Monday, 10 July 2017

Under My Dramaturgy: James Haddrell @ Edfringe 2017

As part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017, CultureClash Theatre and Greenwich Theatre present
Directed by James Haddrell, Written by Cassiah Joski-Jethi

Under My Thumb makes its Edinburgh Fringe debut at 3-20 August at Assembly Roxy (the Snug), 4.10pm. Shortlisted for the 2016 RED Women's Theatre Awards, the production is a politically engaging and claustrophobic play about gender equality which sees five women imprisoned for crimes against society.

Facing indefinite incarceration, their one remaining dignity is their strong belief in their own innocence. The arrival of yet another prisoner is no surprise, just another woman brought down by the world outside, but is she all that she seems?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Cassiah Joski-Jethi wrote the first version of Under My Thumb, a twenty minute short film, in response to experiences of misogyny at university. The culture of cat-calling, of limitation of opportunity for women, even in some cases of a perceived male right to abuse women, is still very much alive and she wanted to address that. When the RED Women’s Theatre Awards put out a call for short theatre scripts with a political inspiration, Cassiah started to reimagine the show as a piece of theatre, and then when the play was shortlisted for the award we met up with her to talk about extending it to a full length play.

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

Yes, I think so. When we produced the first performances of Under My Thumb with CultureClash back in September 2016 we invited a range of groups to see the show and gathered feedback after every performance. 

We had groups of women who had experienced similar things to the characters in the play, teenagers at an early stage of their political engagement with the world who had their own take on the level of misogyny and abuse and the way in which gender based bullying is now moving online, older men who had their own view of the changing face of gender politics. 

All of them were affected by the show, but all had a different view of the way forward for our society. It certainly provoked some lively discussion.

How did you become interested in making performance?

For about a decade I have worked on supporting emerging theatre companies, both artistically and logistically, helping them learn the craft of theatre-making and the way the industry works. Being so involved in so many other company’s work made me think maybe I should turn my skill set to making theatre myself. 

My first show was Hannah and Hanna at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 so I’m delighted to be back.

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

Under My Thumb works best if the audience are somehow complicit in creating the atmosphere of claustrophobia experienced by the characters in prison. When we first presented the show it was in traverse, with the audience hemming the characters in on two sides. 

This time, as we help launch the new performance downstairs at Assembly Roxy, we will be presenting the show in the round. There really won’t be anywhere for these characters to hide. They are constantly being watched by their captors, and that sensation will be enhanced by the audience.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I think I am drawn to scripts with a political or social edge. I am also directing Gazing At A Distant Star at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, about people who go missing and those who are left behind. Both shows identify failings in society, real or potential, and explore possible answers. 

People go missing for a host of reasons, some of which could be identified and avoided, and once missing it’s possible that more people could be reunited with loved ones. In the case of Under My Thumb, the show is described as dystopian, but many of the experiences described are real and can be found within our society. I like directing honest performances and stories that lead us to look again at the world around us.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Under My Thumb has moments of stillness and peace and moments of violence, strong relationships and powerful conflict. Prison environments often breed extremes of emotion and UMT has that. The audience will experience an all-female thriller set in a claustrophobic, almost immersive new Edinburgh fringe venue.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The audience have to feel like voyeurs, given a privileged view of these imprisoned women. Seated on all sides they’ll feel like they’re sitting in the gallery at an execution, or at a dystopian human zoo watching the disempowered fight it out for supremacy. 

We’ve presented the show to an end-on audience and whilst the drama remained intact there was a division between viewer and character that reduced the impact of the show. It feels like a play written for an in-the-round venue, so we can’t wait to perform it like that for Edinburgh audiences.

Directed by Greenwich Theatre’s Artistic Director and produced in partnership with emerging company CultureClash Theatre, the development and premiere London run of Under My Thumb was supported by Arts Council England. 

Its revival for the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe sees the launch of a new Edinburgh venue, the subterranean Snug at Assembly Roxy. Cassiah Joski-Jethi is an award nominated writer and director represented by Olav Wyper at SMA Talent. She met Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha OBE on a train and worked with her for a year on her theatre and film projects. Since then, Cassiah has had 3 writing commissions; directed 4 music videos (one nominated for the 2017 A Cappella Video Awards); been involved in 2 feature films; and had her play Under My Thumb nominated for a national award and debuted at Greenwich Theatre, London in September 2016. Currently, Cassiah is in post-production on her debut short film Polly and her original drama series is in development with Gurinder's company Bend It TV.

She's also currently directing Sara Bodinar's play There Be Migrants to be performed in August and November at Theatre 503.  

James Haddrell – Director, is the Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre, chair of Filament Theatre, a mentor for UK Theatre and a governor for Corelli College. In his role for Greenwich Theatre he has provided everything from direction and dramaturgy to company mentoring and strategic planning for over twenty of the UK’s most exciting young and emerging theatre companies. 

Most recent direction includes One Georgie Orwell for performances in London and New York, Hannah and Hanna (New Diorama Theatre, Assembly Edinburgh Fringe, Greenwich Theatre), and Joël Pommerat’s This Child (Greenwich Book Festival). As a producer his credits include ten Greenwich Theatre pantomimes, hailed by the media as ranking among the best in the country, and the world premieres of Keeping Up With The Joans by Philip Meeks, Momo adapted by Filament Theatre from the novel by Micheal Ende, and the site specific production of Utopia, awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark by the International Olympic Committee. This autumn he will produce the national tour of Daniele Imara’s Get Therapy.

LISTINGS INFORMATION: 3-20 August at Assembly Roxy (the Snug), 4.10pm. Tickets £6-£10.
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