Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Penetrating Dramaturgy: Fear No Colours @ Edfringe 2017

Fear No Colours

by Anthony Neilson

Glasgow company Fear No Colours return with another bold production, taking aim at masculinity and friendship


Venue: C cubed, venue 50, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Dates: 3-12 Aug
Time: 18:25(1h15)

What was the inspiration for this performance?Fear No Colours have in previous years been engaging with the 1990s-2000s contemporary tragedies and tragedians, such as Sarah Kane, Philip Ridley and Mark Ravenhill, so turning to Anthony Neilson is about continuing that exploration. 

Penetrator is a particularly fascinating play of his, in the ways that it engages with the thrill and hazards of live performance, which is something I have a particular interest in. It’s not an easy watch at all, our shows rarely are, but I believe that sometimes we need to be able to go see uncomfortable things in the theatre since being human isn’t always comfortable.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I definitely believe it is, I think even with the over-availability of culture and entertainment today, there are still a whole host of things that only

theatre can do, in terms of aesthetics, liveness and ephemerality (among other things). I think one of the great strengths of live performance in terms of discussing ideas is precisely the liveness of it; the show will draw on instant impulses and the audience in the room to shift and change from night to night and evolve across a run.

I think the Fringe is rather unique in this respect; we easily see more performance in three weeks than the whole rest of the year combined and gain fantastic insight into the zeitgeist and invaluable inspiration for our own work, while meeting and discussing work and life with other practitioners and audiences from all over the world – it’s an instant, accessible and very comprehensive forum.

How did you become interested in making performance? 
My interest in performance and performance-making first came from mass consuming theatre as a nerdy teenager – both as a spectator and by reading all the plays I could get my hands on. The contemporary British tragedians (Kane, Ravenhill, Bond, etc) were particularly influential, as their plays challenge directors and actors to represent the unrepresentable, which is infinitely compelling to me. 

I decided that the only way to find out how to do these plays was to plunge in and direct them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to find actors who were up for the challenge.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
A key departure point was considering how the world has changed in the twenty-odd years since this play first came out, not just in terms of direct references but also the general discourse, and how the characters speak in a way that can perhaps seem as dated as the TV shows or political events they discuss. That is not to say the text needs to change, but we need to be aware of these challenges in performance to ensure the text still resonates and feels relevant to the audience.
Another approach was to try and identify elements that have perceivably been given less attention in past productions. 

To us, the memories of Tadge and Max’s childhood friendship represented something that was perhaps a departure from Neilson’s intentions, but also very compelling, and became a core element of the process. Physical engagement with memories as a dramaturgy has long been a personal interest of mine in my work, so this discovery was particularly thrilling.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Absolutely, we’ve focused mostly on the 1990s-2000s British wave of new writing and Penetrator is another landmark play of that era and a fairly natural choice. And as always with our shows there is of course at least one prop that’ll require comprehensive risk assessment!

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 
I expect the performance to be rather provocative, in particular with regards to some of the gender- and sexuality-related discourse and exposing the toxic side of urban masculinity. 

I think Neilson’s writing is bold in that some of Max’s lines might be seen as both misogynistic and homophobic, but there is thankfully no sense of moralising or didacticism in the play, or pointing Max out as the 'bad guy'. On the contrary, we might find ourselves sympathising with the character despite ourselves as bit by bit his world falls apart around him and we get to the core of where his vitriol might be coming from.

In addition to contemplating and discussing problematic masculinities, I hope that the final scene will do what Neilson intended; the play notes read ‘It's far and away the most draining sequence I've ever seen played on stage but – if it's done right – uniquely shattering.’ Which is a tall order, but also precisely the kind of challenge we love!

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
As with every show we do, it’s about identifying what makes it compelling, why people should take the time to come see it, and then work from there. 

When we do well-established plays it’s often also a matter of convincing the audience to come see something they might have seen before, so I always try and uncover something new in the text that might hopefully surprise the audience.

Edinburgh flatmates Max and Alan are happily nursing their hangovers when their old friend Tadge arrives on their door, AWOL from the army and just in time to upset the delicate balance of chill nothings. Tadge is acting very strange; he says the Penetrators took him to the Black Room, and that they can make him disappear as though he never existed. The Penetrators can be anyone, anywhere and the only escape is to the past, to a time when two innocent boys promised to be friends forever before everything went so horribly wrong.


Anthony Neilson’s second play was originally commissioned by the BBC but ultimately considered too extreme for television, and instead became a landmark play about the thrilling hazards of live performance. Loosely based on real life events, Penetrator takes a long hard look at urban masculinity and the limits of friendship when the loss of boyish innocence becomes savagely violent. Darkly hilarious and fiercely compelling, Penetrator remains one of Neilson’s most excellent works to date.

Fear No Colours is a Glasgow-based theatre company committed to visceral and bold productions of contemporary British plays. Following their critically acclaimed productions of Cleansed by Sarah Kane at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Mercury Fur and Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the company returns to push boundaries even further this season.

Ticket prices: £10.50-£12.50 / concessions £8.50-£10.50
C venues box office: 0845 260 1234 / www.CtheFestival.com
Fringe box office: 0131 226 0000 / www.edfringe.com

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