Suzy Hawes talks to the cast and crew of Fourth Wall’s upcoming productions of ‘Winter of Our Discotheque’ and ‘Death and the Maiden’, which are part of their upcoming double bill.
Winter of Our Discotheque:
“When Laurence Waugh arrives at disreputable public school The Hastings, having been expelled from Eton under mysterious circumstances, he is ready for a fresh start. But greeted by a drug-addled roommate and a cold and conniving Head Girl, he quickly realises this is going to be a long year. Think you know this story? Think again.”
How did you come across ‘Winter of Our Discotheque’ and why did you choose to put it on?
Alex Prescot (Director): Izzie brought the play to me as she saw it in Edinburgh. The more you read it the more you realise how many layers it has and the big issues that are involved. It’s a very complex and interesting play, so I leapt at the opportunity to direct it.
How would you describe the tone?
AP: When we did the first read through it became clear that it is very funny. The writer describes it as a dark comedy because you’re dealing with issues like mental health, but there are jokes about being really posh. You’re laughing often because it’s so true. It’s about the sheltered upper classes and you’re laughing because the things that they can get away with are so ridiculous.
Izzie Price (Mama): It’s satirical and topical.
Does the tone change throughout?
AP: All of the characters definitely develop, which is really interesting as a director. They are moving slowly closer to adulthood. Izzie’s character starts off quite airy-fairy and then becomes a lot more of a hardline aristocrat. Conversely, Alex who is very posh at the beginning, slowly disintegrates and becomes weaker. There are serious events and humour throughout, but the characters do change.
IP: The balance is tricky as well because it has to be done sensitively and tactfully.
AP: It’s getting the balance between comedy and drama.
Do you think the fact that it is quite new student writing makes it risky, or is it exciting?
AP: From my point of view I think that’s exciting. I love new writing and think Durham should do more of it. I guess it is a risk because it’s unknown. I still think there is so much good new writing. It’s an unmined treasure trove.
IP: I also think people often feel it has to be confined to DDF, but that’s not true at all. It has also received great reviews so it wasn’t a script out of nowhere.
AP: It’s rewarding to do a mixture of classics and newer stuff where you can’t refer to 5 or 6 versions of someone else doing it. You have to make your own decisions.
Isabelle Culkin (Co-Producer): I think it makes your interpretation more valuable because you’re actually becoming part of the production history.
IP: The writer is also completely accessible and is going to come see it, which is really cool. It’s scary but it’s the first time anything like that has really happened.
Do you have a favourite line?
IP: “We carry sports equipment to remind us of the relentless game that is life.”
AP: “I leave him for two days and he’s fucking Florence and the Machine.”
How has it been working as part of a double bill?
AP: Leying and I both sat in the initial audition so we chose the casts together. They are quite contrasting shows but from a logistical point of view we are using a lot of the same set and props. We’re doing it in the same space. We want it to work as a double bill but also as two contrasting plays. We’ve been in to each other’s rehearsals which has been really useful.
Why should people come see the show?
AP: It’s completely different from anything I’ve seen in Durham.
IP: It’s brave without verging on melodramatic.
IC: And as a double bill, you’re getting your money’s worth.
AP: You get to have an extended interval and a drink in Empty Shop. It’s not just going to be a play. It’s a whole event.
Death and the Maiden:
“As the sun sets on her isolated beach house, a woman nervously awaits the return of her husband. The military dictatorship that scarred her nation has just fallen, but the horrors that she experienced as a political prisoner still plague her. When her husband returns late with a flat tyre, he brings home a helpful stranger, a kindly doctor. The woman recognises his voice as that of the sadistic captor she never saw. But with the doctor protesting his innocence as strongly as she asserts his guilt, has she just been driven mad by her past, or is he really who she says he is?”
What made you choose ‘Death and the Maiden’?
Leying Lee (Director): Years ago at school, my drama teacher mentioned that he was keen to do some shows with small casts. I was really keen on reading plays so he gave me a massive pile of plays to read, all with small casts. I remember reading it and thinking it was amazing. I remembered it when we were discussing a double bill and tweeted my drama teacher asking what it was.
How has it been working in the double bill?
LL: The producers are working closely together with the set and props. The other show is a lot about fear of change and our show is similar but Paulina really wants to move on.
What is the key theme of the play?
Peter Hucker (Roberto Miranda): Recovery. Going through something horrid and coming out the other side. How hard it is for a country to return to normality after turmoil. Democracy is something we accept but in some countries it is a new thing which is very unstable.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
LL: We really don’t have very long at all. We had about 4 full days when all of us were in Durham at the same time after exams.
PH: The biggest issue has been the Aidan’s Rugby Tour.
LL: Basically my actors are all taking turns at being out of Durham for about 10 days. Actually in a way it has been really great. Because we were aware of the short amount of time we have, it meant that we were really efficient and worked hard. We had seven days of eight hour rehearsals, and managed to cover what usually takes 2 weeks in 2 days. This has meant we’ve had time to really explore character which is really helpful because the show is so character driven.
Georgina Armfield (Paulina): How nuanced the characters are. My character really transforms from one scene to the other. She’s got a lot of layers to her, and has been through a lot which I can’t draw on personally. It’s been really interesting to explore.
What is the most important thing you would want to say about the play?
LL: It’s really relevant. You can’t relate to it but this tells a really personal story in the context of a wider transition in the country.
PH: We live in such a small world nowadays that people are so aware of what is going on on the other side of the world. So we actually can connect in a way that wasn’t possible when this was written. It has a real relevance. It’s a good opportunity to see a play that questions the ideal Western state which we all imagine is perfect, but actually isn’t always perfect.
Has it been enjoyable to work on so far?
GA: It’s post-exam season and we’ve all been going out quite a lot but you still turn up at 10am and think it’s just so great. It hasn’t been a chore at all.
PH: It’s been really good fun.
Why should people come and see it?
PH: It’s refreshing in that it offers you no conclusions. It’s not too pretentious. It’s things you can empathise with, as you can imagine yourself in one of their positions. It’s not too deep or too clever and everyone can get something out of it.
LL: It’s so naturalistic that you’re just immediately drawn in. It’s set in one living room and you’re watching these characters interacting over the course of one night. It has an ambiguous ending that lets you make up your own mind about what happens.
Fourth Wall’s double bill is at The Empty Shop, Durham, from Mon 8 Jun to Tue 9 Jun.
Photographs: Isabelle Culkin and Jordan Charlesworth