threefold: to entertain and to provoke.  This has been the modus operandi of myself and director Sacha Kyle since we made our first show together: the original Moira Monologues.  Most audiences will reject a show that only provokes.  But a show which only entertains is lightweight, and usually ends up only reinforcing the status quo.  

What I’m trying to get the audience to think about in More Moira Monologues, as with the original, is our attitudes towards class, gender and nation – towards Scottish working-class women, essentially – and so there are moments that will certainly make the audience feel uncomfortable.  Moira has to be a fully-rounded human being if the audience are to have their expectations about ‘chav’ culture exploded, but this sometimes mean confronting them with material which they may not be quite prepared for.  

As long as you are fulfilling your duty of entertainment towards them – arranging the narrative shape and the humour in such a way that they are pulled along with it – then they will forgive you for that and be more inclined towards giving your ideas a hearing.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It certainly fits with the style and aesthetic of the original Moira Monologues, but Sacha and I have mainly made work that trades on my attempts to personally connect with the audience, as the writer and the only figure onstage, so as to take them on a political journey.  Shows that I have written for other actors – such as Turbo Folk or The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant – examine ideas of Scottishness and politics also, using language and humour resourcefully and imaginatively to do so, so, yes, More Moira Monologues feels of a piece with our previous work.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We want the audience to go from being rather intimidated by Moira at the beginning of the play to admiring her strength and warmth by the end.  She’s someone that most middle-class audiences will experience in their lives only as someone they’d want to avoid, but when they’re trapped in there with her, and forced to give themselves over to her worldview, my hope is that they then begin to realise working-class women – so often marginalised, patronised or made completely invisible in our culture – are as human as themselves.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We do not rely on a set, props, costume or music to try and ‘enhance’ the theatrical experience, trusting only on the writing, performance and direction to make Moira come to life before their eyes.  

For this reason we eschew the sort of drag act cliché – exaggerated femininity – which often occurs when a man is playing a woman onstage.  

The characterisation of Moira is key, exploring the depths of her personality and making her as emotionally complex as any Shakespeare heroine.  That’s our responsibility to her and to the audience.  

"Since its debut in 2009, my 'one-woman show' The Moira Monologues has proven itself to be probably the most popular and enduring thing I've ever created,” Bissett says. 

“Reviving the original show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe revealed an audience eager for Moira's return. Scotland has changed a lot since 2009 – I kept wondering what had happened to Moira in the intervening eight years, where she was in her life now, and what she thought of such new developments as Brexit, online dating, the Kelpies in Falkirk and Donald Trump. There still aren’t enough representations of working-class Scottish women on the stage, and I can’t wait to unleash (More) Moira Monologues on audiences of old pals and people who haven’t had the pleasure of her company yet.”

credit: Stephanie Gibson

Based on the stories told by the women in his large working-class Falkirk family, The Moira Monologues, (More) Moira Monologues and the indomitable character of Moira Bell are creations of the award-winning author, playwright and performer Alan Bissett, whose novels include BoyracersThe Incredible Adam SparkDeath of a Ladies’ Man and Pack Men. Since its initial production at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, in 2009, the original Moira Monologues has toured the UK extensively, with sold-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe (2009 & 2016 revival), and the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, as well as performances in Serbia, Canada and China.

(More) Moira Monologues is the tenth collaboration between Bissett and director Sacha Kyle. Their other productions include the CATS-Award nominated Turbo Folk (shortlisted for Best New Play at the CATS Awards 2010), 2016’s One Thinks Of It All As A Dream (“an insightful eulogy to Pink Floyd’s wayward genius”, The Guardian), 2014’s The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant (“a stunning piece of theatre”, TIME Magazine), Ban This Filth (shortlisted for Amnesty’s Freedom of Expression Award 2013) and of course The Moira Monologues (2009).

Sacha Kyle also directed Iain Pattison’s I, Tommy (2013), and a number of new writing productions for Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and a Pint series, and has just been named as one of the nine directors selected for the BBC’s UK-wide Continuing Drama Directors Scheme.

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