Asphyxiated beauty

Thrust is 10 next year, but this August will be the first time we’ve played at Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve been waiting for the right play at the right moment, and William’s new play papercut– is exactly that. It’s an urgent play that reads like a panic attack. Will told me he wanted to write a play that imagines what the end of the world might feel like. Well, look around. Now’s the time.

When I tell people that William Bowden wrote the play, I’m often met with surprise. Those who know Thrust will know William as an exquisite director, whose rich and complex productions such as Request Programme and Dinner balance out the rawer, more austere shows in our back catalogue that I’ve directed, like Pornography and Inheritance. This is the first time one of Will’s plays has been produced in full, but it’s certainly not his first play. In fact, the first day we met he showed me powerful and angsty play which instantly gripped me as exactly the kind of text I wanted to be directing. It was never produced, but we came quite close. Secretly, I am glad, because looking back the circumstances weren’t right to do it justice.

Since then he’s kept writing, and we scratched a few scenes from an otherwise unproduced play called Photographs at our first More Storm night in June 2014. All of Will’s writing, that I’ve seen (he’s very guarded with his writing), bears his distinctive hallmark imagery of classical beauty and nostalgia – jazz bands and cigarettes, hotels and home baking, references to Tennessee Williams and The Great Gatsby – placed in stark contrast with emptiness, disconnection, decay and destruction; as if the beauty is being asphyxiated by something more powerful and urgent.

papercut– is grander and more ambitious. It tackles apocalyptic themes on an excruciatingly intimate level. To read it (which, the first time, was a slightly overwhelming experience) is like turning a camera onto a TV screen, and watching the image expand and distort into infinity. The same feelings of disconnection and erosion are revisited but differently each time. As the play continues, language decays and eventually collapses into grunts and gasps. By that point, it doesn’t matter. You get the picture.

Our production, exquisitely performed by Harriet Wakefield (The Bell JarDinner, On Chesil Beach) and Henry Martin (The Bell JarPornography, On Chesil Beach), lit by Ryan Funnell (The Bell JarPornography) and costumed by Ester Mangas Fernandez (6 Characters in Search of an AuthorInheritanceOn Chesil Beach), equivocates the end of the world as a catastrophically failed relationship. This allows us to shift focus nimbly between the universal and the domestic; from the end of life as you know it, to the end of life as we know it.

We’re about halfway through the process – which has moved more quickly and proved more enjoyable than I could have hoped. Your first chance to see papercut– (very deliberately named in lower case with a dash; the name of the show isn’t “Papercut”, it is a papercut) is at our preview at Middlesex University on 28 July, before the show heads to Edinburgh to play at Theatre Arts Exchange (with whom papercut– is a co-production) from 15-21 August.

I’m wearing two hats at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, as I am also hugely privileged to be leading the programme at Theatre Arts Exchange, which sees a remarkable season of work appear in a brand new temporary theatre on Gayfield Square in an exciting project led by Middlesex University. papercut– is just a small part of a groundbreaking line-up featuring work from emerging companies we’ve long admired and seasoned professionals whose reputations precede them!

Rehearsals go up a gear this week so keep an eye on all the usual places, there’ll be plenty to see.

papercut– plays 15-21 August at Theatre Arts Exchange.
Preview: 28 July at Middlesex University.