Palatinate’s Callum Kenny talks to the Director of the upcoming production Motherland, Kate Barton, and the President of CTC, George Rexstrew.
For those who haven’t heard of Motherland, what should they expect?
Kate Barton: It’s new writing from 2007 and it’s all set in the North-East. It’s actually a verbatim piece so it’s taken from interviews of real-life mothers and real-life wives who live literally only a couple of miles from where we are today, so it’s really relevant. It’s all about their experiences of their loved ones going abroad and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all the conflict there which has touched their lives. Of course, these are just normal people, they’re not superwomen, they are just everyday women you’ve met, but they have these incredible stories of their loved ones which they are a part of while being so many miles away from them at the same time.
George Rexstrew: Also, we haven’t seen that much verbatim theatre in Durham so far so this is a really exciting project to be a part of.
Verbatim theatre is notoriously difficult to tackle; how are you approaching it and do you have any specific techniques for it?
GR: Kate had a really good suggestion actually; because it’s naturalistic you can’t overact at all, you just have to be yourself, so one of her tips was when you go shopping around Durham in Tesco’s or whatever, if you’re looking for something, ask the shopkeeper where to find the item in the Geordie accent, and see if you can get away with it. And also, for me, you learn an accent best through imitation, so we tell the girls to watch Geordie Shore and repeat it back to themselves, watch Billy Elliot, Sarah Millican- whatever, and just keep repeating, keep going at it!
KB: In terms of rehearsing verbatim as well, in keeping with the element of naturalism, we tried really hard to cast the people as naturalistically as we could, so the people who most fit the roles as we saw them. My biggest point of rehearsing is: stop acting! It’s hilarious because I’m telling good actors to stop acting, and instead just be themselves, but it’s important because we really want to get across the truth of this piece and the sincerity of the stories.
GR: It’s hard because we had to turn away so many good actors just because they didn’t match the characters. We had to cast for the good of this show.
And what in particular drew you to this piece?
KB: I’m doing this in a tribute to mothers, because they’re so underplayed as characters. They’re always just there as a supportive role or a secondary character, they’re never truly in the central spotlight. It’s so nice to have such a refreshing piece where the mothers from our own personal childhoods are there and they are so recognisable in so many of the different characters and in their perspectives. I’m kind of doing it from a personal perspective in terms of really doing something different that needs to be addressed. I’m also doing it, obviously, because it’s really relevant in terms of timescale and it’s so current in terms of its location.
And obviously it’s universal because this year is the Centenary of WWI.
GR: Exactly! And also, from our perspectives, there are sixteen different characters, most of them mothers, so it would be ideal if audience members could find something they could locate in at least one of the characters.
Where did you find this play? From what I’ve heard it’s a bit of a hidden gem!
KB: It was buried in my sister’s stash of scripts at home, for her degree. I just discovered it and read it one day and thought: yeah, that’s the play we’ve got to do!
GR: Kate literally phoned me and was like “George we need to put this play on!” Because the thing is, with ‘Agnes of God’, it was such a fun project but it was a really small-scale show. We wanted to hit the ground running this year in CTC with something big. We’ve got a massive cast, a massive crew, so hopefully we’ll have a massive hit show.
I’ve heard that you have a specific and exciting creative vision for the show, could you tell me a little about that?
KB: I’m keeping some things under wraps in terms of the overall visual side of things, that’s going to be a little bit of a surprise for the night. I have decided to include a male actor in it: the underlying presence in the play is the mostly male, but also female service people in Afghanistan and Iraq who are completely neglected in terms of their representation on stage. I’ve changed that and there is a silent figure who keeps cropping up, representing the “missing man” of all these women’s stories, be it because he’s away or because he’s physically no longer there.
GR: Basically, Kate’s trying to put her own twist on the play
How is the rehearsal process going? I Imagine it is very intensive and emotional.
KB: You could say that! I’ve had to come home a few times and needed to make a strong cup of hot chocolate and crawl into bed. It’s been a lot of fun though- everyone is so enthusiastic about the play, the actors have been absolutely brilliant- they’re smashing it every rehearsal.
GR: And we have a range of actors from across all years and colleges, which is really nice. The difficult thing is that each actor only has a couple of rehearsals until production week, which means that they have to come in and be on form from the minute the rehearsals begin.
KB: It’s going to really come together in production week, because all these separate stories that they’ve only heard individually are going to come together in this mass of true stories.
GR: But that also keeps it fresh, because you don’t get sick of the script. If you’re only doing a couple of rehearsals before production week it means you’re not drying out the script.
Who would you encourage to come see this show?
KB: Everyone from students to locals to parents to family to friends, because it’s a piece that is important. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some people might find it upsetting at times, but it is an important piece in terms of its significance in today’s context.
GR: Also it takes a look at the issue of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan from the inside. We see so much about it on the news, but this is taking peoples’ stories from this area; people have opened up.
KB: This doesn’t affect students in the little bubble of Durham; this affects the wider community of the North East which we are studying in. So it’s important for people to understand that massive significance.
If you could describe this piece in four words, what would they be?
KB: Four words? Ordinary lives, extraordinary stories.
Photograph: George Rexstrew