Accidental Theatre Get Fast & Loose at the Lyric
Accidental Theatre Company produce four new plays 'for the terminally impatient' in just 24 hours on October 4
Peter Brook famously worked for eight years on his script for the Indian historical epic Mahabharata. Conversely, since the 1960s, there have been a raft of theatre productions created against the clock, as immediate as anything involving actors, direction and a written play can be.
Dramatic practice is constantly evolving, and Fast & Loose is Accidental Theatre Company's attempt at operating in the vanguard. Taking place at the Lyric Theatre's Naughton Studio on October 4, it will be the culmination of 24 hours' frantic work pulling together four separate plays written the night before. Needless to say, for those practitioners taking part, it will also involve a lot of caffeine.
Director Richard Lavery, founder of Accidental Theatre Company, sketches out the significance of what you might call 'fast theatre' and defends its integrity. 'It's not really gimmicky, as theatre exists in many different forms. There's the well made play, trapped in naturalism, or the Shakespearean mould, which involves weeks and weeks of rehearsal by large companies in large theatres like the National. This is a little project involving bold choices.'
As Lavery says, the assembled company for Fast & Loose will attempt to compact the theatrical experience into as tight a model as possible. 'It's right on the edge,' he admits. 'This is the third year we have performed in the Lyric and after the show, you'll see a high percentage of us in the bar.'
Our conversation aptly turns into a piece for three voices as dramaturg Emily DeDakis comes on the line. She makes the point that the Fast & Loose approach to theatre production – which she borrowed from her previous company, Holy Fools in Los Angeles – enables new voices to be heard. 'Doing it so quickly is an opportunity,' DeDakis argues.
This year we will see some Fast & Loose veterans interpret the fresh scripts and one of the regular actors, Megan Armitage, has now moved to the position of writer. Armitage enjoyed performing in This is the First Scene, Maybe the Last a couple of years ago. Her character delivered a lecture on the Black Death, which meant that many of her lines were handily written down on cue cards.
'I've taken devised shows to the Edinburgh Fringe and this year did my first full length play, Subject Number Y, for Pick and Mix at The MAC,' Armitage adds. 'My characters were in a research bunker after something had happened in the outside world and the post-apocalyptic claustrophobia was helpful.'
So, how do you limber up for an unknown subject and 12 hours' hard writing graft? Armitage laughs at the wackiness of it all: 'I wondered if I should come in with a couple of ideas but then thought I'll try and just arrive and see what comes out.
'I've just done a workshop with Simon Stephens, who wrote Punk Rock, and we did writing exercises where he'd play us music and we'd write for a minute. We heard punk, then classical, which led to different styles of writing. We'll be getting a musical track, I think, which takes the stress off. I'd like something either melancholy or energetic, something quite extreme.'
Ronan Blaney, another of the four-strong team of writers, is, according to Lakely, 'a great screenwriter' now dipping his toe into stage writing. Making up the complement are Irish writer Gillian Grattan and jack of all trades, Rob Hollway.
The headlong rush towards performance starts with a meeting for the whole company. Then it's script time. The writers have a fairly daunting task – it is they who are charged with the task of coming up with ideas and, ultimately, a finished script in just 12 hours, working through the night towards their 9am deadline, as creatives often do.
It all begins, however, when DeDakis presents the four writers, who are positioned on four separate metaphoric eyries, each with a suitcase. These cases contain objects that should provide inspiration, and might include a musical track or a piece of art or literature.
'It's part of the process, that and the coffee,' DeDakis jokes. 'We give them three to four pieces for inspiration. It wouldn't be a newspaper item about something happening now, that would be too literal, although the writers are probably conscious of Syria anyhow. I can say this now, as it's well known, that we always include a pineapple.'
Fans of Romanian avant garde playwright Eugène Ionesco will like the sound of that. In a previous Fast & Loose production – Hatch, by Finn Kennedy – two characters, one of whom idolises a toy duck, shared an absurd tin of pineapple.
Bite-sized doesn't mean unambitious, though. Last year's fast dramas included a new take on Frankenstein, which isn't easy to achieve, and a moving piece by novelist Jan Carson. Carson's recently published novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears, has been garnering glowing reviews and her small scale play also revolved around a child.
'It was a short piece called Boat, about a father and son and it was very affecting,' recalls Lakely. 'The father was an ex-mariner and we saw him trying to cure his son of his fear of water by threatening him with a bottle of water in a paddling pool on stage as shock therapy. It was beautiful.'
Andrea Montgomery, meanwhile, wrote Frankenstein's Daemon, about Mary Shelley escaping from a raunchy hell. A piece of physical theatre, it is described by DeDakis as 'tech heavy'.
After the scripts have been rewritten and delivered on the day, a dynamic rehearsal will take place, during which time ideas will be fleshed out and transfomed into drama. DeDakis believes that the 'energy and nervousness' will utlimately help the creation of quality plays.
Over the years, Fast & Loose authors have written all kinds of things – their characters have drank bleach, destroyed china elephants, talked to Barbie during their wedding speech, and inevitably fought a sock puppet for a pineapple. But as, Armitage notes, part of the point of fast theatre is showing that creativity works even on a shoestring.
There is always some intellectual content in Fast & Loose – it is perhaps no accident that Lavery studied drama at Queen's and DeDakis gained her PhD in creative writing there. But, according to the original remit, the plays should also move, reflect society and entertain in the broadest sense. The cast is chosen to mirror the range of theatregoers.
'We have a mix of age groups in the cast, with young actor Chris Grant, who people may recognize, as he featured in the programme photo for Punk Rock. There are also people like Noel McGee and Sarah Lyle, Nicola Bush and rising star Hannah Coyle.'
At the end of the day – quite literally – all will be revealed. Going on past experience, this theatre for the terminally impatient – as the publicity has it – will certainly be worth the short wait.
Fast & Loose takes places in the Naughton Studio at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast on October 4.