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Brief Encounter With ... Iron Shoes' Ria Parry

Gbolahan Obisesan's Mad About The Boy, which won a Fringe First at Edinburgh last year, receives its London premiere at the Unicorn Theatre tonight (17 May 2012, previews from 12 May) before transferring to the Bush (28 May-2 June) and Young Vic (6-16 June) ahead of a UK tour.

Produced by Iron Shoes and directed by the company's co-artistic director Ria Parry, the play examines "the growing divide between the generations who gave, those who earned, and those who demand respect".

Whatsonstage.com recently caught up with Parry to find out more about it.

What's Mad About The Boy about?

It's about a teenager - a 14 year old London boy - who's started getting into a lot of trouble; it's about the two adults in his life - his dad and the school counseller - trying to help him, support him, deal with him; it's about the difficulty in communication between different generations. Ultimately it's about a question of responsibility - who is responsible for getting a young person back on track - family, society or the individual.

How did it come to be commissioned?

Gbolahan came to see our production of Crush at the Edinburgh Festival back in 2009, and said that he would like to write something for Iron Shoes. We were keen to work together, so Gbolahan and I started doing some script development on Mad About The Boy at the National Theatre Studio. We took the first draft to the Transform festival at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011; John (Hoggarth - co-director of Iron Shoes) and I felt it was an important play to be seen so decided to take it to the Edinburgh Festival that year, with support from NTS and ScenePool.

How involved were you in its development?

We've been working on it together since the beginning - there was one scene to begin with, then two, then three, then four... We've had lots of wonderful actors involved in its various shapings, and some great support from the National Theatre Studio. The NTS and Purni Morrell's faith in the play (ex-head of the NTS and current artistic director at the Unicorn), and in Gbolahan and I, was vital to its journey.

Bayo Gbadamosi and Simon Darwen in Mad About the Boy. Photo by Slav Kirichok
Why do you think there's been such a number of plays recently about inter-generational tensions?

There have always been tensions between different generations, but things like the riots last year pulled it in to sharper focus. A major concern is that one generation becomes frightened of another, and stop communicating - but fear doesn't solve anything, and it has to be about understanding where the tensions come from, and moving forward. We need to work out our relationships and issues as a community, and although no-one has the definite answers it is important that a lot of playwrights are looking in to this subject at the moment.

What effect did winning the Fringe First at Edinburgh have?

We were very pleased that it won a Fringe First, and we have always been proud of Gbolahan's play. The fact it won an award helped in many of the conversations we had with venues when we were putting the tour together, as it assists in gathering a potential audience who may be interested in seeing an award winning show. John and I believe that it's an important piece to be seen around the country - we're playing in London, Oxford, Manchester, Malton, Sheffield, Cumbria and Bristol. We want as many people, of all different ages, to come along, so anything that helps to invite people in is great.

Are you retaining the Edinburgh cast?

We have two new fantastic performers for 'Dad' and 'Man' - Jason Barnett and Simon Darwen. Cyril Nri who played Dad in Edinburgh was involved in the piece from the very start, through its entire journey - he's currently at the RSC and has remained a brilliant supporter of the play. 'The Boy', Bayo Gbadamosi, is back to continue his role and he's gone from strength to strength in rehearsals. It's a brilliant team, and we also have support from our excellent associate design team this time around - James Button designing, David W Kidd lighting, and John (Hoggarth) doing sound.

Why did you establish Iron Shoes?

John and I have always been involved in new writing, and when we began Iron Shoes in 2009 we were keen to nurture voices that weren't being heard as much - unheard voices, stories on the outskirts. We have two company homes - one in Whitby, North Yorkshire, and now one at the Bush Theatre in London, where we are an associate company. I grew up in London, and John was born and bred in North Yorkshire, so we split our time, and we're keen to continue producing engaging, accessible theatre which can tour to different corners of the country.

What are your future plans with the company?

We're very excited about our new association with the Bush Theatre, and we're working on ideas for the forthcoming year. Madani Younis has a brilliant vision and strength of purpose, and we're very happy to have been invited to come on board. We've just started to begin new relationships with Yorkshire venues the Milton Rooms in Malton, and the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield, and there are lots of potential projects coming up once the Mad About The Boy tour is up and running. We've just started some development with writers Emma Jowett from Harrogate, and Gavin O'Carroll from Northern Ireland - they both have distinct styles and voices, and we're looking forward to beginning new journeys with them.


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