Where to begin

Posted: April 25, 2017 in A Bit of Everything

It’s been a while since the last blog and that question could easily apply to ‘Where to begin catching up on what’s been going on’. However, the time away from the blog has been spent coming up with ideas, making plays and helping other people create their work. So, after a small space to recupe digest, we at Scrawny Cat are once again asking, where to begin with the next piece.

Restoration comedy, Rose Playhouse Bankside, London Fringe Theatre, Fringe Theatre, Aphra Behn, Susannah Centlivre, Restoration TheatreSince last August it’s been all systems go. Autumn saw us staging ‘The Basset Table’ by Susannah Centlivre, a wonderful Restoration comedy that hasn’t been performed for over three hundred years. Scrawny were lucky enough to once more work with The Rose Playhouse Bankside on their Rose Unfolds Salon Season. The Rose, for those not in the know, is the archaeological site of Bankside’s first theatre and also houses a lovely sixty seat space aimed at providing a platform for emerging theatre companies making interesting work. We’ve previously staged our four women adaptation of ‘Richard III’ there, as well as our Off West End nominated production of ‘The Ghost Sonata’ by August Strindberg.

Holly Barbour, The Rose Playhouse Bankside, The Rose Unfolds, Restoration Theatre, London Restoration Theatre, London Fringe Theatre, Fringe Theatre, Female Wits, All female cast, cross-gender castingThis time around, the Rose wanted to bring to life some forgotten classics in the form of six plays by female Restoration authors, with all female directors and all female casts. I’ve had a copy of Fidelis Morgan’s ’The Female Wits’ sitting on my bookshelf for about a decade, but it took the Rose discovering the book to remind me how much I loved those plays and how much fun they might be to put on and explore how they sit now. Many people have heard of Aphra Behn, but Centlivre, Mary Pix, Delarivier Manley and a whole host of others seem to have slipped into the mists of time and rarely get an airing. In their day, these women were making a living writing, enjoying as much success as their male counterparts and being judged on the worth of their work, not their gender. So we decided to bring them back. The Salon Season was gloriously diverse in the way that each director approached their piece, showing that whilst there might be an over riding style to Restoration theatre, like every play, there is also so much interpretive freedom, so much written between the lines to eek out and see how it lands.

Restoration Comedy, Anna Chessher, Freya Finnerty, The Rose Playhouse Bankside, London Fringe Theatre, cross-gender casting, all female cast, The Salon Season, Aphra Behn‘The Basset Table’ is a tight little comedy, employing the hall marks of a classic farce framework, plenty of secret plots, intrigues, disguise and mistaken identities. We decided to go one step further and have the eleven characters being played by a cast of five. The logistics of that required a fair amount of planning, but each actress played two or three characters that really benefited being played by the same person. The most naïve male character, Ensign Lovely, was played by the same actress playing Lady Reveller, a woman hell bent of living life to it’s fullest and exploiting society as much as she could. The same woman strutting around as Captain Firebrand also played the prudish Lady Lucy and the trickster servant, having to live on her wits with nothing but charm in her pockets, had another life as Sir James, the cad about town who had the fortune and freedom to make puppets of his friends for his own amusement. The result was fast paced and furiously funny at points, the script allowing us to build and build the humour until events just exploded. But what was more fun was listening to these words being spoken for the first time in so long and trying to hear the authors voice beneath them. What did she think? What was she saying? There are so many asides and in jokes that are obviously about the world in which she lived, what were her opinions? What was she saying about it? And what did that in turn, have to say to us? Despite it’s period setting, it’s period writing in fact, ‘The Basset Table’ felt fresh and vigorous to stage, using age old dynamics between men and women and yet still having a new story to tell about them. We enjoyed doing it so much, hopefully we can revisit it in a fuller staging and a longer run before too long – it’s be glorious to bring it’s vibrancy and laughter to a wider audience.

Fringe Theatre London, New writing theatre, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, war zone reporterAnd so, moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, yours truly took a small break from Scrawny Cat after the show to work with new theatre company 6th Space on their devised piece, ‘Gathering Dust’ which ran at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in late February. On the surface the idea couldn’t be further from ‘The Basset Table’ if it tried. The company were exploring the idea of how we use our imaginations to survive in extreme circumstances. Focusing on a war zone journalist, Charlie, captured on an unnamed contemporary front line, the play was both naturalistic and abstract in it’s rendering. I came on board about half way through the initial devising process and got to be a part of developing the company’s ideas, devising with them, dramaturging for them and writing some of the script. Having spent the last couple of years working on Shakespeare’s, some new writing and a bit of wonderfully juicy Strindberg thrown in for good measure, it was a delight to return to my devising roots and get to do some writing myself again. Even when doing already existing texts, I tend to approach things in a pretty devised manner. I love collaborating with the actors and creatives and for me, so much of the process is getting to test the canon of theatrical language we have at our disposal, not restricting ourselves to one particular style because that’s how we think of classics or modern European drama, but just using what best expresses the idea. It’s also incredibly freeing to work with a company who can see when something is missing. It means we can write our own words that do the job of what is vacant. I love to play with language, it’s rhythm, the beats that can be dropped into sentences and the images that can be made. One of the things that was needed in ‘Gathering Dust’ was an articulation of each captured characters thoughts, that wasn’t necessarily needed to be naturalistic. I got to write a monologue for each one that was more beat poetry than soliloquy. I got to drop in images and play with how they could be conveyed. I got to devise movement sequences that echoed and amplified the words and the feelings of the characters and that were able to stand out in intentional opposition to the more realistic elements of the play.

It was refreshing and rewarding and a real rediscovery for me of how I like to tell stories.

So that brings me back to the original question. Where to begin? Well, after the past two projects and the month or so of chilling, we at Scrawny have a few ideas up our sleeves that have been percolating for a while. Where to begin is marrying those ideas with what we have all learnt in the last six months and making something of them that employs new skills and forgotten loves to render them the best we can.

That’s quite enough for now, what the actual ideas are might be best suited to another blog, that definitely won’t take another six months to write! More anon. . .

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