Stephanie Dale is a playwright with work produced by BBC Radio 4 and Birmingham REP among others. Her new play A World Beyond Man runs until the end of August at Sweet. Features Editor James T Harding caught up with Steph to find out more about this years play, and her thoughts on writing for the Fringe in general.
As a dedicated vegetarian I found it strangely liberating to be writing about tearing apart seals and polar bears
Tell us about the show.
A World Beyond Man is a one-man play about a true, epic journey that Arctic explorer Valerian Albanov made across 235 miles of frozen sea in a bid to save his life one hundred years ago. The play is based on his diaries, In the Land of White Death.
What drew you to adapting the book?
Cassian Wheeler, the actor who brilliantly plays Albanov and a whole array of shipmates, gave me a copy of the book when we were working on the Chester Mystery Plays, last year. It’s such a terrific story; we knew it was ripe for dramatisation. Albanov, and the ten men who left the ice-trapped ship to accompany him, encountered all sorts of extraordinary and terrifying situations such as glaciers collapsing and fierce polar bears.
What sort of research was necessary for writing A World Beyond Man?
Albanov was such a sophisticated diarist; most of what we needed was in his writing. He, while the men around him worried about their next meal, made so many clever observations about their situation and he certainly wasn’t afraid of showing is emotions – unlike British Heroes he could let his stiff upper lip slip.
I’ve had to get my head around a lot of eating of uncooked creatures; as a dedicated vegetarian I found it strangely liberating to be writing about tearing apart seals and polar bears; normally I’d want to name them.
We’ve enjoyed exploring the piece enormously. The challenge for the creative team has been to find a way of letting the story live in the present tense. Cassian has worked very hard, along with with Peter Cann, the director, in bringing to life the other ten characters who joined Albanov. Derek Nisbet, the composer, has skilfully woven a haunting soundscape throughout the piece.
What was the most unexpected thing you learnt about the Arctic?
It's disappearing at an alarming rate. There are some incredible documentaries that have, through photography, charted the breaking down and disappearance of glaciers.
You are an experienced writer for radio and stage. What are the specific challenges of a Fringe show, and how does one go about overcoming them?
- The time slots are tight so make sure you are organised. We have been very lucky being based at Sweet Venues. Everyone has been working so hard, around the clock, to make sure everything runs smoothly. The tech teams, across the Festival, are an incredible bunch of people.
- Everyone is ridiculously busy. Don’t forget to eat! The Fringe is fabulous; it’s also very tiring. We have found a smoothie bar on Grassmarket and we have been making sure we get at least one decent/alcohol-free meal a day.
- There’s so much out there! You need to keep pushing your show and get creative in how you achieve this (see point 5). Tweet as much as you can, but make the Tweets fun and engaging. People get bored of seeing the same thing over and over again. The brochure is bursting full of ideas – we hadn’t got a clue where to start – so we went on recommendations on Twitter.
- Everyone is busy but take time to talk to everyone!
- Take time to see other plays.