Walking past a restaurant on Valentine’s Day gazing in at the number of couples sat there awkwardly can make you feel like something of a voyeur. Eavesdropping on a conversation in a café, imagining back stories and making judgements is something we all do but perhaps don’t like to admit.
But in Serenade, a play by the newly formed company 2Magpies Theatre, we are actively encouraged to lurk in the shadows as we watch a young couple having dinner. It’s the idea of ‘legitimising our voyeurism’ the show’s director Matt Wilks tells me.
“The audience are going to sit there, they are going to eat a meal and they are going to watch the actor and actress eating as well,” he said.
Serenade is the Nottingham-based company’s first production: it is a piece of site-responsive theatre which takes place at Antalya Turkish restaurant on 3rd and 4th April.
2Magpies Theatre is the brainchild of Matt and Tom Barnes, who are the company’s artistic directors. They have previously enjoyed success with New Theatre’s production Porphyria, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.
Serenade stars Ginny Lee and James Pardon as the young couple. There is no script and the actors play themselves (though it should be pointed out that they are not a real couple). The story is based on the actors’ own life stories and they will also react to the real-life situation of being in a restaurant.
Matt says: “The actors play versions of themselves. They know they have got to get from A to B to C and they know the sort of stories they are going to tell to get there but they are encouraged to improvise. When you go to the theatre, you sit down and you know it’s very safe. But there’s an element of danger here and the audience don’t know how much it is improvised.”
Ginny and James did not audition for their roles in the conventional way – in fact, the process sounds like a secret mission devised by Tom and Matt to see whether they would be able to cut it in a play of this kind.
Tom said: “For the first rehearsal we got them to meet at the restaurant. We told James to get there at about ten past seven and Ginny to get there at about half past. We got them to meet at the Corner House and we were sat in the Theatre Royal bar watching them – it was all very manipulative. James turned up and we gave him an envelope – they had no idea what they were going to do. We told him we’d got a table booked for them, here’s some money, go and sit there and wait. People were watching him and he was getting very self-conscious.”
The idea of site-responsive theatre is something that Matt and Tom have already experimented with. In February, they both worked on New Theatre’s production of Paradise, which has also secured a slot at this year’s Fringe.
Tom says: “We did it in a secret location near Queen’s Drive. Under the flyover there are some tunnels. It’s a long, dark tunnel like on the tube – people had no idea where they were going but it went down well. It is the story of a group of strangers on the tube and somebody ends up getting hit by a train. All their stories weave together – their emotions range from being annoyed that their train is delayed to having the responsibility of it happening.”
Sadly, all the tickets for Serenade have now sold out – but Matt and Tom say the launch is only the beginning and they are planning to take the show to other venues and cities in the near future.