It’s now just under a month to go until the BREAKING OUT season begins at The Bunker Theatre, so I took the opportunity last week to meet with two of the cast of Paper Creatures Theatre’s Section 2 to follow on from my interview with Jon & Peter. This time I had the pleasure of chatting with Alex Da Silva (Kay) and Esmé Patey-Ford (Rachel).
Can you start off by introducing your characters?
ADS: Kay is Cam’s girlfriend and Cam is the character that has been sectioned in our show; we meet him on the 28th day of his treatment, so technically the last day of section 2. She’s been through the whole process with him, so she’s very tired and very frustrated – at herself, a little bit at Cam, and at the system – so she just wants it to be over. She just wants him to be at home and it just to be done with. When we meet her, she’s got a bit of anticipation – it’s a big day, it’s decision day on whether he stays on or comes home. In her mind she’s adamant that he’s coming home, but there may be a niggling little bit of something that says that maybe he’s not. All of that is happening before she’s even said a word.
EPF: Rachel is the key worker for Cam, so she’s the only professional presence in the show; along with Kay there’s also Pete, who is a long-standing friend, whom Cam hasn’t seen for a long time but is obviously important. So Rachel’s the sort of face of the institution, and she is very hopeful, very positive, believes absolutely in her ability and the system’s ability to, as she describes it, “kickstart people” and kind of ‘reset’ them. I think that’s how she sees her job. I think the tensions in the piece are really interesting, because Rachel has obviously had these 28 days completely immersed in the world of Cam and what’s happening to him, and she has developed this close relationship with him – a lot of that is to do with humour and trying to reignite memories and things like that, but there’s obviously the tension of the fact that she’d never met him before this and there’s relationships that are incredibly important that aren’t getting that access at the moment. And so I think where the professional and friendship lines sits is a fragile one, particularly with Kay. But I think Rachel’s not bothered about what his life was before, what she’s interested in is where he’s at now and what needs to happen in order to reignite the person that Kay and Pete know and love.
Have you been doing a lot of research for this?
ADS: A couple of months ago we did an R&D, where we just solely worked on the play. we workshopped a couple of scenes and we spent half a day really looking into the mental health system – how it works and how sectioning works. I personally have never known anyone to have ever gone through that, but there were various members of the cast and creative team that had. It’s inspired by Peter Imms whose friend was sectioned. The guys at Paper Creatures had done a lot of research even before we got to this point, but then when people came on board I think they liked that fresh eyes had gone onto the play, because you were seeing things that they had potentially overlooked. But we spent half a day really researching into it and there’s very rigid rules. Even something called the ‘nearest relative’ which is kind of like the next of kin but not; there’s a hierarchy with who has a say over someone else, and that was really interesting to look at and work out, because towards the end of the play that comes into play about who is his next of kin, who has the power or authority here to override and say, “no, he’s coming home with me”. Does Kay have that authority or not? So a lot of research was done, and I think when we start rehearsals there’ll be a hell of a lot more…
EPF: I think that question of who is ultimately making decisions is really critical, because I think in that Rachel can also become the focus of that as if she holds the power, though in fact she doesn’t. She can make recommendations, but she’s on the ground working with people in this institution, so she can say how she feels about that person but the system protects her and means that those things get passed up the food chain. I like that fact that in the piece you slowly get pieces of information about how the system works; initially we don’t even know what’s significant about this day 28, which I didn’t know about in sectioning. I didn’t know about the stages and the layers in the system, which makes sense because we need protocol and you need a structure, but equally for somebody like Kay or Pete that’s very difficult to understand because it’s a human story not a system story.
ADS: Trying to fit into a box – literally a section, which is why it’s called sectioning, because they fit into section 1, section 2, section 3 whatever, it’s just a dropdown box on a website. That’s where the word comes from!
EPF: So to categorise somebody you love who’s suddenly not the person you know them to be, in this incredibly clinical way…
ADS: …in a dropdown list way, it just doesn’t feel right.
EPF: A friend of mine works in mental health; both she and her partner actually have worked with people that have been sectioned and also she does quite a lot of follow-up work on the NHS, so I’ve been talking to her and picking her brains. That’s been really, really interesting talking to her about the personal side of things, but also the professional side of things – I think that’s something that we’ve got to try to nail. Kay has lots of questions about the environment, there’s lots of stuff about the white walls. It feels as though Kay sees that as being very clinical and a very limiting thing, whereas for Rachel it’s possibility and hope; anything can be projected onto white, so this is an open and hopeful place, whereas for people coming into it from outside it can feel like a place of restriction and control, and a lack of personality and a lack of human care. I’m excited about seeing how the set’s going to work because I think that will really help.
Is there anything that particularly drew you to this play?
EPF: When I first read it the dialogue was incredibly easy. I recognised the characters and the conversation lifted off the page instantly, which is always what you’re looking for first as an actor. There’s a rhythm, there’s an easy quality to this, I can hear the voices – and I think Pete’s writing is very, very natural, and I really respond to that. It just means you can get to where you need to be much more quickly as an actor, you’re not having to do lots of work to figure out the cadences or the music of the piece. It’s just there. Also I feel like I’ve read a lot to do with mental health, but this is an area that I had no experience of. So it made me feel that it was an important thing to discuss in theatre, because I’ve never encountered anything specifically to do with sectioning before.
ADS: Jon is a very old friend of mine, we’ve known each other since we were teenagers; we went to Saturday drama club together. He asked me to be involved in the workshop of the piece, and I have a real passion for new writing; I love it, I think it’s very important and I really love what they do. Pete’s writing is brilliant. Like Esmé said, it’s very easy to read, there’s a real musicality to it. You don’t have to figure it out; it’s almost debbie tucker green-like in the kind of poetry that just flows off. There’s lots of cut-offs in the conversation, and the way you’d naturally talk to somebody is written, you don’t have to think about it – it’s there. It’s a joy to read and even better to do. And I think that as a society, especially within the industry, we’re becoming a lot more open with mental health. People have come out more and spoken about their difficulties, and everyone goes through it in a varying degree, so I think it’s a really important thing to put onstage, definitely.
And of course it’s being performed at The Bunker Theatre, which has a great reputation for new writing.
ADS: It’s a really good fit.
EPF: When you get a piece and a venue, and you feel that they just marry… But it’s also really lovely to be a part of Breaking Out, so you know that the kind of audiences that are coming to see the show that you’re paired with also have access to something that they might not have chosen to see. I really like that.
ADS: I think it’s a wicked idea. I’m a producer as well; it’s so hard when you have a new play, and you’re a new producer and you’ve got no money. It’s very hard to approach a venue and their bottom line is they need to charge a weekly fee, but you just can’t afford it. So The Bunker are reaching out to a bunch of companies to come together, and do it in this way where it’s in rep. It’s a great way to get your foot on the ladder. Well done, The Bunker!
EPF: It works so well with scratch nights, but then you can only do your ten minutes… If you’ve got a piece of work that, like this, is ready to be seen, this is a great way of enabling that to happen.
How do you feel about the prospect of movement direction being included in this production?
ADS: When we did the workshop we did a little bit of experimenting with it. I’ve never been the biggest fan (or maybe I’m just not good at it!) – whenever I hear the word ‘movement’ I think, “God, no!”… But in a piece like this that’s essentially in sections, to transition between those sections you need something. When Georgie mentioned that we were going to do some movement sequences we just started having some fun with it, and it really, really worked. It was very sharp and snappy in places, but also kind of gives a breath as well to the piece.
EPF: I think because it’s a very contained piece – it’s a four-hander, and the scenes are often two-hander scenes – you’ve got a real intensity and a real focus for an audience, which is lovely and really appropriate. With this very naturalistic style the intimacy of all of that works really well, but I feel like it will be interesting and useful for an audience to have that change of pace and physicality onstage. And obviously then how you do it is really important. Because of the simplicity of the piece, in its staging and the size of the cast, I think there’s the scope to do something quite abstract.
ADS: We’ve got a movement director which is good. It’s a very fine line between ‘this is amazing, it really enhances the piece’, to ‘is this GCSE dance?’.
EPF: I think the same is true for music too. I really, really don’t like being in the theatre with a score that’s telling me how to feel – I get very antsy about that. Don’t layer something onto this with a musical score that you’re not already telling me in the action. Similarly with movement, I feel like that has to come out of what’s happening in the text and the staging, rather than being something we try to stick on top. The fact that we’ll have a movement director as part of the rehearsal process is really important, so that essentially it’s a continuation of the narrative, in a different medium, rather than ‘this is going to tell you what we’re not telling you in the scenes’. I think the fact that we’re probably sceptical as audience members about that kind of thing is really helpful, because as actors we will be more wary of anything like that. Georgie as the director is so fantastic, and along with the movement director they’ll have their eye on that.
And are you enjoying your experiences with the show so far?
ADS: It’s difficult because we’ve not done rehearsals. I just think the guys at Paper Creatures are doing a wicked job, and I like that Flood and this play were developed with the team. They don’t just ask for plays that are written and they just produce it. They’ve asked a writer to send in 10 pages of a treatment or an idea, and if they like it they develop it together. Which I don’t know any other companies that do that? Which is really cool.
EPF: I’ve never encountered it with a company working on this scale and in this way – it’s really lovely because you’re nurturing writers, you’re nurturing relationships. I’ve got a theatre company and we’ve only ever produced our own writing, but working with people you know and growing with that, creating a piece of work that you always feel (even if it’s one person who’s written it) the sense of being a collaborative on a project. And it’s just a joy to do. When you feel that everybody in the room is bringing something to that. But I think for Jon & Nate to be working in that way is really exciting. I’ve never worked with them, I’m coming in last to this project as well, but so far that feels right.
Section 2 is at The Bunker Theatre from 12 June-6 July 2018 (Tuesdays and Fridays @ 8.30pm). Tickets are available online or from the box office, including a limited number of £10 tickets for U30s and £22 double bill passes.