The Biscuit Tin Readings at The Ulster Hall
New writers given platform
Last time I talked to DeDakis she was working on the photographic project/postcard collection/book Why Belfast?. Today she is eager to talk about her work with Accidental Theatre’s well-received Rehearsed Readings series, this year redubbed the Biscuit Tin Readings and staged monthly in the Ulster Hall Group Space.
Gayle Dennison, one of the original founders of Accidental Theatre, sits forwards to explain that the company originally started because she and a friend at Queen's University had decided that ‘if we wanted to be in a play then we should put it on ourselves’.
‘Our first play was No Exit in 2008, which we put on at Catalyst Arts,’ Dennison adds. ‘But we’d been thinking about it and we liked the idea of ‘new writing’. So since then we’ve been developing new writing. It is something that really works for us and that we really like doing.’
Described as a ‘sort of small-scale cabaret’ by DeDakis, the rehearsed readings, which debuted last year, are unstaged performances of new works, written by experienced and novice writers. They also serve as a greenhouse of sorts for further development, bringing on the theatrical ‘seedlings’ until they are ready for a full production.
Last year’s series produced The Writer’s Room by Michael Shannon, which was performed at the Pick 'n' Mix Festival – an anecdote from that performance involving a replica gun and a biscuit tin inspired the name change for 2011 – and is currently on tour in England.
‘It was hard,’ Dennison said. ‘But that was the universal one, the one we all agreed we liked the most. And it was… quick to do. The Writer’s Room has a small set and only four characters.’
‘It is like an infernal little box,’ DeDakis interjects enthusiastically. ‘It is very much a drama and very much a comedy as well. It has a lot of scope as well as being manageable in the production sense.’
Both add that The Writer’s Room was also the most finished of the drafts they received last year, thereby naturally being the first ready to graduate to the stage. Most of the drafts they receive aren’t so polished.
‘With one of our writers this is literally his first play,’ DeDakis notes. ‘He was an actor in two of the performances last year and he said, “I just kind of write it and I don’t know what else to do with it." Now he’s going to work on his second play.’
So, which of this year’s Biscuit Tin Readings do they have their eye on? ‘Knowing us we’ll say the same thing,’ DeDakis protests. ‘We’ve been doing that all week.’
‘You go first,’ Dennison demands. ‘Pick yours and I’ll pick a different one.’
For DeDakis she is interested to see how The Portrait Keeper by Roy Endean (September 20) is received by the audience. She describes it as being a very different piece of writing. ‘It’s got the different use of language and a really atypical sense of character and narrative. He’s trying to do something different. I’ve just said different about six times, but I think it applies!’
Dennison earmarks Roberts in Disguise by Mike Coleman (July 20) as one she thinks could work well. It is a story, told with a mixture of dialogue and intermittent PowerPoint presentations, about the ‘corporate takeover’ of a family who haven’t been doing a very good job of managing themselves.
‘The Portrait Keeper is interesting though,’ she admits. ‘Although I liked it from the start, I couldn’t see how it could work until it came to life in the readings. Now I think it could be the surprise one of the lot.’