Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Dramaturgy with Love: Suzanne Lofthus @ Cutting Edge Theatre

Special star takes centre stage on Scottish tour

“I’ve just got Down’s. It doesn’t make me stupid.”

A young woman who has Down’s Syndrome is the star of a hard-hitting new play which begins a Scotland-wide tour later on May 24th at MacRobert Art Centre, Stirling.

Abigail Brydon, 24, will take the leading role in Downs With Love, a new play by Scottish company Cutting Edge Theatre, which sensitively explores question of love and disability, and invites audiences to think about their own preconceptions.

Abi plays Beth, a young woman who lives a happy, independent life. Beth has her eye on Mark (Stephen Arthur) who sings in the local pub on Friday nights, but when Mark starts to fall for Beth’s support worker Tracy (Katie Milne), everything is set to get a lot more complicated.

 What was the inspiration for this performance?

I had the idea about 30 years ago when I met a group of young people who had Down's Syndrome but wasn't really in a position to do anything with the concept until I met Abi Brydon who has Down's and who was attending our INSPIRE group. 

INSPIRE uses drama to help people of different abilities to improve their confidence, self-esteem and vocal abilities where possible. We also aim to encourage participants to realise their dreams where possible. Abi's dream is to become an actor, so we began to build the play around her and some of her real life experiences. 

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

Absolutely! Theatre enables an audience to see, hear and experience issues from other people's perspectives. The play doesn't give answers but raises questions. That's what I love about theatre and performance - being challenged and inspired. Cutting Edge Theatre is all about making a difference and we hope that this play makes a difference not just in Abi's life, but in the lives of the audience too. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I've always been interested in storytelling from childhood. I was that child who cajoled [or forced!] my siblings and cousins to make up plays which we performed to long suffering parents! Sadly then I became a painfully shy teenager who only found my place when I  was dragged along to a youth theatre. I will never forget feeling "here is where I fit". That has stayed with me all through my life and is why I remain committed to community theatre - knowing the difference that theatre can make. 

From there, there were several journeys before I set up Cutting Edge Theatre in 1995 in Edinburgh with the express aim "to make a difference". We work a lot with people who are disadvantaged in some way both here and abroad. Often the process is as important as the end product. 

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

For this one, Katie Milne who is the lead tutor of INSPIRE and I worked with Abi to hear of her experiences and then we built the story through improvisation around those experiences, folding them into the play. We premiered the play in 2016 at the Fringe and have reworked it this time around, working with a movement director Tony Mills from Room 2 Manoeuvre to bring in a sense of isolation and of control. We have also brought in some original songs by composer James Siggens. 
Does the show fit with your usual productions?

No, surprisingly enough, even though we have been working in Scotland since 1995, this is our first theatre tour! We are used to working in community theatre and also site specific work. The last time we did a tour was taking Shakespeare productions round Scottish Castles. We are used to working with groups of people and over the past few years that has been working with prisoners, mentoring them to stage Passion Plays within the prisons. 

We have worked in Louisiana, Brazil and last year in Opera Prison, Milan. We are currently looking to develop a large scale community production in Edinburgh for 2020 as well as a number of other smaller projects in communities in Scotland. We are also working on developing our INSPIRE project to other cities and ultimately, to see a Performing Arts Academy set up in Scotland. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they will question themselves about what do they actually think about disability, perhaps have their preconceptions changed a bit. I hope that they will feel for Beth and be challenged as well as inspired. 

Suzanne Lofthus, writer and director, said: “Downs With Love challenges us all to think about what we consider acceptable. Can we accept a couple, one of whom has Down’s and one does not, or would that make us feel uncomfortable?”

Suzanne worked with Abi, exploring her own feelings and her experiences of growing up with Down’s, to create the character of Beth. Abi has written a powerful monologue about her experiences which is used in the play.

Suzanne said: “Abi is in a very strong position throughout the play. She doesn’t leave the stage. We’re not aiding her in any way - we’re all equals on stage. She’s an actress is her own right doing what she does, and that makes the story even more powerful.”

Abi Brydon said: “Beth is a bit different from me. When I change my hairstyle, I know I’m playing Beth, not being myself. I like acting a lot - my dream is to be on Coronation Street!”

Abi is studying Acting and Performance at Fife College, and has appeared on stage in several local productions. She has been a member of the INSPIRE programme, created by Cutting Edge Theatre, offering drama to young adults with additional support needs.

Suzanne Lofthus said: “At the heart of Cutting Edge is helping people to realise their potential, whatever that is, enabling them to do things they never thought they could do. When I heard Abi say that her dream was to be an actress, I thought: ‘I can make that happen’. We’re delighted to be helping her to realise that dream.”

Downs With Love is on a ten-venue Scotland-wide tour, funded by a grant from the National Lottery People’s Project, after votes from the public made it one of this year’s top three projects.

The play is written and directed by Suzanne Lofthus; the movement director is Tony Mills, artistic director of dance company Room 2 Manoeuvre; lighting designer is Andrew Wilson. The play uses original music by James Siggens.


Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling
Thursday 24 May, 7.30pm

East Kilbride Arts Centre
Friday 25 May, 7.30pm

Gerrard Street Church, Aberdeen
Saturday 26 May, 7.30pm
www.eventbrite.co.uk, 01224 624339

The Phoenix Centre, Newton Dee, Bieldside, Aberdeen
Sunday 27 May, 7.30pm
www.neatshows.org.uk, 01224 868701

Easdale Island Community Hall, Easdale
Saturday 2 June, 8pm

Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Tuesday 5 June, 7.30pm

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Wednesday 6 June, 7.30pm
www.assemblyroxy.com, 0131 623 3001

Theatre Royal Dumfries
Thursday 7 June, 7.30pm

Platform, Easterhouse
Sunday 10 June, 3pm
www.platform-online.co.uk, 0141 276 9696 (option1)

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
Tuesday 12th June, 7.30pm
www.eden-court.co.uk, 01463 234234

Suzanne Lofthus is Artistic Director for Cutting Edge Theatre in Edinburgh. The company works mainly with disadvantaged people, giving a voice to the voiceless and specialises in Community Theatre. Suzanne has worked in Scotland and overseas, mentoring and directing productions in prisons such as Opera Prison, Milan and Angola Prison in Louisiana. Suzanne directs the annual open air promenade Easter Play in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh and is working towards a large scale, multi-art form production over Easter weekend 2020.

The company's main focus, currently, is working with people of different abilities through our INSPIRE project which began in Fife five years ago. We are working towards establishing a Performing Arts Academy for this group in Scotland with satellite classes around the major cities. 

The People’s Project offers the public the chance to vote for projects in their area to receive National Lottery funding, with up to £3million available across the UK. It is a partnership of the Big Lottery Fund, ITV, STV and The National Lottery. For more information, see www.thepeoplesproject.org.uk

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