BLOG: The North! The North! // Christopher Harrison

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The North! The North! is a ‘stunningly immersive’ myth ‘of staggering beauty’, fusing extreme physical storytelling with spellbinding animation to create ‘proper theatrical magic, as dark as it comes’ – Exeunt. 

We sat down with Christopher Harrison to talk about his critically acclaimed play, The North! The North! Heading to Omnibus Theatre Thurs 1 – Sat 3 March.

Omnibus Theatre: Can you tell us how you conceived the idea for The North! The North!

Christopher Harrison: The show is inspired by a whole bunch of things: myths, graphic novels, northern neo-noir (like Get Carter and the Red Riding books by David Peace) and magical realism. It’s an exploration of myth-making as a response to trauma, framed as a revenge thriller. I’d been thinking about making a show to do with ‘the north’ for quite some time (I’m from Yorkshire) and I’m fascinated by myth and the way people construct narratives about themselves – this might be personal, or it might be as part of a larger group- or region, or country- and magical realism is a fantastic way to explore these ideas as it allows me to look at the world from a different angle. All these threads have collected into the show that is The North! The North! I did some initial research and development then had a longer period of refining the show before premiering it at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s been on a long journey (I started sketching ideas for it in 2014) and it’s fascinating to see the distance its travelled to be the show it is now.

OT: As a play focusing on the North, we are curious to know how much of your childhood in Huddersfield has been an influence on this production?

CH: There’s a lot of local references in the show to Yorkshire, some of which are very specific to my memories. I thought this was important because I wanted to keep the reality of the world I know present within the story, even when everything is completely surreal and strange. I’m curious about regional identity. I now live in Bristol, which has a very strong idea of its identity, as does much of the South West. Sometimes I feel ‘northern’ and sometimes I don’t – I think its an identity that exists in opposition to a dominant culture. Northerners are northern in defiance of the perceived cultural, economic and social biases towards London and the south east. How much one fits within these parameters changes frequently. Those feelings are complex and I have been thinking about them in some way for a long time.

OT: You use animation and illustration in your plays a lot. How do you combine these mediums with live performance and what does it add to the production as a whole?

CH: I like writing impossible things. This might be characters that are monstrous or England splitting in two, or a whole host of other things that would be difficult to portray on stage. Animation and illustration offer one way to explore the representation of that (in both a realist and abstract way) as does mime, narration, puppetry and the other staging effects I employ. When integrating projection into the show, we decided that we wanted to avoid traditional ‘screens’ as much as possible. The animations has to exist inside the world so anything can be a projection surface – tables, clothes, bodies, props etc. I view elements external to the performer (design, lighting, sound, projection) as partners, almost like other actors, all working together to tell the story. We’ve only succeeded when the story can’t be told if one of those elements is missing.

OT: Having trained with the acclaimed French mime and acting school Ecole Jacques Lecoq, what particular influences of the technique/acting style do you utilise when performing or devising theatre.

CH: All sorts. Training at the school is described as a journey and its one that doesn’t end once the two years is finished. So sometimes it’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what techniques I’m using. I use some technical skills I learnt (mime and so on) but the real influences of the school feel less tangible to me. The further and further away I get from the school, the less I feel influenced on a literal level, but other influences – about making theatre, the relationship between artist and audience, the grains of humanity within my work – are stronger and show themselves in what I put on stage.

OT: What should audiences expect to experience when they visit Omnibus for The North! The North!

CH: I make story-led work with an immersive, cinematic aesthetic. It’s not for the really squeamish or those under 14, but I’d hate to dissuade anyone from giving it a go. They might like fantasy, magical realist literature or noir, or just enjoy a funny, dark theatrical experience. Fans of graphic novels will enjoy it (I’ve even made a comic to go with the show), so there’s something for lots of people. I’d like audiences when they leave to feel like they’re entering the real world again after an extraordinary adventure.

It’s a show I’m really proud of – I’ve put a huge amount into this show, as have the talented creatives working on it. It’s a piece created with passion; a desire to tell a great story about subjects that mean a lot to me. If you want to see a show about contemporary England and a moving study of personal tragedy, but with terrible creatures, darkness and magic, you’ve come to the right place. Here be monsters.

OT: After you’re done touring with The North! The North! what new projects do you have in the pipeline?

CH: I’m working on a few things. There’s some writing and illustration projects that are ongoing, mostly aimed at younger audiences, that are taking up some of my time already. For adult audiences, I’m starting work on a new show called Collectiv about collective action and working together to imagine a better future. It looks like it’ll be a while in development because it’s quite ambitious, but watch this space. I tend to announce things on my website and Twitter/Facebook, so keep an eye on those.

The North! The North! will be at Omnibus Theatre from Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 March at 7:30pm. Tickets are £12 | £10 concessions. To buy your ticket now click here→

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // Drag me To Love

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We sat down with Bonnie & The Bonnette’s, stars of 96 Festival highlight Drag Me To Love. Read the interview below where we talk about art, drag and 96 Festival.

 

Omnibus Theatre: What inspired the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes, how did you begin to develop your characters? 

Bonnie & The Bonnettes: The show concept came before the characters, and us as a trio. This has been the great thing about making this show. We knew we wanted to tell Cameron’s story but we had no idea how. A big part of our making was creating the world for the story to sit in, then the characters to live in it. Since it is an autobiographical story, we wanted to create a space that brought the club that Cameron used to work in back to life. It’s dingy. It’s sticky. It’s smells of sweat, cheap cocktails, and hairspray. But it’s beautiful. A glittery beacon of hope, power, and expression for a boy from Doncaster. It’s a space that moves with the story, following Cameron as he throws himself into a pair of 6-inch stilettos. It’s being back at school. It’s being at the club. On a train. In toilets. On stage. In the dressing rooms. At university. Then back to the stage.

It’s the job of our characters to navigate the audience through this and we love doing it! We are very proud mums! The characters are heightened versions of ourselves. We wanted to place ourselves in this world.  This is where the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes was born. We each contribute to telling the story but comment on it from different perspectives. There are also other characters that we meet on the way too; a chain-smoking bar owner called Elaine, a fiercely protective drag mum called Darcy, and an older bitter queen called Veronica.

Our characters have evolved, grown up, and found themselves in the two years the show has been in the making for, as well various cabaret gigs that we do. We are constantly finding new things about them, creating new traits, battling new inner turmoil’s, and even finding an obsession with Josh Groban!

OT: What can audiences coming to see Drag Me to Love expect and how would you like audiences to feel when they leave the theatre?

B&TB: At its heart, Drag Me to Love is about identity, perseverance, and self-expression.  It’s not a totally positive story but we like to think it has a cheeky charm. A smile. It’s a story told through drag performance and everything that comes with it; make-up, costumes, flashing lights, power stances, dance numbers, 80’s pop anthems, and glitter! Oh, there is also a spot of BONNIE TYLER! It’s the ultimate night out that speaks to anyone who has ever been the outcast, ever questioned themselves, or ever being unsure of who they are. It’s for those who dance in the kitchen to Tina Turner, those who cannot hold back on eyeliner, and those who find glitter in weird places after a night out! It’s cheesy, but we want people to leave the theatre loving themselves a little bit more and as if they have the tools (and songs) to which they can take on the world outside!

OT: Which artists do you love the most right now?

B&TB: Our reference points come from everywhere. It can be a song, a film, an image, the way someone walks, or a story we tell each other. To pick a few artists we are loving, it would have to start with RASHDASH because they make us want to rebel. In Bed with my Brother because they make us want to make lots of noise and dance. Figs in Wigs because they can pull off the colour green (we can’t). We also loved How to Win Against History by Seiriol Davies as it makes us want to look into our history and find out things, ask questions, and wear more dresses!

We also run a seasonal queer/alternative cabaret night in Newcastle at Alphabetti Theatre called The BonBons Cabaret. It features various incredible artists and they constantly surprise us with what they come up with and how their brains work. As a region of artists we have lots to say and it’s great to be part of providing a platform for their work.

OT: What role do the arts have to play in celebrating and progressing queer culture? 

B&TB: Everything. The arts are a space for us to reveal something about ourselves, tell our stories, and represent our communities. Though, it is down to us to be both celebratory and progressive in the ways in which we do these things. For us, it’s not just about being on stage and being queer but rather to share something, offer something, or reveal something. This is what queerness is to us. We now have control and as such there is a responsibility to represent our communities and culture in a way that is fun, exciting, and honest. This does not mean leaving out the negatives but rather paying attention to the whole experience. How does this personal story represent the wider community?

This is something we were aware of when making Drag Me to Love. Yes, we wanted to offer an insight into a particular story and allow for that to reflect on drag culture. But, the story is much more than this. It is about human experience and this is something that is relatable to all. It is about identity, gender, youth, hope, and self-expression. We wanted to use Cameron’s accounts to allow for a representation of a male LGBTQ+ identity that is raw, honest, and celebratory. Drag culture allows for play, expression, and illusion and this piece comments on Cameron’s journey as he wrestles with who he should be and the creation of an alter ego. Through this we wanted to challenge the preconceived ideas surrounding drag performance, educating audiences, and allowing this story to celebrate wider drag/queer culture.

OT: Tell us a bit about your upcoming project and She

B&TB: It’s our second show and we are very excited! Moving onto our second show we wanted to stay in the in the realms of auto/biography, but in a totally different world – our mums. We want to explore the identities/relationships/communities of a different era as we tell their stories, dance to their music, and share their views on the world. We wanted to ask how can we take our mums stories/views and put them in our world of queer performance and storytelling? We want to talk about their hopes, their regrets, and their views on the world. From women’s liberation, LGBTQ+ rights, having children, and settling down in retirement.

The initial research period for this show was supported by the NEADN scheme with a residency at Gala Theatre (Durham). During this week our mum’s came into the space with us. We recorded interviews, conversations, and discussions which we are now transcribing (there is a lot!). We will be using as the foundations of the piece. It will be their coming-of-age story and it will be the longest cup of tea we have ever had with our mums.

Drag Me To Love is bringing the sparkle to Omnibus Theatre Sat 3 Feb, grab your glitter and buy your ticket by clicking here.

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // HIP

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Omnibus Theatre: Were you already a writer/performer 15 years ago (please give your background) and how soon did you realise you were living in some kind of treasure trove?

Jolie Booth: I’ve been a performer all of my life, since my parents were called into school when I was just six years old because the teacher was concerned that instead of concentrating on my maths lessons I’d instead start getting the kids at the back of the class to join in with me in making a play. My parents pointed out that rather than worrying too much about this that it perhaps showed that theatre was my calling and from that day forth nurtured this skill in me. Although at the time of squatting this flat I had just finished a degree in English and had moved to Brighton to create and be editor of a feminist online magazine called Flow: For Women Who Bleed. Writing and performing are my greatest passions.

I’m from a working class background and was having to live as cheaply as possible in order to forge a career as an artist and therefore squatting became a necessity. Now that squatting is illegal I honestly have no idea how artists from poorer backgrounds are able to get off of the ground. The squat had been suggested to us by the daughter of the woman who had last lived there. She worked at the University of Brighton with a friend of ours and when he’d mentioned his friends were looking for somewhere to squat she had told him her mum’s old flat hadn’t been lived in since her mother had died and told us where we could find it. When we cracked the squat we discovered that all her mum’s things were still in there. We contacted the daughter through our friend and let her know that there was all this stuff still in there, but she didn’t desire it, so we lived in amongst all this old hippie stuff – ornaments, posters, clothes, books – all left over from the life of an alternative sixties Brightonian. I’d always been obsessed with history.

As my parents had little money one thing they did to entertain us was to maintain a National Trust and English Heritage membership and every weekend we’d go on a trip to an old stately home. Each room we walked into my mum would always say “Look up, Look down, look back, back drop (out the window) and sniff” to ensure we got everything we could out of all the rooms we visited. When we got home we’d make a scrap book about the house, sticking in feathers, leaves and postcards we’d collected. I’d always walk around pretending I lived there, normally imagining I was one of the servants rather than the rich ladies of the house. Imagining what it felt like to sneak around the place trying to do the work required whilst also staying invisible. This began a fascination in me for discovering the lives of ordinary people throughout history. All the famous and powerful people get recorded, but it excites me when I find someone’s initials etched into the brick work of an old bakery’s bread oven, or discover an old grave stone where the name has worn away. I’ll spend ages contemplating who the person might have been and what ripples have perhaps been left behind them in their wake. This all led me to becoming a historical re-creator, which I started doing on my own when I was ten years old, getting time off of school and camping with a guardian, living day to day as a Tudor peasant at an award winning recreation in Suffolk called Kentwell Hall.

I’ve been doing it now for twenty-nine years. I learnt to make cheese and butter as a dairy maid first of all, was a washer woman for a while and then for the last twenty-five years I’ve been a travelling player. We have our own cart that we perform plays on top of and then sleep underneath at night. It’s like a second life. When I stepped into the squat in Brighton, and saw that it was filled with the life or a long departed tenant, it was an Aladdin’s cave to me.

 

OT: Which of Anne’s belongings moved/inspired you the most?

JB: Initially I loved the posters on the walls for old club nights around Brighton, like a poster for the famous Zap Club which had a cartoon on it of Margaret Thatcher with her tits out for a night called “A Something of What you Fancy”. It was £1 to get in and £1 a pint. Then one night we opened the cupboard under the stairs and found it was full of clothes, records and a box full of diaries. We got out the box and began to flick through them, discovering that the woman who’d lived there had been called Anne Clarke. One of my housemates then told me he’d read in one of the diaries that she’d had a hip replacement and on the shelf there was a pelvis bone. We joked that perhaps this was Anne’s hip bone. When we were evicted from the flat, we were in there for about three months, we agreed to put all the possessions in a lock up, as the bailiffs would have just thrown out anything they found left behind in there as they would assume we had just left stuff behind. The contents of the lock up disappeared though, something I’ve never quite gotten over. The only thing I’d kept back for myself was the box of letters and diaries, plus the hip bone. For fifteen years I carried the hip bone from house to house, always keeping it out on my mantelpiece and thinking of it as Anne. I didn’t get around to reading through all the letters and diaries until fifteen years later, when I decided to find out who Anne had actually been and why her stuff had been lift behind like that. This research is what then led to the show HIP.

 

OT: How much more about her did you find out?

JB: I’ve become a little bit single white female to be honest. I now know many of her friends, much of her family, where came from and where she lived prior to the squat flat, what political movements she was part of, what her hobbies and passions were, who were her lovers and I have also discovered the ripples she has left behind around the city of Brighton. There are some significant ripples very much still influencing the city and some little ones you’d never notice if you didn’t look. I also found out how she had died and why her stuff had been left behind.

 

OT: Was there a moment when you almost felt like an intruder into Anne’s life?

I’ve never felt like an intruder in Anne’s life for two main reasons. Firstly is because the serendipity surrounding the discoveries and the ways in which they’ve unfolded have been nothing short of magical. If she is somewhere watching down on us and doesn’t want me to be telling her story then she’s doing a really bad job of letting me know this. Secondly she left her mark. She wrote diaries, was an artist and created work. As someone who writes diaries and leaves her mark where ever possible the one thing that would be worse than death for me would be for someone to find my marks in the future and then pay no attention to them. The Mexican day of the dead celebrates the ancestors and remembers them as they believe we have two deaths; the day we physically die and the day the last person who remembers us dies. I’m remembering Anne and celebrating her life, keeping her memory alive. Warts and all.

 

OT: Has writing and performing HIP been some kind of life lesson to you and do you think it affects audiences in similar ways?

JB: After each show audiences talk to me about legacy and how they’re now considering exactly how they’ll be remembered once they’re gone, often saying they’d like to now start writing a diary. Journal and letter writing is a dying art due to the internet, as is printing photos, and there will be little archival materials hanging around capturing this era in the future. I’ve got my life written down from the age of eight onwards in diaries. I’d like to create a time capsule for these at some point and bury them somewhere. Preferably I’d like to shoot them into space. It has also led me to create a new project called the Museum of Ordinary People, which will open for the first time as a temporary exhibition in May this year as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.

Audiences who had been part of the sixties and seventies counterculture scenes also get a lot out of this show. I think Anne was getting up to all the things that everyone dreamed of doing during this time. She was a trailblazer… And she also got burnt.

 

OT: Brighton seems to have become an extra special place over the last 20 or 30 years. Did it become special to you?

JB: I think Brighton has been special since the Regency boom when Doctor Richard Russell wrote his essay ‘Glandular Diseases, or a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands’ recommending bathing in Brighton sea waters. Since then it has been a transient town, close enough to London to be part of the bigger picture, but where people can be more themselves. Recently, especially, Brighton has become a safe house for liberalism in an increasingly hostile conservative culture. After creating HIP the theatre show I then created a theatrical walking tour called The HIP Trip of Brighton: A Psychedelic Wander, where I meet a group of people at the Clock Tower and then lead them around Brighton’s counterculture history, pointing out the ‘hip’ places of the sixties, seventies and eighties. For example I discovered there had been a bookshop and printing press called the Unicorn Bookshop, where Anne had worked, and it had played a significant role in getting beat poetry off of the ground in the UK, with several famous beat poets being published for the first time through their press. It had been painted on the outside by a famous local artist with a big colorful mural which has been cited as being the first of its kind in the country. As part of the funding for the tour I paid our current famous Brighton mural artist Sinna One to recreate the mural on the outside of the shop. It has a scroll on the side dedicating the mural to the Unicorn Bookshop’s owner Bill Butler and the original mural artist John Upton, with a link to a webpage that tells you all about who these men were and what they contributed to the history of Brighton. I see layers to the city now, ghosts of forgotten roads, places where people used to hang out and where things once happened. It’s like a fourth dimension view of the city.

Hip is at Omnibus Theatre Fri 16 Feb, 9pm | £12 | £10 concessions. To buy your ticket now click here →

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // HOTTER

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Omnibus Theatre: What can audiences expect to experience when they come to see Hotter?

Mary: Joy! You know that feeling when a friend confides in you, maybe tells you something that makes them feel insecure, and you’re able to be their comforter, the one who builds them up again? That. Or that feeling when you dance on your own, in your kitchen, or in the rain, or in your pants, that your whole body is fizzing and burning with happiness? That.

Ell: Yeah, there’s a lot of joy in Hotter. But there’s also a sprinkling of sadness, which is sort of inevitable when talking about the complexity of having a body.  Like I’m grateful to my body for existing and letting me do the everyday things I take for granted, but that doesn’t mean I love it all the time.  In fact a lot of the time I don’t love it at all (I sometimes even hate it).  Hotter is not afraid to shy away from that and confront those hangups head-on.

Mary: You can expect to meet two best friends on a crusade against bodily embarrassment.

OT: How did you make the creative decision to explore themes of body image in Hotter?

Mary: Was it a decision? It certainly didn’t feel like a creative one. It was an obvious choice for us.   

Ell: The concept for the show actually came about because we realised our surnames ‘Higgins’ and ‘Potter’ conveniently combined to make the word ‘hotter’.  Then we realised that notions of ‘hotness’ can mean totally different things to different people; it turned out to be a great springboard to work from.  So I suppose the idea for the show was born from the complete narcissism of wanting to have a show named after ourselves.  At least ‘Hotter’ is better than ‘Piggins’.

Mary: Odd as it sounds, we weren’t friends before we decided to do a show together. We made fierce friends so quickly because we held nothing back. Not even the ugly stuff. We talked to each other while the other one was having a poo, shared wanking techniques, our darkest lows and giddiest highs, felt able to boast when we felt great and cry when we felt shit. There was and is nothing we won’t talk about. And we found that for us at least, sharing our bodily insecurities made them feel smaller and made us feel less lonely in dealing with them. So then we went out and interviewed other women and transfolk, grannies, mums, drag artists, teens,  on what makes them blush and their answers are the stuff of HOTTER.

Ell: Our dream aim, our impossible hope, the one we chant to ourselves when we’re unsure of what it is we’re making, is that no one who leaves HOTTER is ever embarrassed of their body again.

OT: Where does the culture of negative body image start? And when will it end?

Ell: Where do we begin?  In December I saw a Christmas card which read, ‘Dear Santa, I want to lose weight lying on the sofa eating mince pies, okay?’ and it filled me with a hot wrath for our capitalist overlords. Fatphobic messages like that are endlessly regurgitated.  They are everywhere, they are ubiquitous, and they are toxic. I can’t go a day without hearing at least one girl mention her weight or how ‘naughty’ the act of eating is, and that’s heartbreaking. Food isn’t immoral and this gal has weight she doesn’t wanna lose. Someone find me a sofa and some mince pies.

Mary: Yeah. It starts with the patriarchy, with capitalism, when a select few of rich and powerful men are allowed to decide what sexy looks like and plaster that image everywhere. And it thrives on ideas of perfect, on heteronormativity, on white privilege, on gender binaries, on porn, on anxiety, on Coca Cola adverts. It feeds on our desire to be loved and teaches us that our right to be loved is determined by what we look like. It dies when we realise that we are loveable as we are, powerful as we are, and gorgeous as we are.

OT: Tell us about a moment where your bodies gave you away…

Ell: The obvious one for me is farting.  I fart pretty much constantly.  Farting is definitely your body giving you away.  It’s your stomach going ‘YO! I’m DIGESTING. DEAL with it.’  I suppose I should try to be more profound for this question but farting is a BIG part of my life.

Mary: Honestly? How honest can I be here? Brace yourselves cos I have no shame: When I get wet – I often think myself into headspaces where I doubt everything I think I know about myself, including who I desire (and ergo who I am?), but occasionally my vagina rescues me from the void by letting me know that she, at least, knows what she wants.

Ell: Can I change my answer about farting? — Actually no.  Hotter is about banishing embarrassment.  We must embrace the fart.

OT: If you could give women and indeed men one piece of advice about learning to love their body what would it be?

Ell: A lot of the time, I don’t feel like I have a leg to stand on when it comes to preaching about how to love one’s own body.  I’m not there yet.  The road to self-acceptance is long and hard, and it often doesn’t feel like I’m even on that proverbial road, more like I’m lying in a ditch next to the road and hating my belly, my bingo-wings, my eating habits — even hating my brain for letting me think so badly of myself.  But one thing has really helped me, and that’s talking to other people about my bodily insecurities.  We’ve interviewed so many people for Hotter, and every single person we’ve spoken to has some kind of hangup about their body, whether they’re 13 years old or 97 years old.  That in itself is a little tragic — that we all have this inexorable capacity for self-loathing.  But I have to remind myself that the things I am self-conscious about are the things that make me me, and make me loveable.  Sounds cheesy but hey, I bloody love cheese.

Mary: Oof. Erm… come see HOTTER?!

Hotter is at Omnibus for one night only on Saturday 24th Feb – to buy your ticket now click here

 

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // Stella Duffy

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Omnibus Theatre: What can Omnibus Theatre audiences expect from Learning to Swim in the Abyss?

Stella Duffy: I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. Often, when people talk about improvising or live-making, they do kind of have an idea of what they’re going to do on the night – I’m actually trying NOT to do that. After decades of working as a performer and theatre-maker and improviser (as well as a novelist and Fun Palaces co-director) I’m genuinely interested in trying to be truly in the moment. To see what happens if I bring some themes to the room and honestly listen – both to myself in that space and to whatever I feel from the audience.

So – what can an audience expect? Something where I’m not pretending to be another person or pretending that there is a fourth wall. Something that is as honest and open as I’m able to be in that moment. Something that is a combination of storytelling, improvisation, physical work and – with any luck – their presence. I won’t be pretending they’re not there. (I also won’t be picking on them or demanding participation!) Other than that, I have no idea. And I’m happy (albeit nervous, uncertain, excited) about having no idea.

OT: What drives you to explore themes of life, death, grief and joy in your work?

SD: Well, I’ve had cancer twice and, more recently, spent some time considering mortality – my own as well as ideas we share about what mortality really is. I’m interested in being honest about how I feel about those things – not the deaths of others, not the funny story about this funeral or the sad one about when my dad died, but my own mortality. Personal death. I don’t think we talk about this enough – we limit our experience of death to the deaths of others, often very powerful deaths of others, but rarely our own.

I have written in a play (The Matilda Effect) “death is the proof of life” – and my own experience is that my illnesses have also given me (on occasion) a strong sense of life, of being alive. So … life and death, for me, are about grief and joy. Exploring the grief and the joy in both. I’m not sure I can do that in a one hour improvised piece (!), but I’m happy to try to touch on it. (nb, with any luck it won’t be quite as portentous as all this might sound – I’m very keen on light touch around dark things.)

OT: How did you settled on the title, Learning To Swim In The Abyss?

SD: I love swimming. Not lengths, I’m not fussed about lengths (though I’ll do them if it’s a good, unheated outdoor pool – Brockwell Lido for example) but I do love to be held by water, in rivers, lakes and – ideally – the sea. Specifically the Pacific, off the east coast of Aotearoa/New Zealand if at all possible. I’m a strong swimmer and love the feeling of both safety (held by the water) and danger – oceans, big waves, currents – the way anything can change at any moment. There’s a real edge to sea swimming that I crave.

I’m also thinking a lot about the abyss at the moment – the bottomless, side-less ‘well’ that is life/death and everything in between. The notion that there is no place of ‘safety’ and that, in life, we must learn to swim in our own abyss, the truth of our own lives. This piece is, in part, an exploration of what it means to me to swim in my own life, with an awareness of my own mortality. My second solo show (Breaststrokes) was a cancer and swimming piece I performed at BAC and various other places in 2004/2005. It was a written, rehearsed, choreographed, lit, designed, underscored piece with swimming on stage – basically I had everything else that theatre usually offers to hold us up on stage. This time I’ll have me and whoever comes. I find that both exciting and also quiet, simple. I’m interested in making things simple.

OT: The show is completely improvised and unrehearsed, what could go wrong and what could go right?

SD: All of it, I suppose. I guess the main thing that could go wrong is around people’s expectations – if they don’t think I honestly mean that it’s improvised, if they think I must have some structure or script to hold on to, if they are expecting a ‘play’, then they’ll likely be disappointed – or maybe they’ll be relieved or thrilled (that would be nice). Other than that, I’m happy to see what happens. I hope anyone generous enough to give me an hour of their time is fine with that too.

I’m especially grateful to Jacqui Beckford who has agreed to be my BSL interpreter on Tuesday 27th. Jacqui is an amazing performer, who I’ve worked with in both improvised and scripted pieces. She gets right into the work and is a fine performer in her own right. Given how little we know of what will happen, I love that she said yes to interpreting the piece for me on the Tuesday night, and it will be nice for me to share the space with another person.

OT: Sixteen novels, dozens of short stories, fourteen plays? What’s next for you artistically?

SD: My novel The Hidden Room comes out in paperback on 1st February, and I have a new novel out in hardback on March 8th, Money in the Morgue – I have completed Ngaio Marsh’s unfinished manuscript, she had written four chapters before abandoning the book in the 1940s. That’s been a huge challenge, to try to capture her style while also bring something of myself to the work. Other than the new book I have a couple of ongoing collaborations I’m developing with fellow writers and performers, a few comedy impro gigs booked for the spring, and my work with Fun Palaces takes up the rest of my time. I also have a potential short story nagging at the back of my mind right now – when it comes to the forefront, I’ll write it.

Learning to Swim in the Abyss (A Live Improv Death Show) is running at Omnibus Theatre from Mon 26 – Wed 28 Feb. To find out more and get your ticket click here

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // Georgia Bruce

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We caught up with Georgia Bruce, writer and performer of Bruce ahead of 96 Festival next month.

Tell us a little about your vision for the show and what you hope audiences will be able to take away from it?

So I’m intending the show to be a (somewhat ridiculous) mix of characters, songs and stories, some funny, some serious, some halfway in between. I only really have one hope and that is that both I and the audience (but mainly I) will just have a ruddy good time and at the end we can all hang out and exchange funny anecdotes about childhood pets and what GCSEs we did and what our favourite harmony is in Dolly Parton and Sonya Isaac’s seminal cover of Louvin Brothers classic The Angels Rejoiced.

You say this production is a step en route to the Fringe, tell us about how you envision the show to develop for Fringe and how it feels to be making your Fringe debut?

Well, this year I’m planning to take my first ever solo show to the Fringe, which is obviously insane because it’s hard enough doing it with your mates alongside you. So if anyone reading this is planning on being there, please come see my show because I’ll definitely be on the look-out for audience members/a bit of company/long lasting and meaningful relationships.

Mainly though I’m very excited for my debut at the Fringe, because I’m seeing it like my own personal month-long debutante ball, most of which I’ll spend cowering under an umbrella outside the Bedlam Theatre, nursing a £2.50 pint and thinking about how I am both eligible and single. Am planning my outfits already (spoiler alert: very high heels and nothing else).

Omnibus Theatre’s 96 Festival is harkening back to the historic pride party on Clapham common in 1996, 22 years ago. What progression would you like to see  (politically and culturally) for the LGBTQ+ community in the next 22 years?

More snogs for everyone.

Let’s talk about Dolly Parton. What’s your fav Dolly Moment?

A single fav??? Ludicrous question, impossible to answer. A few highlights include: the time she headlined Glastonbury and made up a song about the mud whose lyrics were “mud, mud, mud, mud, up to our bums in all this crud” and then sang it in front of one hundred thousand people; the time someone found a lost dog at that same Glastonbury, called it Dolly, and when they couldn’t find its owner, she offered to adopt it; the time I went with my parents to see her perform at the O2 and every single other member of the audience was an old man wearing a feather boa and I’ve never felt so at home; the time I first heard Coat of Many Colors; the time she came up with the zinger to end all zingers: “I was the first woman to burn my bra – it took the fire department four days to put it out.”

BLOG: Quick fire questions with Liam Grundy and Jonathan Holloway

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Americana singer/songwriter Liam Grundy and playwright Jonathan Holloway, the masterminds behind the upcoming production Badback Mountain, answer a quick-fire round of questions about their new play. Here’s what they had to say…

 

Hi both, now here’s a challenge – tell us about your show in one sentence?
Liam Grundy: We’ve tried to make a curious and compelling closet thriller that mixes live music and humor with a tight plot in which two adventurous chaps undertake a remarkable quest to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe while harboring a covert darker purpose.

Why should people come and see it?
Jonathan Holloway: It’s not just one show, it’s actually several shows jammed together. So on the one hand people will come and enjoy Liam’s very accomplished original Americana music while simultaneously relishing the surprising yarn spun by a pair of amiable misadventurers – cunning ‘third agers’ just like ourselves!

 Explain for the uninitiated what Alt Country music is?
LG: It’s a term people came up with about 15-20 years ago. They now call it ‘Americana’ or ‘Americana roots’. It’s country music with a modern spin, rooted in Blues but nimbler and more affecting than the roadhouse rock one usually thinks of.

Liam, we hear you have quite a big fan base.
JH: Yes he does.
LG: Hmm, there is a small group of people who buy my stuff.
JH: Come on, you’re big in Scandinavia aren’t you?
LG: Well, Norway has been very good to me. In Sweden and Norway there’s a lot of musical interest. It’s not anything that involves line dancing or stuff like that, they’re very big into their Americana music.

 Something tells us you are holding back on us a little Mr Grundy!
JH: He’s big in Memphis, too! He recorded at Sun Studio, where Elvis first recorded.
LG: I don’t know… I just like stuff and record it and put it out and say I’ll perform and then I turn up.

You currently have 2 albums out at the moment. Richmond and the second Huston. Are you playing any of the music from them?
LG: Yes, We’re doing a mix of stuff from both and a couple of new songs, too. There will also be a single out for the show called No Girl In Tennessee.

What question would you hate to be asked on a chat show?
JH: What do you want to do next with this show? We’re at Omnibus Theatre for six nights and the objective is to polish up this well-crafted jewel of a show and from there maybe go touring. It is 60 minutes in which the audience get to meet us in the guise of two subtly unhinged characters and there’s humour in it – slightly wonky humor, it has to be said. We haven’t mentioned there’s also genuine suspense – that’s the thriller element. It’s like Marmite – condensed entertainment extract. In all honesty, we have tried to bring drama and country music together in something that is very personal and very much about us, really.

In the play, do you ever get to the Edinburgh Fringe?
JH: Yes, we sort of do… Basically, the show is made as though this is the evening before we get on the train to go to Edinburgh and we’re here at Omnibus Theatre, the AD Marie McCarthy has given us access to the theatre until 9 pm on the Sunday evening before we leave. The truck is coming around to pick up all our stuff so this is literally the moment before were about to embark on this expedition.

Why call it Badback Mountain?
JH: Because it made us laugh!
LG: Our characters wrongly thought it was funny.

 Finally, why Rockford Files?
JH: That’s the name of the fictional show these two are preparing for the Edinburgh Fringe. Overall, a bad decision. It turns out fewer people remember it than they’d hoped!

BLOG: Ron Elisha talks The Soul of Wittgenstein and his approach to writing

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“There is nothing quite so irresistible to the playwright as the placement of an iconic historic figure in an unfamiliar context”

Playwright Ron Elisha talks about The Soul of Wittgenstein and his approach of writing plays based on historic figures:

As a playwright one always teeters on the brink of contrivance. How can it possibly be otherwise when one’s narratives are the product of one’s own mind? However, if those narratives already exist in the public domain, the onus is no longer on the writer to justify his contrivance but, rather, on the audience/reader to explain the facts.

In other words, if we know that A, B and C actually happened, how do we explain that? How could a human being possibly have behaved in that fashion? What might have been their motivation? What do we know about the ripple effects of their actions? What does this mean for us as sentient beings?

In basing one’s work on an historical subject, character or incident, one is free to drill down onto such questions without being accused of bending the narrative to suit one’s purposes. Put more simply, one’s audience is forced to argue the interpretation of the facts rather than the facts themselves – they are forced to play the ball rather than the man.

Having said this, the disadvantage of historical drama is the sheer amount of research required. Which is not to say that all of it is onerous. Indeed, there is nothing quite like the excitement of uncovering a hitherto obscure gem which validates the line you’ve taken on your central character as a result of your previous ‘humdrum’ researches.

Such serendipitous finds are much more likely to occur when one has come upon one’s story in a tangential or unexpected fashion. In the case of this play, I was researching a totally unrelated story which took place during World War II when I came across the tantalizing tidbit that the great philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, had worked as a porter at Guy’s Hospital in London during the war.

There is nothing quite so irresistible to the playwright as the placement of an iconic historical figure in an unfamiliar context – particularly one that frees him/her up to behave in ways they might not have countenanced otherwise.

Having tripped over this morsel, I began the task of researching Wittgenstein, who he was, what he said and what he stood for. Having formed a (very much lay) notion of his overall treatise, it was then up to me to furnish him with an antagonist (I use the term in its literary sense) who could in some way challenge that way of looking at the world.

As a writer, one knows when one is on the right track when layers begin to emerge – when the narrative resonates with the subtext and when one is able in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying way to interpret the various plot points with regard to the underlying thesis.

In the case of Wittgenstein, whose work on logic is dense to the point of impenetrable, one’s approach is, by necessity, less granular. In his world – a world in which, in a sense, language both defines and sets limits on the knowable universe, words take on a whole new dimension of meaning. (Particularly words that, in themselves, form a kind of code – in this case, cockney slang.)

The world of the play, then, is a world in which the most important things are unspoken, and at times unspeakable. And because of this, they are – to use Wittgenstein’s own terminology – mystical. They cannot be expressed in language, only shown. The intellectual and, ultimately, emotional satisfaction of crafting a story around this premise was immense. And, if the response to the play’s premiere season in 2016 was anything to go by, the audience’s payoff is commensurate.

About the author

Ron Elisha is a playwright based in Melbourne, Australia. His stage plays include In Duty Bound (1979), Einstein (1981), Two (1983), Pax Americana (1984), The Levine Comedy (1986), Safe House (1989), Esterhaz (1990), Impropriety (1993), Choice (1994), Unknown Soldier (1996), The Goldberg Variations (2000), A Tree, Falling (2003), Ladies & Gentlemen (2004), Wrongful Life (2005), Controlled Crying (2006), Renaissance (2006), The Schelling Point (2010), Carbon Dating (2011), Stainless Steel Rat (2011, produced in London in 2012 under the title Man In The Middle), The Crown Versus Winslow (2011), Love Field (2013) and The Soul Of Wittgenstein (2016). He has also written a telemovie, Death Duties (1991), two children’s books, Pigtales (1994) and Too Big (1997), and many feature articles and stories in a variety of publications. His plays have been produced throughout Australia, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Israel and France, and have won a number of awards, including four Australian Writers’ Guild Awards, the Mitch Matthews Award (2006) and the Houston International Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay.

The Soul of Wittgenstein is Part of #96Festival. A celebration of progress, achievement and possibility. For the full festival programme CLICK HERE

BLOG: 5 questions for The Overcoat’s Marta Vella

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We catch up with The Overcoat’s lead, Marta Vella, who tells us why this adaptation is the one to see.

There have been many versions of Gogol’s famed short story. Why should audiences come to see this version of The Overcoat?

This is a classic story retold with a woman as its lead as opposed to the original. Shows like this prove that a great tragic figure can have equal power when played by a woman. Also, this is a modern adaptation, both in relation to its references but also in terms of its staging which makes it relevant and engaging to a 21st century audience. The way music and choreography weave into the storytelling make for a magical evening at the theatre.

Marta, tell us about Akakiy Akakievichna your character in the play, is there anything you did in particular to prepare for the role?

She is somebody that is committed to her job and is very content in her very insular existence. Despite living by the rules she still gets trampled over by the cruelty of the world. Who can’t relate to that? How many times have we worked so hard just to be disappointed by the outcome. We are told as children that as long as we work hard and are committed we will get what we want but there comes a time when you realise you have been lied to for most of your life. I tried to tap into those moments of realisation to play Akakiy.

You are quite a household name where you are from in Malta. What brought you to the UK?

After playing various lead roles in most of the major theatres in Malta, I formed my own successful theatre company, and made use of all the major opportunities that a small island could offer, I thought it was time to take the leap and apply to drama school in London. I was extremely honoured when I was offered a place at RADA and the year spent doing my Masters there was the most challenging, yet rewarding experience in my life. Most recently I have performed in Les Enfants Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground at the Vaults and I am truly excited to be playing Akakiy once again at the Omnibus Theatre.

What do you both want audiences to come away feeling after seeing this play?

This story follows someone who has been repeatedly failed by the institutions that are meant to protect her, I’d want audiences to think about the state of the institutions in our society and if they are serving their purposes or not.

What next after The Overcoat?

I’ve been commissioned to write a couple of projects in Malta as well as working on touring my play over there and I’m very excited for whatever 2018 will bring in London!

BLOG: The Turn of the Screw Interviews

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This Christmas, in the tradition of Victorian fireside ghost stories, Strange Fish bring you Henry James’ classic tale of suspense, horror and repressed sexuality.

We caught up with some of the team to find out more…

 

With Director James O’Donnell

1. What drew you to creating a new version of The Turn of the Screw?

Many things drew me to this version created by Jeffrey Hatcher (award winning screenwriter and playwright) who created it from the novel for the American stage. The story lends itself to being adapted for the stage.It involves a central conceit where you question whether or not the main character, The Governess, sees the ghosts she describes in the play. Are they just in her mind? And that ambiguity is central to this adaptation. Then there are themes such as social inequality, mental health and class in the play which we have been exploring in rehearsals. Although it was written over a hundred years ago, the play still resonates loudly with us today.

2. What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing the novel to the stage?

So many people I have spoken to have heard of or know of the novel and many love it as the classic it is. One big challenge has been to keep all the elements from the novel that people love while making it theatrical for a modern audience. Another big challenge has been to tell the story with only two actors. This in turn has led to a very fast paced, inventive, immediate play that will keep the audience on their toes and fascinate them until the final scene.

3. What, for you, has been the most important element to retain from the original novel?

Many lines from the original novel have been used in this adaptation and we have spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room exploring the Victorian era to give us a deep, authentic knowledge of this period, which might not necessarily be evident when you watch the play but will underpin all of the action. The story itself is fantastic and this adaptation really captures all the elements of the novel you would wish to see.

4. Why should audiences choose a The Turn of the Screw to see at Christmas time?

During the Victorian period at Christmas time, it was fashionable to sit around the fire and tell each other ghost stories. Classic stories such as A Christmas Carol and The Turn of the Screw began life this way. So in time honoured tradition come down to the Omnibus theatre this December and let us tell you a chilling ghost story, full of riddles, suspense and ghostly figures.

 

With cast member Nick Danan

 

1. What is your personal perception of your character or characters?

So, I play several characters, switching back and forth between them -often quickly as the story gathers pace.

One of the characters I play is Miles, a 10-year-old boy who is very troubled and very lost. For me he is fighting valiantly against terrible circumstances with only the resources of a young child. Without giving too much away Miles has demons to face. He desperately needs The Governess’ help.

Then there is Mrs Grose, the housekeeper. She has a big heart and is tortured by the thought that she may not be able to protect “the lovely babies” Miles and Flora. If I could only use one word to describe her it would be “Love”.

I also play the Master of Bly House. He is charismatic and selfish. Pretty much every word out of his mouth is a manipulation.

Each character has their own unique energy and inner landscape. It is a real privilege to inhabit so many brilliantly written characters all in one go.

2. What has been the most challenging part of rehearsals so far?

There is only me and Ruth performing in this play. We are both on stage the entire time, which means no down time during rehearsals. It is a highly charged piece and both of us are on stage the entire time. This requires a lot of energy, but it is exhilarating too!

3. Tell us something about “the Turn of the Screw” that people might not know.

Henry James made very little money from his novels except for “The Turn of the Screw”. It was wildly successful.

 

The Turn of the Screw will run at Omnibus Theatre Thu 7 – Sat 9 Dec and Thu 14 – Sat 16 Dec at 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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