In spite of all the pressures of the spring term, syllabus, coursework, interviews, and more, two young writers have taken up the challenge to turn their ambitions in the field of drama into actual performance. Overcoming the considerable difficulties involved, both turned aspiration into reality, dream into outcome. Over the last few weeks both students had the extraordinary experience of overseeing their scripts hit the Hurtwood stage.
Olive Jamieson-Brown staged her half-hour play ‘Eileen’s Fashions’, with a cast of five, movingly addressing themes of ambition, love and loss, across family and the wider world. Equally concise, and focused similarly on grief, family and love, the four actors of ‘An Ode to Marmite’, written by Alice Allen, also had appreciative audiences over two days of performance.
Both writers probed key themes of relationships and bereavement: big issues, dark issues, yet both created moments of gentle laughter, even in the face of tragedy. They were supported, as ever, by some impressive acting talent who clearly took great pride in bringing the writing alive. The ever-youthful teacher James Hartman featured also on stage, although almost certainly his greatest role was one of support and guidance, helping to bring the students' vision into reality. The mood and outcome was excitingly experimental and, to a degree, improvised, with a sense that much was being learned in the process.
Olive and Alice have much of which to be proud. Drawing clearly on a range of influences from Chekov to Beckett, and bubbling with ideas, they entertained us with brief glimpses of the lives of others, and touched on universal experiences. They have both made real inroads into the demanding possibilities of entertaining and challenging an audience. Bring on the next installment, we say.
We caught up with Olive recently and asked her some questions about the process of putting together a piece of original theatre at Hurtwood.
What inspired you to start working on these plays?
The plays were for our EPQ, so they have (to some extent) academic research behind them. For me, the play contains a lot of anecdotal experienced in my family. For example, the title of the play is inspired by the name of my dad's old band.
Who are you biggest influences?
The play itself was influenced significantly by Dennis Kelley's dialogue style and cynical or existentialist principles presented in modern theatre. As a writer, I hugely admire Joe White's play 'Mayfly'. I saw the premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre and admired the quaint yet tragic tone of the piece.
Anything in the works for the future?
Alice and I are writing a new play entitled 'Swings and Roundabouts' collaboratively and we are booked to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer: this time we are acting as well as writing. Alongside Alice and I, Issy Withey, Taine Ashworth and Nate Leung are all involved in the performance and development process.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
My biggest challenges occurred when having to prioritise the taste of an audience member over my own: I admire lengthy monologues whereas most audience members dislike this style. Therefore, it was hard to sacrifice my own preferences in order to create an enjoyable product but I understood it was necessary.
Any funny stories?
James Hartman, who took over the role of Eddie after a drop-out, accidentally called the band 'Eileen's Ashes' on multiple occasions: this was ironically morbid as the play is about her death. Can't think of many other funny stories, will have a chat with the cast if you would like.