Monday, 29 January 2018

Three Dramaturgies: Lung Ha on Tour

                                                                                   Lung Ha Theatre Company and Sibelius Academy of the University of The Arts (Helsinki)
 Three Sisters

“When Father was alive, this place was packed… there was heat, there was laughter and life.”

Lung Ha Theatre Company’s first production of 2018 opens at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, with a preview on Thursday 15 March and is a new version of Anton Chekhov’s classic play Three Sisters by Adrian Osmond. After Edinburgh the play will tour to Perth Theatre and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.

Adrian Osmond

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Maria Oller, the Artistic Director of Lung Ha, approached me about creating a new adaptation of Three Sisters for the company.  I think I said “yes” before she’d finished offering me the job.  I’ve worked with Lung Ha several times in recent years.  I wrote a new version of Sophocles’ Antigone and a new play, The Hold, which was performed as a promenade production in the National Museum of Scotland.  Collaborating with Lung Ha is always an inspiring process, and I’d never worked before on Chekhov‘s play, so the only thing I needed to consider was whether I could make space for it in the diary.

Lung Ha has a proud history of creating new works for the stage, but also in revisiting – and reinvigorating – many classic stories.  The atmosphere that can be generated by a true theatrical ensemble is rare these days, I think, but that’s what Lung Ha provides; the sense of a common goal.  There’s a unique energy that Maria and Lung Ha bring to the stage.  Every performer in the company has some form of learning disability, and yet the company embraces some of the most challenging texts written for the stage, and brings a unique perspective to them.  There is little pretence or affectation in the presentation; it’s utterly disarming.  When you watch a Lung Ha show, you embrace the full joy and pain of life.  Time and again at their shows, I’ve found myself laughing loudly, but weeping moments later.  And that makes Lung Ha a perfect match for Chekhov.

In essence, Three Sisters is about a group of siblings who are stuck in a provincial backwater and are longing to return to the bustle of Moscow.  They are only in their twenties, but already they can feel the possibilities for their lives narrowing, slipping away.  It’s such a lively, hilarious piece, but sorrow threatens to engulf every moment; there’s a profound sense of loss.

This version is very faithful to Chekhov’s play, aside from demolishing its running time.  It’s really like a distilled version of the original.   But I was making it for Lung Ha, the spirit of those people that you see on stage.  So from my perspective, aside from Chekhov’s craft, it’s the people at Lung Ha that provide the main inspiration. 

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

Live performances that occur in theatres may not affect entire communities, and they rarely enter public discourse on a national level; the numbers that are able to see any particular production are simply too small.  But I do think that such performances can have a profound impact on an individual basis.  This can be hard to assess empirically, of course, as it’s not just about what occurs in the moment within the theatre, or what people tweet after the curtain falls; it’s but about what happens long afterwards. 

I think that each art form can achieve certain things that the others can’t.  So theatre continues to be a vital and necessary part of our exploration of our world, and of what it means to be human.  But I don’t think theatre is there to offer answers.  In the case of Three Sisters, Chekhov’s characters don’t provide solutions for how to live your life; they are often profoundly misguided.  Chekhov himself was a doctor, and yet it appears that he was in denial about the tuberculosis that killed him.  Life doesn’t get much more “Chekhovian” than that.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’m one of those annoying people that wanted to be involved in theatre from an early age.  At first I wanted to be a writer, then that crystallised into writing for the stage, and then I shifted more into directing.  I was heavily involved in music and live performance when I was growing up, and was lucky enough to perform with ENO and the RSC as a child.  Music was really my connection to theatre, and that source never leaves – even in dialogue, its rhythms and sounds dominate the choices I make.

But if there was a key moment for me, it was watching A View from the Bridge in my early teensIt was a National Theatre production that I saw in London’s West End, starring Michael Gambon and directed by Alan Ayckbourn.  At the end of Act One, seeing that chair being raised above Eddie’s head was like nothing I had experienced before.  It was an electric thrill – the tension, the emotions, happening right in front of me.  Theatre seemed to be an important way of reaching out, of making a connection.  It was only later, I think, that it dawned on me that millions could never share in that same experience.

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

Over the years I’ve seen Three Sisters twice in the West End, and both times it was so boring!   The productions seemed to be filled with impressively detailed period costumes and samovars, but little genuine life.  In contrast, Lung Ha productions exude such vitality.  There’s something wholly genuine about the company’s work that is utterly disarming.  Also, Chekhov’s quirky humour is a perfect match for these performers, and for the company’s playful attitude.  So, from my perspective, the main aim is to harness that energy.

This version is a much tighter script than Chekhov’s original; but that increased pace shouldn’t come at the expense of a sense of passing time.  It’s not a radical reinterpretation.  I hope the production, and the script, will make Three Sisters much more approachable to audiences that might have been wary of Chekhov in the past, without losing the essence of the original Russian text.

The show is a co-production with The Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts in Helsinki, which will bring a significant musical element to the show as well.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?    

With each project, I need to challenge myself, learn new skills, try new approaches.  I work on plays, musicals and operas.  Sometimes I write, sometimes I direct, sometimes both.  I’ve spent a lot of my time over the past decade creating large-scale musicals in Seoul, but I love making more intimate work too.  So I don’t have a regular process.  Each time I try to respond to the story, the space it will be performed in, the company, the potential audience, the times that we are living in.  Certainly, there are plenty of elements, rhythms and visual motifs that I recognise as running through my work.  But I’m always wary of repeating myself, and as a director I’ll frequently change a scene if I recognise an idea within it as reminding me of something I’ve created before.

I have just spent 18 months creating a new musical based on Hamlet in Seoul, and that involved making some radical changes to Shakespeare’s original.  But with Three Sisters, I’m really acting as a channel between Chekhov and Lung Ha, helping them to bond together.  It’s not about emphasising my vision.  My name may be there on the billing, but in the end you shouldn’t notice my personality or presence at all.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The richness of life.  It’s all there, within these fumbling characters.  That’s the great gift that Chekhov and Lung Ha provide.  It’s about laughing and crying, perhaps even simultaneously.  I hope the audiences will leave with their hearts opened.  That’s how I feel when I experience a Lung Ha show, every time.

There are strong Scandinavian connections to this new production, collaboration with the world-renowned Sibelius Academy of the University of The Arts (Helsinki, Finland), direction by Finnish born Maria Oller and music composed by Finnish composer Anna-Karin Korhonen.

In this international production Lung Ha Theatre Company are delighted to be working again with Adrian Osmond, on this, his third production for the company, his previous plays were The Hold and Antigone. Set design is by Karen Tennent and costume design by Alison Brown. Assistant Director is Fiona Mckinnon - FST Assistant Director Bursary Scheme

This is a play of life, love, loss, dreams, whimsy, hope - real and false - of moving and of remaining where you are. Olga, Masha and Irina long for the glamour of Moscow; they long to be free of the life they have been ‘given’ in provincial Russia, to escape the countryside and return to the society to which they belong. But with the constant visits of soldiers and dignitaries, of family, friends and ‘acquaintances’, with work to be done, with marriages to be honoured will they ever be free of the family’s legacy and find fulfilment?

2017 was a busy year for Lung Ha with two outstanding productions, the world premiere and award winning Dr Stirlingshire’s Discovery - in co-production with Grid Iron; and in partnership with RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Lyceum Theatre and part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and the return of Linda McLean’s brilliant Thingummy Bob.

Lung Ha Theatre Company is the leading theatre company for people with learning disabilities in Scotland, and with a growing reputation internationally.

Listings Information 

Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1ED Thursday 15 - Saturday 17 March                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Times:  Thursday 15, Friday 16 & Saturday 17 March 7.30pm. Matinee Friday 16 March 2.30pm                                                                                                                                  Tickets: Preview 15 March £12/£10.   16 - 17 March £17/£9                                                                                                                                                                                                 Box Office: 0131 228 1404

Perth Theatre, Mill Street, Perth PH1 5HZ Friday 23 March & Saturday 24 March
Times: Friday 23 6pm & Saturday 24 March 8pm
Tickets: £11/£1.50
Box Office 01738 621031

Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, Glasgow G5 9DS Wednesday 28 March
Times: 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Tickets: £16.50/£12.50
Box Office 0141 429 0022

Age suitability 10+ Running time 70 minutes
Captioned performance Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on Saturday 17 March.

Multi award winning Lung Ha Theatre Company is a leading theatre company for people with learning disabilities in Scotland and with a growing reputation internationally.  Since its inception in 1984 Lung Ha Theatre Company has produced over 45 original works for the stage making its mark in Scottish theatre; the Company has collaborated with a wide array of leading arts organisations and professionals from across Scotland (and beyond) as part of the creation of its work.  The Company’s work is now seen as an important part of Scotland’s cultural offering providing a creative voice for performers who may not otherwise be heard. Lung Ha Theatre Company has a membership of 25 actors with learning disabilities. 

University of The Arts, Sibelius Academy, Helsinki is the only university-level music institution in Finland. The academy trains artists, teachers and other music professionals who are skilled in independent and diverse artistic practise. It is an international forerunner in education and research in the field of arts and solidifies the arts The University as a force that reforms society.

Adrian Osmond is an award-winning writer and director of plays, musicals and operas who was born in Toronto and studied English Literature at Trinity College; he was at Cambridge where he was a Choral Scholar. He was the winner of an inaugural Arches Award for Stage Directors and has been an Associate of Cumbernauld Theatre, a Specialist Advisor to the Scottish Arts Council, and a visiting lecturer and tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He is also Artistic Director of Glasgow-based theatre company SweetScar and his productions have been produced world-wide.

Maria Oller has been Lung Ha Theatre Company’s Artistic Director since 2009. She was born in Finland and trained at Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and London, and at the Drama Academy in Helsinki. Since then Maria has been working as an actress and director in theatre, film and TV in Scandinavia and the UK. Maria’s most recent productions for Lung Ha Theatre Company include Thingummy Bob by Linda McLean, Dr Stirlingshire’s Discovery - a co-production with Grid Iron, The Hold by Adrian Osmond (in collaboration with National Museums Scotland), Un Petit Moliere by Morna Pearson, Antigone by Adrian Osmond.  Maria is also a member of the Hearts&Minds Clowndoctor and Elderflower team.

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