Interview: BAZ Productions, dreamplay

BAZ Productions was formed in 2009 with the goal of creating work that’s “alive and limitless… courageous and more than a little bit mischievous…” And if you think that sounds intriguing, wait until you hear director Sarah Bedi’s summary of the company’s latest production, dreamplay, which comes to The Vaults in September.

dreamplay is a dreamy-journey through underground tunnels, searching for the door which hides the answer to the meaning of life, pursued by a clown, a teacher and a set of lovers…

The play’s a modern re-working of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play, written in 1901, and tells the story of a young woman who arrives on earth from ‘above’ to discover the mysteries of humanity. For the uninitiated, Sarah explains, “Strindberg’s original A Dream Play is a massive, bonkers, labyrinthine play about the meaning of life and why we suffer – or at least that’s what I think it’s about. I was chatting to a well-respected theatre academic last week, who admitted he hadn’t the faintest clue what Strindberg was getting at with A Dream Play! He couldn’t pin it down. I love it because of that. I think it’s the most honest Strindberg is in any of his writing. It’s all about human expression and suffering and feeling lost. Like a dream, it’s to be felt.”

dreamplay, BAZ Productions

Like BAZ’s previous productions, dreamplay makes innovative use of an unusual space: “We’ve always loved spaces that weren’t designed to be theatres. That had a purpose and a life before we arrived, and so are bristling with their own energy. In some ways they become another character in our team of performers. We aim to work with what the space gives us for free – it’s not always a process of layering up a design, rather brushing away at the edges of the space until we stumble upon something special. Archaeology in a sense.

“Unusual venues are also fun in terms of playing with audience expectations. There’s always lots of talk around about theatre ‘subverting’ audience expectations. However, I think we want to go further. It’s about removing expectations completely. You rock up outside a Crypt in the centre of London and you don’t know what to expect, so as an audience member you arrive empty. You find your way to an artgallery down a graffitied alley in Shoreditch and again you’re open to something new. You have to be. Because this doesn’t look like a theatre in the traditional sense, so all the usual rituals go out the window – along with all expectations and preconceptions. You can be present with us, here and now.

“The Vaults is another great space to play in – it’s still connected to Waterloo station, we are right below the platforms so every few minutes a train passes overhead and its vibrations permeate the space. It feels alive. And very dream-like: the tunnels and spaces range in size, from intimate and claustrophobic to gaping and cavernous, space leading onto space in a maze of interconnected rooms. We’re imagining it’s the giant sub-conscious of London. Alive but in the shadows, pulsing away down there and holding all our fears and dreams.”

dreamplay also features original music from alternative singer-cellist Laura Moody. “Laura started working with us a few years ago, and her work has become central to the piece. At that time, we’d been developing a very playful set of rehearsal ‘rules’ and it was fun to introduce Laura and see how ‘normal’ impro would work if you made one character cello music. So I’m sat arguing with my Mum, but my Mum is this weird set of noises Laura’s making. So Laura isn’t playing my Mum, the music is. It was instantly dream-like. Her music is not so much soundtrack as another performer in the play.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that dreamplay isn’t your ‘traditional’ night at the theatre… starting with the seating arrangements – or lack of. “I guess an obvious difference is that the audience will be on their feet, moving through the space: rather than observing the play, you will be inside it. Narratively, though, I hope it’ll feel like we’re offering you a bunch of dots and it’s for you to join them to create whatever shape you think you see. I think it’s a show that literally cannot exist without the audience’s imagination.

“I guess what the audience take away from the piece is very open, I don’t think I’d want to dictate what that should be. I hope they feel like they’ve been inside a dream of their very own, and are left with the collection of feelings and thoughts that arise from that.”

Catch dreamplay at The Vaults from 10th September-1st October.

Interview: Toby Peach, The Eulogy of Toby Peach

Toby Peach has fought cancer twice – once at age 19 and again at 21. Now he’s taking his one-man show, The Eulogy of Toby Peach, on a UK tour, starting at London’s VAULT Festival and running from 17th-21st February.

The show, which won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award in 2015 and proved a five-star hit in Edinburgh, is a brave and humorous exploration of what cancer’s all about, through Toby’s own story. It’s also a really important show, given that 1 in 2 of us will experience cancer in our lifetime, and I’m grateful to Toby for taking the time to tell me a little more about it.

What prompted you to share your story?

I developed a short story for BAC’s London Stories back at the end of 2013, it dipped into my journey with cancer and it was the first time I had decided to speak about it. The response was fantastic and I decided I wanted to delve deeper into that world, as I realised I had no idea what had happened. I’d been through this life-changing event and I had no idea what had happened – it was all a blur. I realised that I didn’t know what cancer was. This thing that nearly took my life and I had no idea.

If, hauntingly, it is now 1 in 2 of us who will experience what cancer is, shouldn’t we know what it is? As it became apparent that cancer was just me, then how am I still here? This question prompted a deeper exploration and with it came a discovery that I wanted to share.

The Eulogy of Toby Peach

How long has the show taken to develop? 

After BAC and with the help of Old Vic New Voices I developed the show so I could scratch it and then the unbelievable happened and I won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award. I was blown away as it meant I had to make the whole bloody show!

After assembling a cracking team I headed out to Plymouth Fringe Festival to scratch the show further and experience solo performance – I had never performed a solo show before so it was very daunting. Then came Edinburgh; we had a fantastic month getting it out there for the first time and were overwhelmed by the positive feedback to the show from audiences, press and industry alike, as well as being inspired by the learnings and ideas taken away from the experience.

So after all of that we come to VAULT festival, and as we’ve just received Arts Council, National Lottery and Wellcome Trust funding, we can’t wait to get started and develop this show further to reach more audiences in the future. 

Has it taken any unexpected directions?

This has been my first experience of writing, and also solo work, so the whole experience has been quite unexpected. I have strange moments when I’m performing when I realise ‘Oh yer, this happened!’ or a version of it. I mean I never did have an affair with an IV Stand but that relationship was present – so sometimes I’ll be dancing away with IVY (my IV Stand girlfriend) and then it’ll hit me again. It’s an odd experience.

What’s been the highlight so far?

Since Edinburgh I’ve been off to perform the show a number of times and had the honour of taking it to Teenage Cancer Trust’s conference, Find Your Sense of Tumour, for 300 young people who have or have had cancer and their support teams; this was an incredible experience and extremely rewarding.

I was very nervous about performing for them, as I knew they related so much with the subject matter, but they were laughing at lines that people don’t normally get and they loved it. People expect you can’t laugh at cancer but especially when you’re young and you’ve been through it, they understand there are things that if you look at it again are fairly amusing. I spoke to so many afterwards about what it meant to them and that meant the world to me.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?

From diagnosis to remission, relapse and treatment, experience a young man’s journey with cancer in this honest, fascinating and inspiring exploration of modern science and the wonders of the human body. 

What are you hoping audiences will take away from it?

I hope they take away the hardest word to say with cancer… Hope. The show doesn’t say we’ve been lucky and we should be thankful for that, it says we are here because of certain reasons and we have a hell of a way to go – but we are trying. Chemotherapy was only trialled 69 years ago… look how far we’ve come.

Finally, what would be your advice to someone currently living with cancer?

That is a very tricky question to answer, as everyone has his or her own unique experience with cancer. I can’t say there is a right way or wrong way to live with cancer. For me, it took a long time but I wanted to explore what had happened so I didn’t hide from it. I have scars, everyone gets them throughout life, but I realised it isn’t about how we get our scars; for me it’s about how we wear them in the here and now that matters.

See The Eulogy of Toby Peach from 17th-21st February at the VAULT Festival, London.

Toby will also be running a free workshop called Creativity Saving Lives, exploring the background to the show, on 21st February at 2pm.