Friday, 14 July 2017

The Recovery Dramaturgy: Ilona Munro @ Edfringe 2017

Bright Productions 

Hogmanay in the Highlands.  Three generations of men.  Traditions, banter, song.  The whisky should probably stay in the cupboard. 

Out of Glencoe comes a lovingly, dysfunctional, all-male tale of lost dreams, long held hurts and father-son ties, told with a very Scottish voice and new songs.  The kind of songs sung at a New Year’s party.

The Recovery Version by Bright Productions
Venue:  Sweet Grassmarket (2)                       Tickets: £8 (£6)
Dates:   4th-20th August                                  Box Office:  0131 243 3596
Time: 13:40 (ends 15:00)                                  Venue website:

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I became a single parent when my kids were only age one and five.  I stayed single and worked full time for several years and during that time I fretted about my son having no good male role models.  Although we maintained what we could with his father, it was unfortunate that his grampa wasn't around ( though he has an amazing granny)  I needn't have worried, lots of male friends, family and teachers were in his life, as well as good women.   Alongside this is an ongoing joy of living in a Highland community (after time in London and Russia) and of the characters that make living here so good.  I was also often wondering about men, and where they were at in the Highlands.  Alcohol and lack of decent jobs with decent pay can take it's toll, but creativity, kindness and an incredible thing - split up families that still talk exist too - hec sometimes they even go their ex partners weddings! 
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Absolutely!  Although Lochaber is 2000 sq miles, it doesn't have a dedicated arts centre or cinema, so performance has to be in village halls, schools and found spaces.  With the demise of promoters budgets and small scale touring it can be hard to access professional performance without going 200 miles round trip, but when professional companies come here, they are greatly appreciated.  Community, youth and school theatre are well attended.  We also find that it is a myth that young people need everything crash bang wallop now ( she says as her son who is now 14 plays his Xbox)  We have been part of many educational theatre projects and they can really reach out, where other projects can't.  EG our last tour of "Stigma" and "HomeBrew" resulted in self referrals to help ( we always work in partnerships)  Interestingly enough, it was a Lochaber Common Weel who hosted "Faslane".  This is a social-political group, not a promoter or venue, and they had new audience engaging because of Scottish issues in the content.

How did you become interested in making performance?
Cliche alert!  I loved theatre and ballet from totdom.  Went to wee Co-op drama clubs in manky crumbling halls in Perth.  For some reason I studied Russian at uni -but this then took me to Siberia where I saw children's drama in summer camps.  And the Kirov for £4.  I studied Drama for a year in London and the college were so supportive that they gave me £150 quid and said "go do Edinburgh" So I wrote a play in 1994 and did.  I carried on doing this.  As I neared my thirties I became Eden Court's Drama Worker in Lochaber - and that taught me so very much.  Then came writing commissions, and three years ago I set up Bright Productions ( alongside a not for profit group called Dramafish to support arts in Lochaber) and continued teaching, writing, directing, stapling, packing cars, pitching, scrabbling for cash....  We got into Luminate Festival and started working in Abbeyfield Care Home too.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Not a particular approach as such, but we are very keen on Generations Working Together projects.  Population is so tiny in the Highlands that it often makes sense to include all ages.  The Recovery Version has a young lad in it, so we have cast three teenagers, two girls and a boy ( my son!) alongside the professional adults.  We also have young men helping build the set with Graeme Martin, our set designer, and a few more interested in theatre process, street performance/marketing.  We will make opportunities for these young people to come to Edinburgh and experience the sheer wonderful, lively, bonkers thing that is the fringe.
We have also had development days and meals together to make sure that in advance of rehearsals ( which don't start til Monday 17th July - eek!) that we all start to feel a team bond.  Parents are included and are brilliantly supportive.  As I said, community is great here, as is Kinlochleven High School.  Add to this our two musicians from Ballachulish working on our sound and songs.  Working with Chaz Stewart (ex Guitarist with the Donnie Munro Band, and our Photographer) and Paul Hornby Battrick, is often a crucial part of our development.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
I am not sure that we have a "usual" production.  Our performances often depend on who commissions us, or who wants to work in partnership with us.  That said, I guess there is always a rather Scottish heart to it all and since I have been living in Kinlochleven for nearly twenty years now, a specifically Highland one.  
It doesn't preclude us looking around the globe for inspiration - one of our favourite shows is about the Russian Revolution, and we are very interested in learning more puppetry.  We are also working on shows for cafes along the west coast railway line and on a loch boat.  I suppose we are quite Highland in outlook..."acht will see what happens, mibbes aye and mibbes naw!"  It's really about relationships and partnerships for us.  But The Recovery Version is just because we wanted to - and because I haven't taken a show to Edinburgh for 17 years.  Oh and humour, we love a good laugh.  Even in the serious issues.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Firstly, we simply hope folk enjoy it!  Above that, we hope that the audience will connect with the characters, and that they will recognise that build to Hogmanay, and the slide down the others side into the new year.  It would make our wee hearts sing if folk laughed and tapped their toes to the Hogmanay party.  I think we also feel that there is something to be said for men, about men, while a huge focus is currently on women.  Lastly, we would like the audience to come away going  "ocht that's great that theatre can come out a wee village near Glencoe"
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We did toy with having it interactive - ie the audience drank with us, ate cheesy pineapples on a stick with us, sang with us. They can sing, and we may have nibbles out, but in the end we felt it was about taking folks into that period after Christmas before the New Year, and we thought for this show that allowing the audience to sit back and enjoy and to choose whether they tap toes was best. It's the Highland way "acht whatever!" 

But we will be having mini Hogmanay parties on the Mile, and around Edinburgh, so folks can get wee treats and learn Gaelic singing (Hogmanay style) and be as interactive as they like. We will also be performing previews in Ballachulish Village Hall and The Ben Nevis Distillery, where we will have post show discussions, and this will inform any changes needed to improve things.

Jonny had a minor hit once, but no one would know.  Especially since those five homogenised wee bams have covered his song and made it a major Christmas hit.   John is Jonny’s son.  John blames his Dad a lot for his failing life.   And then there is Jack.  John’s wee lad who is suddenly coming to stay for New Year.  John hasn’t seen Jack for some time.  Just as well Fisher is around to keep spirits bright.  But then strong spirits were always the problem.

Although this is Bright Production’s first time at the fringe, writer/director Ilona Munro is well known in Lochaber for her highly varied theatre projects and thoughtful mental health TIE work across Highland.  Working with local professionals and up and coming young theatre makers, Bright has a great reputation in Lochaber for making people laugh and engaging the community in “generations working together” workshops and plays.
17 Hogmanays have passed since Ilona last took a show to the fringe. 


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