An Interview with Isobel McArthur
Blood Of The Young will soon be bringing their summer blockbuster to the Tron in Glasgow. The Mumble managed to nab one of the team for a wee blether…
Hello Isobel, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Isobel: Hiya Mumble. My very first involvement in the theatre was about age 8. I joined the local youth drama group. It was badly organised and, of course, all the output was terrible – but there is something useful about getting up on a stage as soon as you can to help you figure out who you are and how performance works. It’s probably good to be getting it wrong when it really doesn’t matter.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Isobel: I was very lucky in that my parents took me to see a few plays when I was a kid. The theatre was instantly the most magical place I’d ever been. I wanted to watch, read and do as many plays as possible.
Can you tell us about your studies?
Isobel: I did a degree in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and then trained as an actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Isobel: Of course there needs to be room and provision for many different kids of theatre but personally I believe it is in theatre’s own interest to be generous, uplifting, accessible, thought-provoking and above all else, entertaining. If a piece of theatre doesn’t entertain as its first function, I don’t think it has the right to demand any attention from an audience.
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Isobel: Just three copies of the film Castaway. For tips. No – I’m joking. I know precious little about film, if I’m honest. I suppose it would be important to be able to watch them a few times. I’d probably want to do the occasional bit of head-scratching, but mostly to be moved to laughter or tears if I don’t have any other company. Probably Un Prophete for a think, Duck Soup for a laugh and – this is a bit of a cheat -but I’d like to have the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy as my final choice. For the feels.
What does Isobel McArthur like to do when she’s not being creative?
Isobel: That’s a funny way of looking at it. I suppose I feel like hobbies need to be creative to be interesting at all. I’m daft about cooking. I occasionally do a bit of crafty stuff, sewing etc. Obviously life since drama school has, in large part, been made up of pulling pints, bringing people their breakfasts or doing mind-numbing promo jobs. But a good imagination helps get you through.
Can you tell us about Blood of the Young?
Isobel: Blood of the Young are a Glasgow-based ensemble theatre company. The company hold regular ensemble training days to build complicity and they make bold work with an emphasis on striking visuals, live music, ensemble movement and fun. We’re currently the National Theatre of Scotland company in residence.
How did you get involved & what is your role in the company?
Isobel: We formed when we left drama school. My role is usually one of writer-performer. I contributed a short play to BOTY’s first show Golden Arm Theatre Project, and I wrote both Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound and Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). I also perform in these shows. But in BOTY, there is an emphasis on collaboration, whoever you are. That can mean different things in practice but we will always establish a relationship with everyone on the project that means anyone can question, contribute and offer up new ideas. I believe we have a stronger critical eye when we work together in this way – we are more discerning and the work can then encompass a wider breath of tastes, senses of humour, artistic inclinations etc. It means it’s all the more important that the team are supportive, respectful of each other and open-minded, of course – but if everyone’s compassionate and just wants to make the best show possible, this works really well.
One of your creations will be moving into the Tron for a few weeks at the end of June, can you tell us about the play you have fashioned?
Isobel: Aye, the play is called Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) and it is an adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel to be performed by an all-female ensemble of 5. The show features all the big-hitters from the original story, but it also shines a light on some of the characters below-stairs who usually get overlooked. It will be a colourful, dynamic, multi-rolling show with karaoke and disco balls. If we get it right, it shouldn’t matter whether the audience have ever heard of Austen. It will simply be a funny love story, entertainingly told that anyone can enjoy as a great night out.
Does Jane Austen still hold a relevance to the modern mind?
Isobel: For many, Austen novels represent a stuffy and inaccessible corner of the bookshelf that they were banished to once in school. I sympathise with that view. They can be challenging reads because, frankly, there are lengthy periods in Austen novels where it seems like nothing is happening. But she is a genius and always laying a path for something explosive. That required patience, however. And how many of us have that these days? This has to be a show that can be enjoyed in its fullest without anyone needing prior knowledge of the novel. Hopefully everyone can feel they have a stake in this world because, of course, it’s hugely relevant. In Pride & Prejudice, all the women are victims of the historical period they find themselves in. Women are unable to inherit anything from their parents – they need to marry a man to do it for them. These miserable circumstances land the women in various impossible situations, often making them either turn on each other or surrendering their core values for lack of any other option. In this way, nothing could be more relevant than the horrors faced by women when they are regarded as second-class citizens. Beyond that, however, this particular novel is also about the importance understanding yourself and others better in order to question preconceptions and ultimately reach the kind of understanding with another human being which could be called ‘true love’. It is about building bridges of understanding, admitting when we’re wrong, questioning our own prejudices and trying to see the world from someone else’s perspective. I wish that weren’t all still so painfully relevant.
How is director Paul Brotherston finding working with the play?
Isobel: I think this would be a challenging play for anyone to direct. There are about 120 named characters and multiple locations in the original novel – and we need to tell a tight version of the story using only 5 actors. However, we have assembled a great team and are just as excited by the many challenges as we are petrified by them. This show will be a lot of fun. It’s a romantic comedy! So I trust the playfulness in the room will make for a really enjoyable process for all. Paul is perfectly placed to direct it – it’s very much a Blood of the Young-style piece.
What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Isobel McArthur, Blood of the Young & Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of)?
Isobel: Hopefully our show will enjoy a good run in Glasgow. Who knows if it will have a future after that – we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll continue to write after this but principally I’ll be going off to act in a large-scale project. As for BOTY, we will continue to train and begin development of our next project. More on all that anon!
Pride & Prejudice*
The Tron , Glasgow
28th June – 14th July 2018