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First Thoughts

So here it is – Edinburgh again. I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about my love-hate relationship with this immense beast of a festival. I love the atmosphere, I love the city, I love the shows, I love spending a month every year with a lot of people who are crazy passionate about the same things I am crazy passionate about. I’m quite partial to the cocktails as well. And on the other hand, there’s packing for a month when you are in the final week of rehearsal (I did it in two hours without really thinking  – I have ended up with eight floaty strappy dresses, one jumper, three corsets and an odd number of socks. If you see a girl drinking lychee martinis looking like a half-frozen burlesque bag lady, that’ll be me), there’s the crazy schedules, the crazy budgets – and the fear of your precious piece of work getting lost in the sheer immensity of it all.

This year’s piece is particularly precious to me. Last year, I did a theatre project in Iran, and I found the situation of women in the country one of the most profoundly shocking experiences of my life – I have run a theatre company for seven years that makes work from and about conflict zones, I wasn’t new to this kind of experience, and I had thought I was shock-proof. I was wrong. I have been involved in international feminist projects for years, but this was a clear moment of radicalisation for me. Two years before, I had met the brilliant Uzbek actress and activist Nadira Janikova, and we’d talked about making a piece of work together; for various reasons it didn’t happen at that time. Having been to Iran, which shares a lot of culture, music, and language with Uzbekistan (they were both parts of Old Persia), I was all the more keen to find a way of exploring the experiences of women from this culture. So I was incredibly excited when Nadira called me out of the blue after two years, and repeated her offer to make some work together.

By his time I was lucky enough to be working with another inspirational woman, Stella Duffy, one of my favourite living novelists and an Associate Artist of Improbable, the theatre company whose early work was what made me decide to be a theatre director. I had previously seen Stella’s version of Medea at the Scoop in London, an iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove of an adaptation, all witty delicacy right up to the point you get floored by a sucker punch. Nadira’s combination of fierce strength and femininity made her a perfect Medea for me, and this version of this 2500 year old play still seemed to sing the same stories Nadira, Stella and I had been discussing. Stella kindly agreed to adapt her Medea for us.

From the outset, Nadira and I had wanted to work with our good friend, actor and performance poet Richard Fry, It’s quite a courageous step to be The Only Male in a entirely female company; if you‘ve been lucky enough to see any of Richard’s solo shows you’ll know how much these conversations about gender, sexuality and society underpin his work, I can’t imagine an actor I’d want more to be fulfilling that role. The rest of the cast – Sarah Berger, Yuriria Fanjul, Mary O’Connor, Mairi Hayes – fell into place.

And from then it’s been quite a journey. It’s one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever worked with – two physical theatre makers, a musician, an RSC actress, a performance poet – very exciting to have so many types of skills and experience in the room, very challenging to blend them right. And it’s a play that demands you engage with horrors most of us would try to avoid. I don’t recommend it as a holiday activity. But I am so glad to have gone on that journey, and so proud of my fellow-travellers. I hope you like it.

If, really, you’re up for a laugh, this probably isn’t the show for you… But fear not, dear reader – I am also directing the feast of frothy deliciousness which is Abi Roberts Takes You Up The Aisle at the Voodoo Lounge. Abi’s beautiful voice and warm, delightfully silly comedy has been the perfect counterbalance to all the intensity and darkness of Medea. If you like a story about a happy marriage, Abi’s your gal. If you like it dark, get you to Medea.

So, here they are. Hope you like them. If you do (or even if you don’t), feel free come and say hi, tell me what you thought, even buy me a lychee martini.... Or a sock.


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