Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Penny Simpson interviews Ed Thomas

Back to basics...

Two men in a room; twenty monologues recorded on video; improvised texts and a live mix of the lot supervised by a visual artist. It doesn't sound like the terrain usually associated with Welsh playwright Ed Thomas, but that's what's he's exploring this month in the company of Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes. PENNY SIMPSON finds out more...

"What does a playwright do?" Ed Thomas asks me.

It's not the first question you expect to hear from a writer best known for a series of award-winning plays that toured the UK and Europe throughout the 1990's, but it is the one Ed's asking as he embarks on an intriguing project that will see him negotiate text and stage in surprising ways over three nights in November. Actually, it might be for the next seven years; it might end before Christmas. The whole point is: dispense with certainties and open up a spirit of enquiry that might, just might, transform a given space in a given moment in time. It's not exactly "theatre" as we know it, it might even pass for "installation," or it might just inspire a whole new way of collaborating that pushes every individual component, not just an individual ego.

"For a long time, I was preoccupied with language, form and style," Ed explains. "But what does that mean anymore? I was burning out, writing because we had a tour booked, or whatever. I'd lost belief. That whole dividing line between indulgence and inspiration had got blurred. When I first started meeting with Mike (Pearson), we just talked. I work in film; he has a professorship, but we found common ground. And then we began to think about collaborating over a period of time and seeing what would happen. The concept was this: two men go to an estate agent and hire a room for seven years. Why? What happens? It's not about creating a show as such; it's an enquiry. It's going back to basics. We get a cross-section of people collaborating together, we strip it all down and find more fluid ways of working than you usually find when you play to the market.

"Mike and I were both questioning what we had come from; altered times need altered ways of working. The backdrop is the city of Cardiff, but we're not heading towards a linear narrative. The videos and the texts Mike and I are writing and directing will be sequenced differently each evening. There are no parameters, just the possibilities of igniting something in that moment. Voice, movement, and body is what we start with. There might be a tendency to rely on a given practice for both of us, but the collaboration across the board will shift that reliance, it will, hopefully, increase emotion. It is without doubt the most honest thing I have done in the last four years. It's about discovery and not ego."

The quest is the same for actor, writer, or image maker. Rather like a club DJ mixing tracks, Mike Brookes will work with the recorded texts and short films shot in Cardiff to develop an improvised, and fragmented, narrative that will suggest cross-fertilisation between genres, be they documentary, installation, soap opera or pure film.

"It's not something people will sign up to as a clever career move," Ed admits, "But that's it's challenge from my perspective. I still work in film and television, but there are so many limitations. It's rather like the research scientist at Glaxo, or wherever, commissioned to come up with wonder drug A, but the real discoveries come in the search, not the sales pitch at the end."

For Ed, it is in some ways going full circle, back to his debut in 1989 as a writer in St Stephen's Theatre Space in Cardiff docks where he got together with a group of other unemployed actors to "make something happen." That something was House of America. The context might be very different in 2002, but the exhilaration of creating a new, raw and totally unpackaged entity is still keenly felt by a writer/director who has experienced both the highs and the lows of the media industry in recent years.

"I'm not interested in finding a message, anymore than Mike is; this will be more about accident, than design. I suppose it's a case of "let's see what happens next." It might be something smallscale, medium or extra-large. It might be back to two men in a room. Who knows?"

Rain Dogs is a new media performance at Chapter theatre. Performed live by Mike Pearson and Ed Thomas with a cast of 10 actors on film, assembling texts, films and telling stories played out in the city.

author:Penny Simpson

original source: Chapter Arts Centre
01 November 2002


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