Interview: Stephanie Silver, Walk of Shame

For one, it’s a night of glory – for the other, a walk of shame… Glass Half Full Theatre return with a topical new production next month, as they bring Walk of Shame by Stephanie Silver and Emelia Marshall Lovsey to the White Bear for a limited run.

“I don’t want to give too much away,” says Stephanie. “As with most of our plays we produce, it takes the audience on a journey and the ending isn’t what you expect; we like twists and turns. It’s a story based on two characters: Alice, written by Emelia, and Liam, written by myself. We merged the two characters together to create a story of one night and two different points of view.”

The show was first picked up by Stephanie through Actor Awareness, at a new writing event based at Spotlight. “I co-produce these nights with Tom Stocks and I read the script submissions,” she explains. “I read this piece and instantly loved it, and felt it fit the ethos of plays I wanted to produce through Glass Half Full. Thought provoking, tragic and funny characters is what I like to home in on.

“Initially it was just Alice that was written, but after directing the piece for the event I went away, wrote a two-hander and asked Emelia if she fancied putting it on. We’ve since done R&D with it at the Actor Awareness new writing festival and also with Get Over it Productions at the Tabard Theatre this summer.”

One aspect that particularly drew Stephanie to Walk of Shame was its relevance: “Alice is a very loud and sexually overt character, and a lot of judgments get placed on her by the audience for her in ya face nature. I think it’s important that as women we are still breaking down stereotypes of how people perceive we should behave. Alice is not ladylike; she doesn’t say the right thing or often make the right choices. So I think her story is important, as it’s getting female characters out there that aren’t perfect and are flawed. I think women everywhere will relate to characters like Alice.

“Liam, the other character in the play, is very interesting and it’s a very different journey the audience go on with him – and without giving any twist away, it’s very interesting to see how the audience respond at the end after hearing about Liam’s life.”

Walk of Shame brings together a cast of talented creatives, the majority of whom have worked with Glass Half Full previously. “Emelia was actually in my last play Our Big Love Story; she played Katie at The Hope Theatre in March,” says Stephanie. “As a producer, when I like people I keep them around. This is Emelia’s first play as a writer, so it’s exciting to be on that journey with her. She’s worked with the company a lot.

“Michelle Payne is a very accomplished actor, writer, director, producer slash superwoman. Her last play, Full Circle, about mental health won awards at the Brewery Fringe 2018. Michelle’s worked with Glass Half Full on new writing night Series of Short Plays, and she’s just set up acting school Caspa Arts. As a woman of all trades, and who knows the company’s work well, she’s a perfect fit to direct.

“As for the cast – Liam will be played by the very talented Calum Speed, who got an Offie nom for his role as Chubby in Chubby, which also had a run at the White Bear Theatre. And I myself will take on the role as Alice, which is exciting as I’ve been mainly producing for the last year, so it’s good to get back to doing what I love.”

The show opens at the White Bear on 11th December, where it will run until the 15th. “The White Bear is a great venue for new writing and it’s also a perfect space for the piece. Its intimacy will really lend to the story, and we hope the audience will go away with a lot to think about. We aim to challenge and get the audience to talk at the bar after. Our theatre company motto is ‘hard hitting and engaging’ – which this play is to a T.”

Get your tickets for Walk of Shame at the White Bear Theatre from 11th-15th December.

Interview: Alexander Knott, Renaissance Men

A bleak and bitter comedy about toxic masculinity and the millennial generation, Renaissance Men is a new production from writer James Patrick and Bag of Beard. The show will debut at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November, with tour dates to be announced for 2019.

“On the face of it Renaissance Men is about three art school dropouts who discover a lost masterpiece in a charity shop in Streatham,” explains Bag of Beard co-director, Alexander Knott. “But beyond that concept, the play is about what happens when men don’t talk to each other. When masculinity gets in the way of human connection. What happens if three young people are faced with a life changing opportunity? Does huge wealth generate huge contentment? What is the relevance of art in a society that values only capital? Is there a voice for Millennials that aren’t just obsessed with their phones? Is there a voice for nostalgia? And through this, can we connect to each other on a fundamental level?”

The story was inspired in part by the personal experience of writer James Patrick, combined with the company’s interest in discussing how the millennial generation connect with each other – or fail to do so. “We weren’t interested in the clichéd image of millennials; we’re not telling a story of iPhones and Instagram, but a kind of counter culture, as James puts it,” says Alexander, who plays Quentin in the show. “With our productions, Bag of Beard are interested in a sense of the timeless, of a heightened reality, but one that we can see society reflected in.

“We explored this in our first production Bath, at The Bread and Roses Theatre, but it was almost an unintentional discovery. With Renaissance Men we wanted to intentionally look at the idea of nostalgia, along with a discussion about toxic masculinity and how friendships can disintegrate. Without giving any plot away, we also examine the oppressive nature of depression, and how so often men fail to communicate what they’re feeling, which luckily is coming more to the forefront of awareness.”

The play has been about a year in the making, and had evolved significantly during the development process: “James started developing an idea of a couple of criminals who stole a priceless painting during a burglary, and then had to deal with the repercussions of this when they discovered how valuable it was. Fairly soon into the writing process, the characters evolved to be art students, and the piece became semi-autobiographical. Through a process of devising and improvisation, followed by scripting the dialogue and shaping it into a narrative, we had the framework of the narrative we have now.

“We went from what we thought was a dark comedy, into a story that has a resonance about our generation, we hope. It’s a satire in parts, we’re not advocating the lifestyle that these characters live, but we think it has a truth in it. During the rehearsal process, we’ve worked a lot with music – the original music for the show was composed by Sam Heron, who also plays Irvine, and elements of physical theatre, to create the semi-heightened world of the piece.”

Alexander is co-director of Bag of Beard along with Ryan Hutton, who also directs Renaissance Men. “The company was formed when, sat in a rehearsal room in South London, working on a classical play, we started discussing how we would do it differently,” he explains. “The ideas we threw around were stylised, surreal, almost grotesque versions of these classical characters – pulling at any threads of naturalism and distorting them into an abstract shape. It was from this discussion that the idea behind the company came together. We’ve yet to make our abstract version of that particular Jacobean tragedy, but ever since we’ve been creating theatre that is darkly comic, uses elements of physical theatre and poetry, and offers a comment on our generation, and how we engage with the world, with original words and original music.”

Renaissance Men will be performed in a special sharing on 25th and 26th November, at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre. “The Old Red Lion has an incredible reputation for being a hub of great new writing, and such an amazing launchpad of new work, writers and companies,” says Alexander. “We saw Kenneth Emson’s Plastic earlier in the year, and the poetic storytelling really made it electrifying. A fascinating working class story, brought into an almost heightened reality by the use of language. That’s something we strive for with Bag of Beard, and the Old Red Lion’s track record of supporting really ambitious new theatre speaks volumes.”

Following these initial performances in London, the company are hoping to embark on a regional tour next year. “We have good relationships with some really exciting theatres in the north of England, so it’d be great to see what the reaction is up there. It’s always good to try and share the work with as many audiences as possible – one of the cornerstones of Bag of Beard is an idea of a national ensemble, as half our company is London based and the other half hailing from Yorkshire, so that’s the aim, is to share the show up there.

“We hope that the audience will leave with questions, stimulated minds and a sense of unease when considering where the characters will go next. This play evokes a sense of a generation devoid of a cause and one which tries to fill that hole with so much; politics, memes, nostalgia etc. We hope the question of how the generation can hope to survive in the real world is raised. But conversely, we hope they have a bloody good laugh!”

Book now for Renaissance Men at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November.

Interview: Erika Eva, Unbelonger

Ekata Theatre is an international theatre company based in London and Helsinki. Most recently seen in London with physical theatre piece On Mother’s Day, in November they’ll be back at the Cockpit Theatre with Unbelonger, as part of Voila! Europe Festival.

Unbelonger is about the feeling of not belonging or not fitting in, being pushed out or pushed to the margin,” explains Ekata’s artistic director Erika Eva. “We’re creating our own world, where it’s not nationality or looks that set the protagonist apart, but a headscarf – and what I want to say with that is how artificial sometimes the borders are. She has a very close relationship with her scarf, which we’re bringing to life through object puppetry, and that’s the best relationship she has throughout her life; she doesn’t really fit into any groups, but she has that one bond. But also she realises that that’s the thing that sets her apart, and what I’d like to explore is that the one thing that sets us apart might be very integral to our identity, whether we end up loving or hating it.”

Devised by the company, a shorter work in progress version of the show was first performed at last year’s Voila! festival, and returns this year with a new cast and a broader perspective. “Last year we had the protagonist and her relationship to the scarf and we were looking at her in a school environment,” says Erika. “But now I want to make it a bit larger so we’re looking at different points of her life, because there’s a lot of discrimination and bullying in school but as we know it often continues after that.

“I’m saddened by the rising nationalism in many countries – in Britain, in Finland where I come from, in Europe and around the world. Our politicians are advocating that kind of message where we’re starting to divide people artificially, like the ban in the USA – there have been people living in the USA for a long time and suddenly they’re banned from living there.”

Erika established Ekata Theatre after graduating from East 15 last year, and Unbelonger was the company’s first production. “I’ve had a super year!” she says. “I’ve done five plays in two different countries, so it’s been a hectic year, which now comes full circle with Unbelonger coming back to London. I’ve learnt tons and I’ve got lots of really good experience, and I now know what I want to do, and the style that I’m going for has become a bit more clear.

“Ekata means unity in Sanskrit. Our idea is to do physical theatre that transcends national and linguistic barriers, and more and more we want to encourage cross-national work. Representation is a very big thing for us, we want to tell stories with diverse representation and I believe physical theatre is something that really unites, because it’s universal.”

That universality is reflected in Unbelonger’s diverse cast of four, who speak different languages as part of the show. “I’m a linguist so I love languages, I love playing with them,” says Erika. “I love the fact that you can understand sometimes even though you don’t speak the language, and that’s amazing, it intrigues me. Emotions and our physicality are universal, and that draws me to physical theatre because it can tell a story without a need for actual words.”

Another very important part of Unbelonger is the live music, from Ekata’s composer in residence Xavier Velastín, who hacks gaming controllers and motion-capture devices to control the sound design with his body. “Xavier is incredible,” says Erika. “Last year he created the music for Unbelonger with us, so as we were devising he was reacting to the actors and composing the music live. And this time we’re going to add a layer, because it’s at the Cockpit so we’re going to give him the lower gantry.”

The third member of the Ekata team is writer in residence – and Erika’s sister – Saaramaria Kuittinen, who wrote the company’s previous production, On Mother’s Day, based on seven years of correspondence with people on death row in the USA through a UK-based organisation, Human Writes. “The response to On Mother’s Day was really good, and we’re looking forward to hopefully bringing it back to other places. It is a very marginal theme and not very many people think that it’s an issue or know it’s an issue. The best feedback we got was that Human Writes got new volunteers through it, and that was one of the main goals – to raise awareness and to tell that story.”

With just two weeks until Unbelonger opens at the Cockpit, Erika and the team are excited to share it with new London audiences. “I think it’s going to be a magical play with object puppetry, some acrobatics and live music – and I don’t think people should miss out on that,” she says. “More than anything, what I want the audience to go away with is knowing what not belonging feels like; whether it’s something they can relate to or something that’s new, that feeling should come through – that’s what’s most important.”

Watch the trailer for Unbelonger, and book now to see the show at the Cockpit Theatre, 9th-12th November.

Interview: Cornelia Baumann and Beatrice Vincent, Dracula

Their last production met with widespread acclaim, five star reviews and an Offie award nomination for Best Production. And now with Halloween fast approaching, Arrows & Traps have something suitably scary planned – a chilling new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written and directed by Ross McGregor.

“It’s definitely not a show for the faint-hearted!” warns Beatrice Vincent, who plays Mina. “I think we cover a lot of classic horror bases – there are a few jump scares in there, as well as what feels like gallons of blood – but ultimately it’s a play about the darker side of humanity, and things the characters don’t want to admit they want.”

“A lot of people, once they find out that we’re currently working on Dracula, assume that it is a spoof and ask if it’s funny,” adds Cornelia Baumann, who’ll be appearing in her tenth Arrows production as Renfield. “It definitely isn’t a spoof. While there are certainly some jokes in the play, we are aiming to create a real story that should be scary because of what the characters go through.

“There’s definitely an Arrows feel to the show in terms of quick overlapping scenes, swift changes and interwoven timelines. After the success of the real story of the White Rose, Dracula is very different and much more focused on entertainment, aiming to thrill and be eerie and scary to serve fans of the original and the genre.”

The show opens next week at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, where Arrows & Traps were recently announced as the official associate company. “Ross will never compromise on the scale of the story he wants to tell, and the result feels almost cinematic,” says Beatrice. “The great thing about the Jack as a venue is that it’s big enough to tell a story like this, but it’s still very intimate, which means that the smaller moments aren’t lost, and of course the audience are closer to the action!”

Over the last few years, the Arrows have built a formidable reputation with their adaptations of literary classics, from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky. Following the success of Frankenstein last year, they’re returning to horror with their take on Stoker’s novel. “Ross has made some decisions that are unique to this version and hopefully will make it exciting and bring out certain elements of the familiar story as well as create a very specific feel,” says Cornelia. “We don’t want to give everything away – you have to come and watch it – but some changes are obvious. For example, Renfield, the character that I’m playing, has been turned into a woman.

“Apart from following the Arrows’ ethos to create more exciting roles for women, this change creates some interesting new dynamics, but also gives some different insights into the story, the themes and the characters. Dracula usually preys on women, so it makes sense that Renfield perhaps originally was going to be turned into a vampire as well, but then Dracula abandons her. She completely succumbs to his powers and is a contrast to the other women in the play, particularly Mina.”

There’s also a significant – and welcome – change in the characters of Mina and Lucy: “As iconic as the novel is, it does contain some really insidious ideas about gender and what makes a ‘good’ woman, which led the original Mina and Lucy – as well as many of their stage and screen counterparts – to be a lot less fleshed out than the male characters in the novel,” Beatrice explains. “There’s a tendency to portray them as the angel and the whore, both of whom are victims that require saving by Van Helsing and their respective love interests, but Ross was very keen to distance his adaptation from those tropes, and what he’s ended up writing is a female-led piece.

“I’m incredibly excited to be playing Mina; she’s a real joy and a challenge to play. I’ve read the book and watched a few film adaptations, but Ross’s Mina is so different from previous ones that I actually found the experience very freeing. She’s referred to in the book and in Ross’s adaptation as ‘one of the brightest’ lights in the world, but the story we’re telling depends on bringing the darkness out of her as well, so finding that balance has been key for me.”

For Cornelia, playing the “zoophagous maniac” Renfield, an inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr John Seward, is an equally exciting challenge. “There’s so much freedom and scope in playing this kind of character. I think more than usual the physicality of the character was a way in for me. The connection to animals is very apparent, so from the beginning we were talking about how much Renfield’s physicality is affected by the flies and the spiders and the cats etc. But there is also the general physicality of someone who has been in an asylum for a while and who has been put into straitjackets and through various treatments. I worked with our movement director Will Pinchin on finding some of those elements, which was very helpful.”

Both Cornelia and Beatrice appeared in the Arrows’ last production, The White Rose, which told the true story of anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl – and both list it among their highlights with the company. “It was so rewarding to see the company and Ross get so much recognition for all the hard work that has led to that production,” says Cornelia. “Finding out about the Best Production Offie nomination was very special and one of my favourite backstage memories.

“Personally, it is difficult to pick highlights as I have been very lucky to play lots of exciting characters with A&T, but I would have to say that playing Lady Macbeth in 2016 and Mary Shelley in last year’s Frankenstein were probably my favourites. Lady Macbeth is obviously any actress’ dream but I think I particularly liked exploring the relationship between her and Macbeth, and finding the humanity and trauma behind the horrible things that they do. Similarly I loved finding out about Mary Shelley’s incredible life and it was an honour to portray her.

“Saying that, I am having an absolute blast playing Renfield in rehearsals… so I think that will definitely be added to my highlights, if not top the other two.”

Beatrice also has special memories of The White Rose. “There was just something about that show. I think we as a company were all very aware of the importance of the story we were telling, and we never stopped being moved by the bravery of the people we were playing every night.

Three Sisters would also have to go up there, as it was a completely different experience to any I’ve had in theatre before. I was pretty nervous when Ross asked me to assistant direct, but I found the process really fascinating, and although there were moments during rehearsals when I was more stressed than I’ve ever been as an actor, watching from the lighting box on opening night made it all worthwhile – I think I cried a little bit!

“Although we’re still in the midst of rehearsals for Dracula, there’s already been so much laughter and fun in this production. I think we’re all enjoying playing stuff that we wouldn’t normally get to do, as well as having gritty emotional conflicts to sink our teeth into – pun absolutely intended.”

Dracula brings together a cast of familiar Arrows faces, all of whom have appeared in previous productions with the repertory theatre company: “Rep theatre is simply the best way to work,” says Cornelia. “It is so nice to enter a rehearsal room from the first day and be comfortable and ready to explore, take risks and have fun. It cuts through all the awkwardness of having to prove yourself to the director or even other actors. You can hit the ground running. It is about working together and creating the best you possibly can. Ross knows how we work and how he can get the most out of us. Similarly we know his style and vision and there is a shorthand to get to the end result quicker. We have so many references from previous plays that it is very easy to be on the same page.

“For any play you have to be very open and vulnerable to get to the core of the characters and the story. It is easier when you’ve worked with people before. There is more trust there. This is particularly true for playing roles outside of your comfort zone, and of course intimate scenes or in fighting and movement where you are very reliant on your fellow cast members.”

“It’s great to be able to find new dynamics within the group for each show as well,” adds Beatrice. “Lucy (Ioannou) and Chris (Tester) for example, are worlds away from Sophie and Mohr as Lucy and Dracula! It never gets boring, even though it’s a similar cast each time – this is actually my first time doing significant scenes with Chris, even though it’s our third show together. Every show has an incredibly different atmosphere, and it’s so lovely to get to share all of it with an amazing group of people.”

Beatrice joined the company last year, making her first appearance as Mary Shelley’s half-sister, Fanny Imlay, in Frankenstein. “I feel incredibly spoiled,” she says. “Frankenstein was my first professional job, and I got to give an emotional death speech while wearing a gorgeous dress, which is the dream, honestly.

“But in all seriousness I’ve learnt so much this year; as someone who is still fresh out of drama school I never would have dreamed that I’d get to play such a range of complex and interesting female characters at this point in my career. And on top of that, I’ve been able to play them against actors who really force me to raise my game, in productions I am truly proud to be a part of. We’re all very dedicated to the work we do – Ross puts his heart and soul into every production, and as actors we all want to support him in that, and give our all as well.”

Cornelia was first cast in 2015 as Baptista in Taming of the Shrew, and has been a regular cast member ever since: “Honestly I can’t put into words how much I have enjoyed working with Ross and the company. It has been a real blessing and I am very grateful to have been part of so many wonderful productions and work with so many lovely, creative and talented people. Ross always picks exciting material and it has been great to see the company grow and find its style and identity.

“And as an actor I think I would never have learned as much as I have over the last three years working on these productions. It has been an honour to be recast and have a director trust you to explore different roles. It is a real chance to be stretched and be put out of your comfort zone. Renfield is certainly a very different role to what I have done before.

“But most of all it feels a bit like a family and a home. I am always happiest when working on an A&T production.”

Book now – if you dare – for Dracula at the Brockley Jack from 9th-27th October.

Interview: Hannah McClean, Ladykiller

The Thelmas are an all-female theatre company founded by Madelaine Moore in response to a growing need for the support and development of new female writers. Most recently seen in London with the Offie-nominated Coconut, the company will next be making their Edinburgh debut with Ladykiller by Madeline Gould, which opens at The Pleasance on 1st August.

Ladykiller is set in a hotel room, in the aftermath of a murder,” explains actor Hannah McClean. “When we meet HER, a hotel maid, she’s covered in blood and distressed – but it’s not what it looks like; she can explain… 

“It’s clear who committed the crime, so the play is more of a Whydunit, than a Whodunit. It’s a very dark comedy with a few twists and turns along the way, which will leave you second guessing our protagonist.”

Ladykiller by Madeleine Gould
Photo credit: Greg Veit Photography

Madeline Gould wrote the play to explore women’s capacity for violence and criminality, after noticing a lack of complexity in the portrayal of female killers. “I’ve never read a script which focuses on female criminality and psychopathy,” says Hannah. “Characters like this are more often than not, written for men. I have read all too many scripts or watched shows where the female characters are portrayed as less complex than their male counterparts. Women are just as capable of the good, the bad and the ugly and this script explores that beautifully.  

“My character is intelligent, charismatic and at times brutally honest, yet you never know where you stand with her. She is not someone you can root for, but she makes it hard for you not to. I can quite honestly say, I’ve never had the opportunity to play anyone quite like HER, nor have I read a script with a character like HER in it. We feel that our show depicts a female character in a way that hasn’t been seen before – truly, she breaks the mould. She is dark, she is dangerous and she is covered in blood.

“When I read the original script, when it debuted as a 15-minute piece in 2015, I was blown away by the writing, its twists and turns and its unapologetically dark humour. It’s now even bigger and better – and also really funny btw – and I’m absolutely thrilled I still get to don my blood soaked apron. At a time when we as a society are examining our gender roles more so than any other, the show taps into this conversation in a most unexpected way. I hope it gets people talking and debating …and laughing.”

Hannah McClean headshot
Photo credit: Chris Mann Portraits

As well as The Thelmas’ Edinburgh debut, Ladykiller also marks Hannah’s first time performing at the Fringe: “I have always wanted to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe and for a long time I have wanted to perform in a one woman show; so to get the opportunity to tick both those boxes at once is so incredibly exciting. And terrifying! But mostly exciting,” she says. “I begged Maddie Gould to write the full length show after performing the original short in 2015, so now I just need to concentrate on making sure it was worth her while (please God!).”

When she’s not murdering people in hotel rooms, Hannah will be busy checking out some of the other shows heading to the Fringe this year. “So far, the shows that have caught my eye are – F**k You Pay Me at The Assembly Room – I saw this at The Vaults this year and loved it, so I can’t wait to see how it’s developed; The Half at The Pleasance (might have to catch that on my day off) looks great; and East Belfast Boy by Prime Cut Productions (have to support the home grown stuff and also, they’re great), to name a few. The exciting thing is discovering new stuff though, so I’ll be soaking up as much as I can.”

Ladykiller is at The Pleasance from 1st to 27th August (not 13th or 14th) at 1pm. To find out more, watch the trailer – or to support the show, visit the crowdfunding page.