Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Fathers Dramaturgy: Magentic North @ Traverse


Magnetic North – in co-production with Traverse Theatre Company for the very first time – 
present Our Fathers

The first theatrical adaptation of Edmund Gosse's book Father and Son, woven with personal stories from playwright and Traverse Associate Artist Rob Drummond and Magnetic North’s Artistic Director Nicholas Bone

Uniquely explores father and son relationships, and how to respectfully disagree with someone you love

An intriguing new play exploring the relationship between fathers and sons will have its world premiere this October at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre before touring the rest of Scotland. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The book Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, coupled with the coincidence that Rob and Nicholas are both atheist sons of clergymen.  Father and Son is Edmund Gosse’s memoir of  growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist Christian family in the second half of the 19th century.  The book charts the gulf which emerged between book-loving Edmund and his father - a preacher and renowned scientist - as Edmund realised he couldn’t share his father’s beliefs.  As we say at the start of the show, Nicholas’s own clergyman father suggested he should read the book, he passed it on to Rob and they started talking about how to adapt it. 

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

Yes, we think so!  One of the themes that developed as we were making the show was about how human beings can disagree better, more respectfully and more usefully.  The making process has coincided with a time of political and social upheaval – Brexit, Trump, terrorism and the far right resurgence – and increasing polarisation of views and opinions. Political debate and social media seem increasingly to result in unproductive disagreement where people just abuse each other.  Placing discussion and different viewpoints within a performance, relating ideas to a personal story and putting a dramaturgical structure around the discussion, seems to result in a better conversation.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

Nicholas and Rob each grew up watching their fathers preach every week from the pulpit, which is a performative practice. Rob’s mum would direct the church shows which Rob would star in and then when he got older he was taken to variety shows like Francie and Josie and so performance was always a part of his life. 

Nicholas's family weren't particularly interested in the theatre, but he was fascinated by film performers like Buster Keaton from an early age.  Nicholas has been making performances for many years now, mostly as a director and devisor, but occasionally as a performer; he is a member of the movement collective In The Making and has performed with them at the Fringe for the last two years, this year with a durational performance at Dance Base. 

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

We started with Edmund Gosse’s story, as told in Father and Son, and then explored Rob’s and Nicholas’s stories and the points of intersection. We then worked out how to weave them together and how to echo the relationships in the stories in the relationship of the two performers on stage.  

Adapting Father and Son has its challenges: it’s a dense Edwardian text with long descriptive passages featuring lots of multi-syllabic words we wouldn’t use today.  But in his account of his childhood rebellions – at first minor and then escalating – Edmund Gosse can also be very funny.  We’ve tried to include both the humour and the tragedy of the book in the show – as Gosse says in his introduction, It is not usual, perhaps, that the narrative of a spiritual struggle should mingle merriment and humour with a discussion of the most solemn subjects – but it does make for an interestingly complex book and piece of theatre.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes and no.  For Magnetic North, it’s the first time that Nicholas has appeared in one of our productions and it’s the first time he’s told his own story as a version of himself on stage.  Rob has generally either performed his own work as a solo (Bullet Catch, In Fidelity, The Majority), or more recently written plays which are performed by other people (Quiz Show, Grain in the Blood). 

This is the first time in Rob’s career that he has appeared as part of a double act.  But there are also many examples of elements which do relate to other productions – Magnetic North has a strand which we might call ‘adaptations of tricky books’ such as Walden and A Walk at the Edge of the World.  The development and devising process, where we’ve given ourselves time to make the show and brought in collaborators early on, is also a typical way of working for Magnetic North.  

The involvement of the rest of the creative team – co-director Ian Cameron, assistant director Jenna Watt, designer Karen Tennent, lighting designer Simon Wilkinson and composer Scott Twynholm – has really helped shape this production, and previous Magnetic North shows have always featured that same collaborative, cross-artform process.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope that the audience will share in our investigation of the relationship between parents and children, how it’s possible to both grow apart and remain close, and how it can be so hard to have an honest conversation with someone you love.  

We think that – as everyone has had a parent, or been a child – there is a way into the show for everyone.  We want the audience to leave feeling satisfied with the stories that we’ve told them, but we don’t want to try and give anyone any answers; we want them to leave still thinking and asking themselves questions.  

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

There are a couple of sections in the show where we directly invite the audience to ask themselves some questions – about their own parents and about their own principles.  We give them space to consider those questions and hopefully that connects them more closely to the stories we are telling in the show as well as allowing them to reflect on their own lives and experiences – not just listening to ours! 

But we have also tried to make sure that the story contained within the book is served too, which gives the audience a through line to hold on to. There’s an element of pure storytelling, which comes from Nicholas’s resolve to honour the text, which is counterpoised by Rob’s irrepressible desire to open out and share directly with the audience, asking them questions and looking for feedback. The book is subtitled a tale of two temperaments, and, for good reason, so is the play. 

Our Fathers is co-produced by Magnetic North and the Traverse Theatre, and is written and performed by multi-award-winning playwright Rob Drummond and Magnetic North’s Artistic Director Nicholas Bone.

The play is inspired by Edmund Gosse’s 1907 book Father and Son, which tells the story of Gosse’s upbringing as the only child of evangelical Christians in Victorian England, and his growing realisation that he did not share their religious faith. Both Drummond and Bone are the atheist children of clergymen, and bring their contemporary perspective and experiences to the story.

This new production is the first co-production between the two Edinburgh-based companies and is also the first time Rob Drummond – a Traverse Associate Artist and writer of Grain in the Blood, Bullet Catch and In Fidelity – has worked with Magnetic North. 

Nicholas Bone, the company’s Artistic Director, will appear in a Magnetic North production for the first time and, in a reversal of roles, Ian Cameron – who performed in Magnetic North’s award-winning A Walk at the Edge of the World in 2014 – will be co-director. Cameron most recently worked at the Traverse as collaborator on the hugely successful and award-winning Black Beauty.

As the performance unfolds, weaving together Edmund Gosse's story with those of Bone and Drummond, the audience will also be invited to contribute – given the opportunity to comment on the story and talk about experiences of their own in dialogue with the performers. Bone and Drummond will also be available before the show at each venue to meet audiences and chat about their experiences of family relationships.

Rob Drummond, writer/performer and Traverse Associate Artist, says:

‘This is a deeply personal play for both Nick and myself. In adapting this book for the stage we have found it necessary to talk about our own relationships with our fathers and reminisce about our religious upbringings. I am now an atheist. My father is decidedly not. How do we respect people who we disagree with? Are there certain things that should simply remain unspoken? This is a play for anyone who has ever been the child of a parent, the parent of a child or who has ever found themselves in ideological disagreement with a loved one. Everyone, then. I’m very excited to be back at the Traverse – it feels like the right place to launch a show about religion and family as the Traverse is a spiritual home for me.’

Nicholas Bone, writer/performer and Magnetic North Artistic Director, says:

‘As we've worked on Our Fathers we've become very interested in how people talk to each other, and maintain a relationship with each other, when they disagree strongly. In today's world of political discourse, 24-hour news and conversations over social media, this theme has considerable contemporary resonance. We're looking forward to sharing the piece with audiences at the Traverse and then on tour.’

Orla O’Loughlin, Traverse Artistic Director, says:

‘As long-time admirers of Magnetic North’s ground-breaking work, the Traverse is thrilled to be collaborating with them for the first time on Our Fathers. We are looking forward to not just welcoming back our Associate Artist Rob Drummond but also to the whole Magnetic North team to look at the delicacy of many father-son relationships, and to discuss the increasingly important and timeless issue of how we respectfully disagree or begin uncomfortable discourse with those whom we love.’

Traverse Theatre

Wednesday 25 October—Saturday 28 October (previews 21 and 24 October, BSL Interpreted 25 October)

Press performance: 25 October

Box Office: 0131 228 1404 / online here

The production then tours to Glasgow, Inverness, Banchory, Aberdeen, Greenock, St Andrews and Peebles. Detailshere.

Magnetic North

Based in Edinburgh, Magnetic North is an award-winning theatre company formed in 1999 by theatre and opera director Nicholas Bone. Magnetic North works with playwrights, composers, visual artists, choreographers and other artists to create striking and intriguing new work. The company runs an extensive multi-art form artist development programmes, with a particular focus on creating opportunities for experienced artists. Its recently launched Artist's Attachment programme creates a unique opportunity for an experienced artist to work on a significant development in their practice. Previous productions include Pass the Spoon, a collaboration with Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley, and the highly-acclaimed Walden. www.magneticnorth.org.uk

Traverse Theatre

Formed in 1963 by a group of passionate theatre enthusiasts, the Traverse Theatre was originally founded to extend the spirit of the Edinburgh festivals throughout the year. Today, under Artistic Director Orla O'Loughlin, the Traverse is proud to deliver its year-round mission of championing creative talent by placing powerful and contemporary theatre at the heart of cultural life – producing and programming urgent and diverse work spanning theatre, dance, performance, music and spoken word.

Through the work it presents, the Traverse aims to both entertain and stir conversation – reflecting the times and provoking crucial debate amongst audiences, inspiring them to ask questions, seek answers and challenge the status quo.

The Traverse has launched the careers of some of the UK's most celebrated writers – David Greig, David Harrower and Zinnie Harris – and continues to discover and support new voices, including Stef Smith, Morna Pearson, Gary McNair and Rob Drummond.

With two custom-built and versatile theatre spaces, the Traverse's home in Edinburgh's city centre holds an iconic status as the theatrical heart of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every August

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