Sunday, 23 July 2017

Professional Dramaturgy: Charlotte Cromie @ Edfringe 2017


6:15pm 21st - 26th August
TheSpaceontheMile2, The Radisson, The Royal Mile, EH1 1TH

Half past five on a Friday evening, and a school’s electronic door-locking system shuts down for the weekend… with four teachers still in the staff room. 

Claustrophobia sets in. Tea turns into alcohol. Ties, jackets and the ceremonies of the school day are shed, giving way to messy power plays, grievances and the desire to behave badly. 

But they are still haunted by the ultimate threat in their job that keeps their behaviour in check. And it isn’t the headmaster. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration for Professional came from my own experience as a teaching assistant at schools in North and East London, as well as the experiences we all have as students. The culture of teachers – the dress codes, the surnames, the secrecy of the staff room – as well as the uneasy relationship between teachers and students strikes me as fascinating. 

So I wondered what would happen if a group of professional people were trapped together in their place of work but after work hours, whether they’d maintain professional etiquette, and whether they would still throw caution to the wind if their work involved the most protected members of our society – children.

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

Absolutely! A group of people standing up in front of another group of people and simultaneously saying, ‘Imagine if this happened’ with the added urgency of, ‘This is happening right now in front of you’ – I can’t think of another practice where the balance of theoretical and actual is achieved like that.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I started telling stories as soon as I could tell anything, and when I was turned down for a school production of my favourite play I felt the first sting of theatrical ‘let-me-at-‘em’. 

The writing and the theatre having come together, I found myself in an environment (University) that valued plays and allowed you to do something with them immediately, so I started collaborating with up-and-coming producers, performers and crew members to put on new plays as much and as well as I could.

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

The show relies heavily on characterisation, both in the teachers as individuals and in the layered relationships between them, and so character work was key. 

The crucial ensemble element meant that the group really needed to develop a brilliant chemistry, a sense of bouncing off each other and spurring each other on, both comically and dramatically, which they have developed beautifully and which I’m sure the audience will notice in their performance.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The productions I write and/or direct span a range of genres. My directorial debut (produced by the wonderful Gaia Fay Lambert who has produced several of my plays, including Professional) was an adaptation of Michael Green’s comic classic The Art of Coarse Acting, which won a lot of laughter, but in my own writing I can never stay entirely within the bounds of comedy. 

I always end up bringing in something a bit deeper and darker, so Professional is a balance of the two.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

In an environment of lowered guards and shirked responsibilities, but with certain lines that must not be crossed, both the audience and characters experience the thing: comfort and laughter one moment, and then, with one joke too far, shocked silence and self-questioning the next.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

In casting the show, I chose performers who were primarily dramatic actors rather than comedians. 

Judging by the raucous laughter of our Cambridge audiences, we seem to have succeeded in pinning down the comedy of the play, but the superb dramatic ability of these actors means that the comedy, however outrageous, can easily drop back into tense drama, and the lingering effect of the play is darker and more ambiguous than that of a simple situation comedy.

This deliciously disobedient comic drama asks where the boundaries of professionalism lie, why working with children is so terrifying, and how much pressure it takes to reveal the petty, paranoid, impulsive teenagers inside even the most polished individuals.

‘I have practically run the English department for the last three years, and you have bought me a bottle of wine with a screw cap.’

Professional’ is a Bennett-esque comic drama from up-and-coming writer Charlotte Cromie. It portrays the fascinating culture and ceremony of teachers – the dress codes, the surnames, the secrecy of the staff room, but most importantly, the danger of working with children, since small ‘unprofessional’ acts can so easily become crimes. 

The show draws on the author’s own experiences as a teaching assistant, as well as the universality of our experiences at school. 

Professional is funny, uncomfortable, familiar, alienating and explorative, all in the space of forty-five minutes.

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