Tag: Porphyria

Private lives in public: An interview with 2Magpies Theatre

serenade flyer front

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.

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Review: Sparkling wit and sadness in The Hand-Me-Down People

Anyone who discarded an old toy when they were younger, or perhaps neglected to visit an elderly relative, may feel a pang of guilt watching The Hand-Me-Down People, a piece of drama which Nottingham University’s New Theatre will be taking up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this week.

The play, written by Adam H. Wells, gives literal meaning to the term ‘on the shelf’. On this dusty shelf is a group of toys which have been discarded by the children in favour of something more exciting. There’s the grotesque-looking but benign Witch and Monster, the slightly spoilt Princess and Doll and the Prince who has had half of his face and arm chewed off by the dog.

For all its sparkling wit, a sadness hangs heavy in the air. Some of the toys are desperate to escape the nothingness of living on the shelf and want to jump down in the hope that the children will start to play with them again. Others are resigned to their fate observing that while their lives are not getting any better, at least they are not getting any worse.

Here are a group of disparate individuals who don’t have anything in common with each other apart from the fact that no-one wants them. There is a real sense of neglect and soul-sapping boredom alluding perhaps to life in a care home. Perhaps most poignantly, the characters all long to be part of stories again. They look to the outside but can’t reach it so instead they have to create their own narratives within the confines of the shelf.

The play, which previewed at Nottingham University on Thursday, is elevated further by the vibrant costumes and the attention to detail in the set design. It is sound tracked by the dainty sound of a music box which plays throughout and which the characters find at once comforting and frustrating. Like Porphyria, this production showcases the talents of everyone involved and I wish everyone all the best for the Fringe.

You can see The Hand-Me-Down People at C Nova, India Buildings, Victoria Street, Edinburgh between 2nd and 27th August. For details see the website.

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Review: From the mundane to the poetic in Porphyria

Suffocating domesticity turns into something altogether more macabre in Porphyria, a new play written by emerging talent Craig Wilmann and performed by members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre.

Robert Browning’s 1836 poem Porphyria’s Lover forms the basis of this gripping psychological drama which previewed at the university on Wednesday ahead its run at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play opens with Reginald Blake and his wife, who incidentally has no name, squabbling over a game of Scrabble. It is a petty argument but one that belies deeper problems in their relationship. Despite this, Reginald assures the audience that he would never be unfaithful to his wife – except that is in his dreams when he dances with a beautiful blonde-haired woman.

But Reginald was not expecting this woman to emerge from his fantasies and be sitting at the breakfast table in the form of his son’s au pair.

What follows is a darkly comic and surreal tale of infidelity, madness and murder. The play moves deftly from the mundane to poetic, perhaps seen most poignantly in Reginald’s estrangement from his son Nicholas. We see love at its most selfish and destructive and by using a range of neat dramatic devices – such as the two women speaking over the top of each other – the distinction between past and present breaks down. There is also a sense in which dreams and reality become indistinguishable, trapping our protagonist in his own perpetual torment.

The three cast members, Nick Jeffrey (Reginald), Liz Stevens (Wife) and Genevieve Cunnell (Dream Woman) played their parts brilliantly. Jeffrey was wholly believable in his role of the beleaguered everyman. He comes across as wide-eyed and innocent, almost child-like, but at the same time, he is also obsessive, selfish and menacing. Meanwhile, the fact that the two women are not given names does not detract from the complexity of their characters and the rich emotions they convey.

New Theatre will be representing the university and the city of Nottingham at this year’s Fringe – it thoroughly deserves to be a success. You can see Porphyria at Zoo Southside, 117 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh between 6th and 20th August. For details click here.

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