Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Testament Dramaturgy: Sam Edmunds @ Edfringe 2018

ZOO Charteris, Venue 124, 140 Pleasance, EH8 9RR 03rd - 27th August. 
Time- 16:45pm (0hr55).  Ticket Prices- £10 Adult / £8 Concession.

I sat in absolute stillness for the whole show. Questions, emotions, feelings were coming and going in the most organic and natural way. This show certainly has something magical, that the audience will certainly remember. 
Marcin Rudy- Song of The Goat

Winner of The Creativity Award 2018. In the beginning God created the heavens and earth and... Max! After a car crash, Max questions what happened to Tess. Answers take form in apparitions of modernised biblical characters, aiding Max in his discovery or tempting him away. His only hope of recovery lies in the hands of his brother Chris.

What prompted you to use this rich tradition of meaning theatrically?

As you’ve mentioned yourself, attitudes towards religion are changing as society progresses. The more Science and Technology grows, the more doubts and questions we have towards our beliefs. I took this as fuel and wanted to picture a plane in which Lucifer and Jesus could manifest themselves within modern day society or in the case of my play ‘Testament’, how they would manifest in a situational environment. For me Religion provides solace to existence; that we as humans have purpose and will be rewarded in the afterlife. It forgives people, educates people and helps them in time of need. 

Within ‘Testament’ the lead character Max, loses some of his memories due to brain trauma, which induces his good conscience (Jesus) and his bad conscience (Lucifer) to be born. Throughout the play Max uses them to piece his memory back together and search for an answer to life and death. The symbolism I try to play with throughout ‘Testament’ is how taking Religion as a construct, which can be stripped back to certain messages and morals, can cure us of pain and hurt. I think in a time where Religion is challenged, its important to remember its fundamental purpose.

Given what I have said about religion's diminution in the Modern Era, do you have any concerns about how the work will be received?

Not at all, if anything the work uses the reasons for this diminution against itself. Perhaps the clearest example is Max’s declaration of “I don’t believe we ever die. We are all just energy. ‘Conservation of energy’. Did you know that energy can only ever be transferred?” Max here is using Einstein’s theories to rationalise the afterlife. Now of course it offers up the question of “would we experience this transferal” or is that the end of experience? But the end of experience is a wholly different concept to the destruction of the bio-chemical energy that we describe as “us”. 

And I’ve no doubt that we could debate this from either side of the coin until we die and still have gotten no further (the entire of human history does a lot to suggest this). My point is not to offer any sound answer to the question but rather to disregard this idea that there is only one way to think about things. Therefore I haven’t the slightest fear in the receival of a religious work during the rise of a shared secular way of thinking. Whilst I believe English Theatre can sometimes put too much of a focus on a work’s relevance as opposed to the experience and artistry of the work, I certainly believe this play is relevant today regardless of your belief structure.

And does working with a religious content or theme introduce any particular kind of dramaturgy? I suppose I am asking about how far the way that you made the work reflects the content... classic dramaturgical question...

If anything it has allowed for a greater poetic meaning more so than a literal narrative based one. One of the issues that can occur when the Bible is interpreted today, which should be seemingly obvious, is when the bible is interpreted literally. And this works for attempts to either prove or disprove the bible (or any religious text) literally, or in my opinion any text. Humans are not literal, we are abstract. Science allows us for a certain cause and effect understanding, a sort of cook book or cheat sheets for nature, indeed science tells us how our lives work the way they work. 

But they do not tell you why, instead science states that there is no why. There just is. And we could stop there, but we long for answers as a species which is why we have developed both science and religion as neither can fully satisfy our need for understanding. And this for me is the basis of the text within the play. 

The play acts as a tug of war between naturalistic sequences written with a through line communicating a very specific truth. And more abstract emotional memory or fantasy sequences communicating very specific meanings but with less rigidity in their interpretation. Max, then, our protagonist acts as a bridge between these two methodologies of thinking. 

Max is perhaps the most hardcore agnostic out there, less in an uncertainty of which path to follow, but more a stubborn refusal to choose a path. All this is a very roundabout way of describing what we say is our main belief at Chalk Line Theatre, and that is that “we take realism into the absurd”. Because reality is absurd.

The structure of the writing could be attributed to that of a bible. It is a collection various texts, in our case: poetry, duologues, rock star power point presentations and sometimes text is just done away with entirely. From that there is a great amount of pain, solace and meaning to be found.

How do you feel about being identified as a religious piece of theatre?

With great optimism but also caution would be my answer to that. For fear that we might be interpreted literally. We certainly consider the play religious, and it references the Christian Bible, but I’d feel hesitant to say it belongs to any specific religion. The play is Max’s religion, it’s deeply spiritual and I feel provides a well needed fight to accept the spiritual element back into our lives, but it is in a sense a new bible. 

Perhaps a more fitting title to the show might have been “A New Testament”, but it’s just not as punchy. And we like punchy. I certainly feel we have been respectful to any religious group that may come see the play, I just feel it focuses on the religious experience of the individual rather than being affiliated with any specific religious organisation. This sense of doubt though is not from a lack of bravery but is instead deliberate to reflect the current climate. 

How can any one person strongly maintain their beliefs in such a predominantly secular society, when even facts now are becoming up for debate and beliefs in their own right? The world is rife with disbelief. Max describes himself as “The reversed man. Running backwards in a crowd of backwards people, backed up against a wall with nowhere to go.” And this play is for any person who resonates with that sentence, whether they turn to science or religion when backed up against that wall.

Chalk Line Theatre is a multi-award-winning Luton Based Company forming in 2017. The company consists of Sam Edmunds and William Patrick Harrison, both of whom trained on the BA Acting and Contemporary Theatre course at East 15 Acting School. They have recently won the Epping Forest Creativity Award and The Love Luton Award, as well as being commissioned by Imagine Luton and Arts Council England to create work for the Imagine Luton Festival 2018
Testament is an award-winning play exploring how humans deal with grief and how it effects those around them, exploring suicide, loss and guilt. 

Playwright Sam Edmunds upon writing the play said ‘When you lose someone you love, you treasure them through the memories you have shared; clinging onto to this to keep them alive. I wanted to look at what would happen if those memories came back to life, how it would affect someone mentally and how far you would go to keep it that way.’

Testament Trailer from Chalk Line Theatre on Vimeo.
Testament was first staged at East 15 Acting School's Debut Festival by a collection of creatives from the BA Acting and Contemporary Theatre Course; notable alumni include, Antler and The Pretend Men. This show is distinctive as it combines many art forms to amplify a raw and heartfelt narrative; using live projection, originally composed electronic soundscapes, spoken word and has a multi operational set. It is a piece of theatre which aims to take the audience on a journey they haven’t experienced.

The show leads us on a journey that asks important questions about the value we place on relationships and the importance of our shared experiences.  It’s a thoughtful piece that thoroughly charmed me.

- Luke Clarke The Alchemist Theatre Company

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