As Litmus Fest comes to an end The PEG spoke to Jessica Murrain and Lucy Bairstow from Theatre With Legs about their experience of the festival.
Murrain and Bairstow performed DIGS at the Pleasance, a beautifully devised piece about what ‘home’ means. At once funny and deeply moving, it captures so many experiences of living in shared accommodation.
Using verbatim theatre from difference sources, we hear the words of tenants, housemates and lodgers, and we see the often painfully comic results of people living in close proximity to one another. With such a wealth of talent, we expect to be seeing a lot more of Theatre With Legs.
The PEG: Firstly, is it possible to sum-up Theatre With Legs in three words?
Lucy: Full of heart! Or hearty, camp and fearless.
The PEG: How did DIGS come to be a part of Litmus Fest?
Lucy: DIGS was created at the Pleasance as part of ETCH Fest (A Festival of New Writing) back in March, it was made in 4 days and performed as a scratch. We loved the collaboration so much we jumped at the opportunity to collaborate again.
The PEG: How much involvement did the Pleasance have over the 2 weeks of R&D?
Lucy: The Pleasance team were there if we needed any assistance in any aspect of our work. They found us extra space to work if we needed it, and they touched base with us daily for an update on how we were getting on.
Jessica: Yeah. Also… having a residency and seeing the same warm faces at the theatre made a real difference to our process. It was a consistent and collaborative feeling. The team there were always supportive and came to see the work as well.
The PEG: Verbatim theatre forms a large part of the play’s content: how many people’s words are woven into the script? And how did you source them?
Lucy: There are 5 different pieces of Verbatim text currently within the show. We collected these via interviews with individuals that we were interested in talking to, we structured our interviews around the question ‘what is home?’ We recorded the interview and used the recording as a script.
Jessica: Some of the interviews are from our own family members. Some from groups we have run workshops for/with, and some from our work colleagues/friends. So a real mix!
The PEG: Some of the characters are hilarious and there’s lots of clowning involved – the hanging out of washing really sticks in my mind- is clowning something you trained in at Drama school? Does it inform other work you have devised?
Lucy: Yes we were both trained in Clown by John Wright (author of ‘Why Is That So Funny‘ & founder of Told By An Idiot). It informs our devising process; we discover characters & narrative through use of clown. We’re both interested in clown, and it finds its way into a lot of things we do. One thing that springs to mind when thinking about work outside of TWL is a poem that Jess once performed at a spoken word night, she used clowning as a form of delivery.
Jessica: I think both of us are interested in exploring what it is to continue a dialogue with the audience. And clown allows for this exploration. It means we aren’t alone and neither is the audience; it becomes a space where reality meets fantasy and spectator meets performer. The line blurs considerably and it’s something we always want to delve into. The audience for us is a collaborator, and they inform the world of our play and characters. And they inform where the laughs are! At the same time ‘The Clown’ is anarchic and naughty! So, the Clown has to be held back a bit or else nothing would get done! If we played clowns on stage the whole time… well…it would be chaos! The clown knows no boundary nor end point haha!
I remember seeing Lucy clown masterfully once with Joanie Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You‘ lyrics. Til this day, still one of the most beautiful, moving and ridiculous things I have ever witnessed! Amazing!
The PEG: There are also some really dark moments; people missing loved ones, that feeling of loneliness in a shared house and a near-suicide. These are packed in around more upbeat scenes, but they are the ones that remain with the audience long after the show. Is that the balance you intended to create?
Lucy: It is a balance we intended to create yes. We’re really fascinated by light and dark moments living side by side. We like to create work where there are moments that are simultaneously hilarious and horrifying! Yeah, we begun making ‘DIGS’ because of our own feelings of isolation and loneliness in shared living, the darker narratives in the show were the impetus to devise the piece – to make sense of things for ourselves as a form of catharsis.
Jessica: I also think that the light and dark binary has something to do with our humour. Lucy and I share a dark humour and the most tragic moments in life, or perhaps the most poignant also very often make us howl with laughter (Maybe as a way to cope with life’s pain?) Laughter and Pain are so linked and for us.. the most exciting work is a piece that can flip so quickly between the dark and light. In terms of the characters… we never set out to make their lives dark. We just try to work from an honest and simple starting point and work hard at telling their story in the clearest and most interesting way.
The PEG: There are so many loveable characters (my favourite are the ‘creature comforts’ couple) but I assume you will work towards shortening the length of the show (or maybe adding an interval?) – how do you go about editing and restructuring your work during the devising process?
Lucy: We will work towards shortening the piece. We discover if something is working or not by playing about with it on our feet in rehearsal, but it’s not really until performance that we understand to a greater extent what is and isn’t working. When the material interacts with an audience you can see where it is, & where it needs to go. That’s why a scratch performance is so vital in a devising process.
The PEG: What do you hope to do with DIGS next?
Lucy: We would like to continue to develop it, and then have a run at a theatre in London. We would love a minimum of a 2 week run. J: And The Edinburgh Festival is always a dangling carrot. One day we’ll eat the carrot, secure funding and go!
Find out more about Theatre With Legs here