No fear of the unknown for devised theatre

Student shows where the director has little idea what his actors are about to do on stage are something of a rarity. Devised Play One: Fear is such a show. The brainchild of a conversation between Rough-Hewn directors Tommo Fowler and Emma D’Arcy, the project eschews formalised, set scripts in favour of a collaborative creative process, with content driven by the actors and writer Emma Levinkind. Drawing heavily on improvisation, the show is a fluid piece devised in performance (hence the name – clever isn’t it?). After watching a couple of scenes which moved from comic neurosis to unsettling pathos, I sat down with Co-director Thomas Bailey and a few of the cast to discuss the concept and progress of the play. 

This isn’t a fundamentally text driven show, so how have you envisaged the relationship between the writer and the director?

Tom Bailey: It’s a fluid thing. What’s tended to happen is we’ve worked out various themes to explore through improvisation as a group and exercises led by the director. Emma observes and writes scripts which we then use and devise from. Eventually the thing’s gonna be written by Emma but there’s a lot of watching, a lot of post-it notes and spider diagrams.

Is it actor led or director led in terms of how things happen?

Tom: The content has really all come from the actors; it’s our job to facilitate them and the content which is then polished by Emma. Our job is lovely, we just to handpick the best stuff and put it together.

Emma Levinkind: Basically there are scenes which have cropped up time again, and I’ve been putting in some dialogue and jokes to round it off.

Broadly then, what is the piece about (so far)?

Emma: We’ve ended up constructing this incredibly strange world inhabited by characters who are mainly motivated by fear – the fear of being alone, of doing the wrong thing in a social situation.

Hopefully not fear of the stage; I guess it tells you a lot about your actors then?

Tom: Yeah it really does. One of our early tag lines was ‘a play where the actor/character boundary is dangerously fluid’, but most of the characters are so horrible now that we’ve buried that line a little. What’s also important is that we’ve created this communal vocabulary of characters and mini-scenes we can stitch together.

Nick Finerty (actor): One of our first points of inspiration was that we’d each tell a story and everyone would have to impersonate that person and push it further, so by the time it got back to you you were having to impersonate yourself as seen through everyone else.

Sam Ward (actor): that was a really deep time [laughter]

As actors your role in this is quite unusual with such an emphasis on you as content creators. Is that frightening or a release?

Sam: In a way it’s frightening as you don’t have the co-ordinates of a character from a text , but at the same time it’s very free: to make it work we just have to do everything a bit over the top.

Nick: It’s also about making sure you commit to everything, so you can commit equally to things that are farcical and serious.

Sam: That’s why the rehearsals work so well, everyone throws themselves into it.

Lamorna Ash (actress): It’s quite exciting that we come away from each rehearsal having done something completely different and mad as opposed to the routine of doing the same thing every time. This way, everything is fresh all the time and it will certainly be on the night.

Devised Play One: Fear is on at the BT from Tues-Sat of 8th week. Tickets from £5