Tag Archives: Natalie McGrath

Creative conversation or development discussion

When I travel from the south-west up the M5 beyond the turning for Bristol south and the airport you pass an orchard, row upon row of young apple trees in perfect straight rows at right angles to the motorway so you can see the precision of the planting. I don’t travel up with enough regularity to see the changing of the seasons but I am always taken with the industrial scale of it.

On a train journey from Plymouth to Exeter between Totnes and Newton Abbot there’s an old orchard, ancient gnarled apple trees some leaning perilously, some uprooted by recent gales, yet none seem to be dead roots still clinging on still grasping for life. In no particular rows or order with new saplings for 2015.

A morphing of these two orchards and you have the eponymous orchard in Natalie McGrath’s new play. This orchard is in the imagination both visually and mentally, we don’t have a huge set or projection to show the canopy of blossom, we only have words to paint the picture of the setting. The Orchard is an imagined meeting between two incredible women so, therefore if it’s an imagined meeting then maybe the space is imagined also and by painting the picture with words we can allow individual’s imagination to work allowing their own personal orchards to develop.

Dreadnought South West have been traveling with our Rebellious Sounds roadshow since the beginning of March, starting down in Redruth, traveling through Cornwall and Devon and up to Wiltshire. Every time we have shown the performance we have had a discussion with the audience (see the previous post) and I do mean discussion, some taking longer than the play itself. The conversation has enabled Natalie to cut and refine, to move around and allow issues to be heard in more detail. Whatever the audience feed back becomes part of the text development. We have changed parts around so that both actors have played both parts to see what differences that makes, we have gone from a nod to costume, to just wearing our own clothes. The feedback has been fascinating, all enthusiastic and constructive as if knowing that their thoughts will be used dramaturgically the audience are more animated in their discussion and, as the time goes on they start to think deeper about why they think or believe something. The play deals with politics, equality, pacifism versus militancy and friendship so this has also stirred up some emotions in the room particularly with a view to voting. One audience member claimed he had never voted only to be advised by another audience member that that was the wrong action to take if you want to make a point. Younger members of the audience have also been extremely eloquent in their views and one even wrote a review here. Many discussions, once broken up so people can get home, have carried on in little huddles so that you want to split a little bit of yourself into each group to get the continued thoughts, some of which would not be aired in a more public arena. This has all been an incredably interesting process for the writer as everything has been geared to the text and this is where now, as a performer I want to fly, I want to take the text to another level, to play the subtext, to find moments within the characters minds and thought processes where each other knows what the other might say. We have two more development performances on the 24, 25th of this month and two days in the rehearsal room with the script. This time we are expecting something bigger than just a tweak or a cut speech, this time Natalie is doing something ‘big’ and we don’t know what that will be. I do know that The Orchard at Plymouth will not be The Orchard that played Exeter, or Bodmin, or Teignmouth. In that respect each audience has been witness to a unique night at the theatre, never to be repeated in that mode again, and I don’t just mean the ephemerality of live performance but a different text to speak each time. Yet for the next two performances I have no idea what the text will be and that, my friends, is truely exciting.

The Orchard plays The Barbican Theatre Plymouth on 24th April @ 7.30pm http://www.barbicantheatre.co.uk/event-details/?eid=15826

and Appley Pavilion Somerset on 25th April @7.30pm – tickets on the door, contact avrilsilk@aol.com for information

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Bringing the audience into the cultural conversation

In August 2014 four women came together to research and develop the first draft of a new play The Orchard. It wasn’t even a first draft, it was two monologues for two actors. Although intended to be a dialogue playwright Natalie McGrath wanted to find the voices of the characters, she was finding one easier than the other and so wanted to play with them in a rehearsal room. And we really played, joyfully and democratically, we read the monologues, spliced them apart and slotted them together to begin a conversation between the characters. Once we had created the start of a dialogue we invited a small audience to hear it.
The characters were Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, two women who, one hundred years ago had a huge impact on the rights of women but had opposing ways of achieving their goals. What came out of that work in progress showing was a determination that these voices should still be heard, maybe over the years they had become silent to new generations of women and with a general election coming and 9million women not using their vote in the last election, it was time those voices were heard again.
With funding from Arts Council SW, Exeter City Council and Fawcett, Devon, Dreadnought South West are touring with a roadshow – an imagined meeting and conversation between Emmeline and Millicent as it isn’t documented that they met on their own after Emmeline left the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS) to set up her own movement.
What is so fascinating as we dissect their rise to power and their tussle between militant or peaceful methods is how pertinent that central argument is to today’s politics…the impetus to walk for hundreds of miles across a country in protest, or to chain oneself to railings or go on hunger strike whilst in prison in order to have a voice and be considered an equal citizen. As Pankhurst says in The Orchard ‘the world must get used to hearing us speak’ that is an incredible idea to get a twenty first century head around. We think we are used to hearing women’s voices, but are we? Is it a lack of hearing women’s voices in the public realm the reason some women don’t vote, because they think they won’t make a difference?
We have gone off onto the road to ask questions like these and to receive some answers from our audience. Our roadshow will be a scratch performance of the play The Orchard, a script in hand reading which, of course, some people may have a problem with. Is there any benefit from seeing a ‘reading’ when the actors are only engaging with a small percentage of what is required if they were performing a fully rehearsed show. I have seen many performances by theatre makers who read from a script after many weeks of research and preparation, I have seen performances that question the very premise of what is a traditional theatre performance and what isn’t and I think the time for theatrical snobbery is over. This is a different way of engaging with an audience, this performance is followed by a conversation with them but more than a question and answer between us and them, a dialogue about what they saw, how they perceived it and whether it came across in the way we had hoped. Any feedback will then be fed back into creative discussions and these discussions will shape the final draft of the play. This method of gathering an evalued response creates a platform for the voices of the audience and not just female voices.
Last night was our first showing at Krowji in Redruth Cornwall, an artistic hub for creatives across different practices. In a rehearsal room with a log burning stove we performed in traverse for forty minutes and then sat for twice that time whilst every member of the audience returned and every member of the audience responded. They weren’t asked to but volunteered to. I have never witnessed that in other Q&As. The audience considered everything they had seen; the relationship between the two women, the setting of piece -not just in traverse but also why an orchard. They wanted to know where the audience were coming from, they wanted more young people to see it because there was so much to learn…is suffrage still taught in Schools? One history teacher spoke up, we have to obey government guidelines… well I know how Emmeline would respond to that! To perform as part of this process is very emancipating, our voices ARE being heard, as I come to terms with who I am playing the audience are feeding me with their outside eyes and this feels very democratic.
We finished on a point made by a male member of the audience ‘it’s not just a feminist thing, its a human thing’ he said and that seemed to sum up the evening in every way and it makes me very excited to hear how other audiences will respond.

The roadshow continues, as will the blog responses.

For more information click on the image below to enlarge