In a week’s time, Paper Creatures Theatre will take to the stage as part of The Bunker’s latest venture: Breaking Out. The season will see six companies perform pieces of new writing over the course of eight weeks. This is exactly the kind of arena for a company like Paper Creatures Theatre – they made their debut at last year’s Camden Fringe, working with Tom Hartwell to produce Flood, and have since been working with Peter Imms on his play Section 2. New writing for the millennial generation is their core focus, with the aim of dispelling the myth that our generation has nothing to offer and is simply a group of social media addicts; we have our own stories to tell and our own feelings to bare.
Co-founder (and Pete in Section 2) Jon Tozzi explains, “Ultimately I see theatre as history, and if people can look back on this period and see that Section 2 was on at The Bunker Theatre, and they can look at that and think “Mental health awareness was a very big thing”, and this play addresses that. It should always be a learning experience.” This approach is a bit of a U-turn from Tozzi’s early days in the industry, performing mostly classical plays following his graduation before catching the new writing bug. “After doing a six-month Shakespeare tour, I just needed to have a bit of a break from good old Willie Shakespeare! Suddenly this whole new door was opened, and it was fantastic. And we go to the theatre a lot, as individuals we love theatre, and that’s what it should be. You need to feed your knowledge, and feed your experiences, and feed your opinion.”
“I’m definitely all for new writing,” says Alex Da Silva, who plays Kay in Section 2. “I think it’s so important; it holds a mirror up to society. What I like is when I come out questioning what I’ve just seen, questioning everything around you really. It shouldn’t just be a thing that you go and see and forget about – and never talk about again. I think now more than ever I think we’re all doing really important work to ask some very difficult questions. And I think that’s what it’s about; it’s about starting a conversation. New writing does that better than anything, I think.”
Esmé Patey-Ford (Rachel in Section 2) also agrees. “I love classical theatre and it’s wonderful going to see an expensive production of a show that you know and adore, but I think that has its own problem because money is often a huge part of that. They often have huge casts as well, these big shows with enormous companies.” Both Patey-Ford and Da Silva are producers as well as actors, so the practicality of putting on a show is at the forefront of their minds – but also questioning the reasons behind producing something. It obviously has to be commercially viable, but not at the expense of your integrity as storytellers. “New writing can tap into something that’s happened just last week, or something that’s just occurring,” continues Patey-Ford. “There’s something really exhilarating as a theatre-maker about working on something that’s so current. These issues might have been raised in a piece that was written a hundred years ago, but it’s a different kind of experience when you know that an audience has never heard those words before, or has never read this piece and come with their expectations of what it’s going to say.”
And as a critic, there surely should only be so many times within a set period of time that you find yourself saying something like “a timely revival”, rather than “a pertinent piece of new writing”. The armchair historian in me is fascinated by the context in which the classics were written, and how we can draw out the relevant themes to speak to today’s audiences; there will always be a place for that, but I have to say that I’m in complete agreement with the Paper Creatures team on this one. The best way to demonstrate what we’re really going through is by writing something new, be it play or musical. Reviving Chicago to try and give the Phoenix Theatre a box office win, rather than perhaps transfer something new over from Broadway (Dear Evan Hansen, anyone?), was one of the least inspiring pieces of decision-making and the perfect example of a place where attitudes need to change: the West End.
“The West End’s very interesting because there’s a very fine line,” says playwright Peter Imms. “It’s great because it makes theatre accessible for people, it pushes stories out to more people, but then the thing is because it is such an industry in its own way – of making money and ticket prices and stuff – there is probably a need for West End shows to be a bit more ‘safe’ to please audiences.” Tozzi adds, “It’s more you can sit back and enjoy it with the West End, isn’t it? It’s a spectacle.” We all agree that this, like the classical repertoire, has its place in Theatreland, but there’s nothing quite like the fringe to really get the juices flowing. For me, London’s brilliant fringe theatre scene is the main thing that is keeping me here.
“It’s good that it’s a spur on, that’s nice. That’s the same thing for us, really. I wish I could see more!” Tozzi enthuses, “There’s so many pop-up venues you can find… I’m looking forward to what N16 do now with their new space. I think Jamie’s going to do a great job of it – it’s funky! It’s literally right near the station, so it’s really simple and easy to get to.” The fringe is also a hotbed for site-specific productions, or the commandeering of historical buildings. Antic Disposition’s various Shakespeares in cathedrals and also relevant buildings (such as Gray’s Inn Hall) always spring to mind for me, and Jon cites Frantic Assembly’s Beautiful Burnout – a play about boxing performed at the York Hall in Hackney, a former boxing ring.
For most performers and creatives, the fringe is where it all starts. Imms ponders, “Where do these people think Jez Butterworth or any amazing, successful writers come from? They didn’t just come out of their mother’s body and all of a sudden they’re on Broadway! They’ve grafted; they’ve tested stuff out, they did crap stuff, they did amazing stuff – they learned. It’s where proper artists create and, eventually, when people do hone their skill you’ll see their names a lot more. It’s not as if you have West End writers and fringe writers, or West End actors and fringe actors – it’s just theatre!”
As you can probably tell, we could probably have sat and chewed the theatre fat for hours. Even with just the one full production under their belts so far, it’s clear to me that Paper Creatures Theatre are a force to be reckoned with. Their approach to creating a production means it’s built up with the writer as part of the team, which is a rare thing indeed, and the passion for theatre within all of them is obvious. It is the vital spark that makes all the difference, and they have it in spades – watch out, the Creatures are coming!
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.