Category Archives: London
New company Ja?Theatre are bringing /SYLVIA\ to this year’s border-busting Voila European Theatre Festival for the first time. Witness a historical portrait painting session in 1920s Berlin Etcetera Theatre, Camden; 13/16/18 Nov. We spoke to Dutch director Anne Mulleners……
Hello Anne, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Anne: Hello Mumble. I’m originally from the Netherlands, a town called Nijmegen, which is near the German border on the east side, & now I’m living in Lewisham, South London.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Anne: To be honest I mainly developed a love for the theatre when I moved to England to study a degree in English Literature at the University of Greenwich. In my first year I began to see quite a few theatre pieces through my course, & as a result of seeing these I switched my course in the second year to Drama & English. From that moment it has just developed more & more.
Can you tell us about your training?
Anne: After I graduated I went on to do a masters in Theatre Criticism & Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. From there I’ve been mainly freelancing in assisting & stage management work – to do as much practical work as possible.
Can you tell us about Ja? Theatre?
Anne: Well, we all did the same MA at Central. I found the play – Sylvia – when I was in Paris with our course. I grew interested in putting it on, or at least translating or adapting it. I spoke to Melissa Syverson about this & we began to develop it. At some point we thought why don’t we create a company to put it on as we were both interested in making work & then, after this current configuration of roles, we would like to continue making work which perhaps someone else would direct.
The company seems to have a specific theatrical MO- which is described as ‘overcoming the ever-present dichotomy between British New Writing and ‘European’ Regie theater.’ What is the backstory?
Anne: During our MA we read an article in the Guardian by David Hare which highlighted a Germanic form of theatre in which the director leads a protest & has more powers than maybe the writer. David Hare describes how he finds that this kind of theatre is infesting Britain. We had a discussion about this article & how it was received, & because Melissa is from Norway, & we have both have worked in Europe, & since the article we became struck with both the differences & the similarities, but definitely by the fact that people tend to always separate these things. We became intrigued by making theatre here in Britain that would bridge the gap, utilising & engaging with both traditions.
Do you socialise with the ladies outwith your professional relationship?
Anne: We meet up all the time – & we do try sometimes to do other things & not talk about the company, which proves difficult!
Find out More about Ja? Theatre
You are directing for the company for the first time with /SYLVIA\ /a woman becomes a painting\, at this year’s VOILA festival, can you tell us about the play?
Anne: Its basically a play in which you see the main character being painted in 1920s Berlin. She is a real person, Sylvia Von Harden. You see this painting session & while she narrates her life, she more & more becomes this portrait. It engages with themes of gender, about LGBTQ representation, & its mainly about how we see people – how people can at first be a subject & then become an object.
That is indeed an obscure corner of history – what drew the company to it?
Anne: When I saw the play, I found it a very nice text, on the page its black & red, its a bilingual piece, I never mentioned that, its very niche. The main draw to it was the way the language went from French to German & then German to French – & the colouring was altered with the switch & I thought it a really interesting way of dealing with print. Then it also turned out to be a monologue, & then to be about this fascinating woman in 1920s Berlin, so it all just kept adding & becoming more & more interesting.
How is directing Sylvia coming to you – is it natural or a struggle?
Anne: I would say I’ve obviously had some training & had some ideas to go off – but I did find the first few rehearsals to be really difficult having not done it as much, especially practically. But the more & more I’ve been doing it in rehearsals, & seen what works & what doesn’t, & also with the person in the room & how that goes, I’ve come to understand it & to also enjoy it, which is the main part. Yes, its definitely a struggle, but something that definitely pays off the more I do it.
Thank you Anne, one more question. Have you prepared Sylvia especially for the pan-European Voila Festival?
Anne: No. We were already developing it last year & we even went to the Voila Festival last year & we were like, this is a really great festival, we should apply to this. So we applied this year & were happily accepted. In that sense it wasn’t specifically developed for Voila, but its definitely a really good match. We are interested in the European theatre aspect of our work, & it fits really well with their overall program.
The Etcetera Theatre, Camden
Being the son of East End gangster, Danny ‘Longdog’ O’Halloran, meant for rather an interesting life, & more than enough material for a fascinating one-man play…
Hello Ryan, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Ryan: I’m from Newham in East London, Manor Park to be precise, which isn’t too far from Upton Park and Stratford.
When did you first develop a passion for theater?
Ryan: I think the passion for acting was always there. It came out in my personality as I was growing up but with no direction. My dad didn’t see acting as a real job , which is quite ironic as being a criminal isn’t exactly a real job either. Not one you can declare anyway.
What for you makes a good piece of theater?
Ryan: Being truthful for me is always good but you need to take your audience on a journey with a story and have them invested in the actors.
Can you tell us about your training?
Ryan: My training at the Poor School was right up my alley, the directors there, including the founder Paul Caister, pull no punches and if something’s not good enough they let you know. I was brought up around people who don’t mince their words so this was very familiar to me. The directors there had different styles but all accumulated into making is more rounded actors .
You’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Ryan: If I had three famous people coming round for dinner I’d chose Nicola Tesla first. Alexander the Great would be another one as he conquered the known world during his time and actually fought in his wars and didn’t hide in a bunker letting other people die for him. The sights he would have seen should be enough to keep everyone interested at a dinner party. I’d also invite Tommy Cooper or Spike Milligan. I wouldn’t cook because I’m rubbish at home cooking. I wouldn’t want to mug myself off with bad food so I’d secretly order the best takeaway I know. I have a brilliant Chinese restaurant near me called Chans – I’d call them.
You are in the middle of bringing a play, Prairie Flower, to London, can you tell us about it?
Ryan: Prairie Flower is a snippet of my dad’s life, belief and moral code. I wanted to show warts and all what my dad’s world was like, Many people who write books and make films of the same genre haven’t a clue. Paul Caister (my director and producer) saw that I had far too much to show everything on stage so developed my original script into something that works on stage for two hours. It’s still evolving as we go and Paul has had new ideas and things change every week.
How is it going so far?
Ryan: Prairie Flower has been very well received by the audience who have seen it. The public aren’t stupid, the crime genre is riddled with stuff that makes people not believe what they’re seeing and hearing. I’m using everyone’s real names and real situations that happened, this is history as well as a play.
What materials did you use during the research period?
Ryan: The research period wasn’t that hard, I already had a life time of information locked away. These are real people and real stories so to get more accuracy I spoke to family and family friends who were around at that time to get the extra detail. And permission to talk about it. The people I speak about have either passed away or have already served time for the crimes I talk about. So I’m not breaking the rules, as my dad would put it.
What compelled you to write & star in a play about your father?
Ryan: What compelled me to write this is that my mum and dad’s life was more interesting than any book or film I’d come across. The fact my dad wanted to remain in the shadows was a shame as his story is jaw dropping . But because it’s real and true I wanted to share his story with everyone.The fact I’m playing him means it will be done right. Who better to play my father than his own flesh and blood?
How is director Paul Caister handling everything?
Ryan: Paul has handled this brilliantly and over the course of a couple of years has soaked up as much information as possible to understand how to direct it. He has given me absolute freedom to play my father whilst having the technical ability to tweak and fine tune what I’m doing so it works on stage.
What do you hope an audience member will take away from watching Prairie Flower, on what levels do you want to connect with them?
Ryan: What I hope audience members take from watching our show is a little bit of authenticity. Nothing is ever black and white and my dad’s world was a complete grey area. He never wanted to glorify his way of life and would advise anyone to stay away from it at all costs. He was proud of the man he was but at the same time had so many regrets. He was from a bygone age and if the audience are left with wanting to know more at the end of it then I’ve done what I set out to do. Only a TV series could cover the detail I have.
Highgate Village, London
September 25-29, October 2-6 (19.30)