Broadway Baby

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Have a thing for iambic pentameter and ghosts of politician's past? Then this might be the show for you! Broadway Baby finds out more.

We auditioned actors on how well they could work with the verse, and worked with them on bringing out some of the themes in the play it helps us communicate: social capital, self-control or control of a situation, and how it's used to make characters distinct from one another and set up some of their specific tics and foibles.

Tell us about your show

Free for All is a new verse play, written mostly in iambic pentameter. It's set during an open evening at a new free school, where everybody is trying to get the best for their children. It's a competitive environment where parents are willing to screw each other over to give their offspring a better chance, and one character is quite uncomfortable about the whole thing: a lifelong union activist who starts having visions of a ghost from the political past.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the visions are real, and the ghost starts wreaking havoc on the school building and everyone in it. So we start in quite a naturalistic, familiar place and the language and action gradually move away from that. By the end of the play, we're in a completely artificial universe, a poetically heightened world, and, in a scenario that will be familiar to fans of 90s action video games, it's – well, it's a free-for-all.

Why did you decide to take your show to Space UK this year?

We liked how central the venue was, and the reputation that it has for promoting new writing. They were helpful and accommodating during the booking process, and I'd seen a lot of impressive new writing there at previous Fringes. There's also a nice bar for everyone to talk about shows after they've seen them, which can't hurt!

What makes your show unique amongst the thousands of others at the festival?

I've got a pretty strong inkling there won't be many verse plays at this year's festival: or at least, not many that were written in the last 100 years. Although poetry was the medium in which plays were written for about 2000 years, it's really dropped out of our theatrical culture and only a few people nowadays attempt it. So we think we're bringing something really different: a play that doesn't take naturalism for granted and goes back to an earlier theatrical tradition, where everything from the setting of a scene to a struggle for power was conducted on the level of language. Tony Harrison said it was easy to get 'hooked on realism' – we want to unhook ourselves and see what happens.

Oh, and one of our main characters is the ghost of a 1960s Education Minister and about a third of the play basically takes place within a video game. That sounds quite unusual, now that I think about it.

How did you create your show?

Richard read a lot of other verse plays, and tried to work out what was good and bad about them. He decided a strong, clear story was the most important thing to avoid some of the common pitfalls (waffle, tedium, pretentiousness, banging on about medieval Christianity), and then when the first half of the script was written we arranged a couple of read-throughs where we decided that the story needed to be stronger and clearer. Then Richard spent a week mostly playing Unreal Tournament, for research purposes. Honest.

We auditioned actors on how well they could work with the verse, and worked with them on bringing out some of the themes in the play it helps us communicate: social capital, self-control or control of a situation, and how it's used to make characters distinct from one another and set up some of their specific tics and foibles. All of that is built into the script, so we needed to make sure we could make it obvious to our audience.

And in practical terms, we applied for grants and set up a Kickstarter campaign to cover production costs and expenses for our actors, which is running until May 2nd. If you're interested in helping us bring this ambitious new work to the Fringe, we'd appreciate if you'd consider giving to or sharing our page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/623552005/free-for-all.

Can you tell us a bit about your company’s background?

Sure! Haunted House Theatre was set up by two people: Richard O'Brien, an prize-winning poet and playwright (London Book Fair Poetry Prize 2015, OUDS New Writing Festival 2010), and Rebecca Martin, co-founder of pantsguys productions, a company that picked up three Sydney Theatre Awards in her home country. We'd worked together on a production of Julius Caesar, which Bec directed, and Bec wanted to build on her track record in Australian Fringe theatre and bring a show to the biggest arts festival in the world.

Having started as a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2006 and 07, Richard has spent the last year of his life as a PhD student trying to work out why so few people write verse plays nowadays, and why they often have such a tough time with the critics, so he thought the best way to learn about verse drama was to start writing it himself. Luckily Bec leapt to the challenge of bringing this unusual project to life.

If your show does well in Edinburgh, what do you want to do with it next?

We're already planning to take the show on a tour of the Midlands. Our writer, Richard, is working with the Midlands3Cities consortium (who supervise his PhD in verse drama) to bring the production to venues in Leicester, Nottingham and Birmingham, and hopefully also Derbyshire. Because a modern verse drama is something quite rare and unusual, we want to find out what people thought of the show and their feelings on poetry in theatre in general. The idea is to take what we'll have learned from audience feedback after doing the show in Edinburgh and discuss those findings with our audience on tour, in talkbacks and seminars after the performances. 

Production Company: Haunted House Theatre

Venue: Surgeons Hall Theatre 1

Dates: Aug 17th-29th

Times: 21:35 (1 hour)

Twitter: @hauntedhousetc (Company) @notrockyhorror (Writer)


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