In the Media:
The following interview has been taken from Gareth Vile's The Vile Blog, and is dated 26th June, 2015.
The Fringe Questions
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Laura Ingram:When I was nineteen, I worked as a follow-spot operator at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. During my time there, I learned about one of the first English actresses, Nell Gwyn, who caught the eye of King Charles II whilst starring in Restoration comedies at Drury Lane in the 1660s.
Ever since, I've been enchanted by the era, and it's been a long-held dream of mine to bring Nell back to life somehow. I gave it a few attempts in my twenties - a clunky screenplay, a stage script that had no technique at all, being little more than a collection of biographical scenes. Something told me they were not good enough, and I filed them away, but the project never fully left my
Over the years, I read more about the craft of writing, I practised writing, I joined a writing group, I read a lot about Nell and Charles, I looked at the differences between writing prose versus writing for theatre, and I worked on shows and thought a lot about what made them inherently theatrical.
Aged 33, whilst follow-spotting The Lion King in Edinburgh, I began to need to scratch the play-writing itch again, and the first line of the play just came out of the keyboard in Nell's own voice - "Do you like my legs?"
I took it from there, and was lucky enough to meet Dave McFarlane of Black Dingo Productions and Jen McGregor of Tightlaced Theatre, who kindly allowed me to use their Discover21 theatre in Edinburgh to workshop the play there with them. This gave me a deadline, and suddenly all of my research and pondering about structure coalesced and took form. Of course, it wasn't quite as easy as that - I've been re-writing right up until last week - but it was a far cry from my earliest attempts in my twenties.
Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Because I can. Because I live here. Because I want to be a part of it. Because I want to be a producer, and a playwright, and have to start somewhere - and where better?
What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I think they'll feel pleasantly surprised. A lot of people have commented on coming out of the workshops as to how relieved they were that they hadn't been bored! Apparently, there's an expectation that a one-person monologue will be like being lectured for an hour. But what I really mean is they'll be surprised by Nell herself - by how much they warm to her as a person, and to our own actress in the guise of Nell.
Lucy is truly astonishing in her ability to 'get' the role and become Nell, and she carries the whole audience with her to 1669 and makes Restoration London live again. I also hope they'll laugh a bit, and see some relevance in the play in terms of how women's struggle to survive and compete and thrive has - or hasn't - changed.
The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
In all honesty, I haven't ever given the concept of dramaturgy much thought. When I first wrote the play, I hadn't even heard of it. But on researching the role of the dramaturg in modern theatre, I can see that I have unwittingly incorporated much of the dramaturgy ethos into the writing and subsequent production of my script.
For example, if a dramaturg's role is, in part, to inform the director and actor(s) about the historical milieu behind the work, and to highlight thematic links, then I've done that and will continue to do that myself in rehearsal. I also believe it to be an inherent part of the playwright's job - "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage."
Similarly, I found a definition of dramaturgy as "collaboration on a needs basis", which is very much how I work as a producer. There is some weird alchemy in theatre, wherein the collaborator is needed, one will appear. Where these useful folk haven't outright worn the various hats of Director or Stage Manager, they have generally and very organically become "Co-Producer".
It has been invaluable to have this sounding-board person to complement, and at times outright contradict, you as a producer, and "sounding-board" is another description I've seen appended to the term "dramaturg".
From a strictly text-based perspective, I find it easier to envisage the role of a dramaturg with an existing text where the playwright is no longer alive, or at least is not on hand to give input. I can be very precious about my script, simply because of all the work that has gone into getting the structure right and keeping the focus on the main dramatic impetus.
I wouldn't want someone else advising my director or actors about the thematic stuff. Then again, I've learned the hard way that it's not ideal to direct your own stuff, and that an 'outside' director can find a perspective on your work that you've long ago lost as the writer, so who knows?
Maybe if I tried collaborating with a dramaturg, I would find it helpful. Certainly the roles of dramaturg, writer and director overlap considerably (I wouldn't want to hire a director who didn't consider the setting and themes of the script, after all). But, for a new adaptation of an existing story in another format, i.e. a novel, then I find it much easier to see where a dramaturg would come in, in terms of ensuring that the play is indeed a play and not a novel divided into scenes of dialogue. Then again, any good playwright should be able to do that, too.
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
For Nell, I've very much had to steep myself in the theatrical 'lore' and traditions of Restoration theatre - both comedy and tragedy - in 1660s London. While I haven't been trying to replicate Restoration theatre literally, it has certainly informed my writing in terms of themes and occasional dramatic choices.
For example, it was traditional for all performances of tragedies to end with a jig - a merry dance of hopping steps and skips - to cheer the audience up so that they left the theatre in a good mood and said good things about the play. In my play, Nell refers to this, and we then make a point of ending our own play on a jig!
Similarly, there was a strong Restoration tradition to bookmark a play with a Prologue and Epilogue. These were spoken by actors, but were often direct pleas from the playwrights themselves to the audiences to bear with them while they tried out a new style, or to forgive them any errors, or to explicate the plot because the play itself had failed to do so.
Occasionally, public quarrels were played out in these, such as that between the Duke of Buckingham and the playwright John Dryden (both characters feature in our play), wherein the writer could make a public fool of his/her enemy with that person sat right there in the audience. In Nell, I've taken the idea of the Epilogue both literally, and as a metaphor: she is in the final months of her celebrated theatrical career, she needs to use a literal Epilogue as a tool to get her own way, and the play in itself is, for me, a sort of Epilogue to the story of Nell's life, wherein I, as the playwright, get to say, "Look at Nell! How great was she?!"
Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
It always begins with two things: 1) The urge to make something of something, and 2) a story worth producing. Without the latter, there is no point in doing the former, and so I can go long swathes of time doing nothing while I wait for the right project to find me.
Once I have the play (whether I've written it or not), that theatrical alchemy I spoke of starts to gather the creative and technical team to my side and things start to happen. I just go with the flow. There aren't any lists or formal processes as such, just a mental sense of what needs doing next and by when, and - crucially - what I can do myself, and what I need to delegate to maintain the production's professional standard (collaboration, again!).
In terms of the life-cycle of a production, from script to workshop to polished performance, that depends very much on who I have working with me and what they wish to do next. We generally take advantage of whatever opportunities arise through people we know, networking, and from contacting venues we'd like to perform at. Each play is different, and not all productions suit the same venues or scale of production. Nell, for instance, would work very well in an intimate pub theatre, but not at all (ironically) in a three-tiered playhouse the size of Drury Lane. You have to be very much led by the work.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Whilst writing, re-writing and rehearsing Nell, the audience never leaves my awareness. In any production, they are crucial, and the dynamic between the actors and the audience can make or break a performance, but this is even more the case with our play than in any I have worked on previously, because the physical audience will in effect also be doubling as Nell's period audience in the "Pit" at Drury Lane.
There is no fourth wall, then, and she talks to them as actors of her time would have bantered with the crowd. If this dynamic falls flat, so too will the whole play. Fortunately, feedback from early workshops was that this risk paid off, and the interaction (nothing too scary, don't worry!) heightened the pleasure of the theatrical experience for the audience (as it certainly did for our actress, too).
The biggest benefit of work-shopping a play multiple times over a year or two, is the opportunity to talk to people who were in the audience(s) about what did and didn't work. It's dangerous to take a single critic's (or indeed fan's) subjective opinion as gospel, but when you're hearing the same comments over and over again, it is imperative that you sit up and listen - and act on the feedback you are hearing. For instance, we learned through doing this that the opening of our play (a chunk I had added on to the original script) didn't work, and this led to us reverting to the original opening line, and also revising the ending of the play to reflect this. I also learned a valuable lesson about clarity. I had previously taken the high ground of insisting I was writing to the "highest common denominator" in the audience, and didn't want to insult their intelligence by stating exposition too blatantly.
A good writer friend, who had been in that first audience, put me right on that: "You can never be too clear. If you want the audience to know something, state it explicitly, and then say it twice." I took this advice on board and soon realised that my script was better for it.
Something about gaining absolute clarity on what I wanted to say through the process of saying it absolutely clearly then showed me which parts of the script were deadwood and needed to be cut. I am really happy with the script I have today, but I wouldn't have had it if I hadn't been fortunate enough to have the chance to see it from the audience's perspective multiple times, and then have several months to think on what needed to be changed, and what was simply a subjective opinion I didn't agree with.
Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I don't think so, but I seem to have written a book already, so it's probably time I shut up and let someone else get a word in... Thank you very much for interviewing me, and I look forward to reading the other entries on your blog.
Social Media Coverage of our #BigFatBribe for The List Magazine
The List @thelistmagazine 22h22 hours ago
BigFatBribe from @OrangeGirlProd & show Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue. Check out the Orange Wench http://ow.ly/P92wz
More from The List's Debbie Thomson
Debbie Thomson @ThomsonDebs 22h22 hours ago
Aww #bigfatbribe time check out this basket of citrus amazingness / Turkish delight oh and a ye old English script
A Close-Up of Nell's Letter to The List
Nell couldn't write, nor access the most ancient of PCs (Blackadder font notwithstanding), but if she could...
Lovely Twitter Twitterings
Alex Watts @AlexWattsEsq Jul 3
Also on in my venue and VERY MUCH on my list of shows to see. Even more so now.
Laura's thoughts on the script and dramaturgy, as interviewed by Gareth K. Vile
Interview with Laura Ingram by Fringe Review (July, 2015)
There’s a lot of new work to enjoy at Sweet Venues, as well as a few popular shows making a return.
There are plenty of young companies at Sweet as well as a fair smattering of music, comedy and cabaret. Sweet ism another friendly venue, with approachable staff and place to sit and relax in a lovely part of the city. You may well find a hidden gem or two here and it’s always worth looking out for new writing and interesting solo shows. The spirit of the fringe is alive and well at Sweet.
INTERVIEW: Laura Ingram talks about Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue
What’s the show about?
June, 1669: Nineteen-year old Nell is celebrated for her comic acting, particularly when she gets to dress as a boy to show off her legs. However, Charles Hart, her manager and former lover, keeps casting her in tragic roles to embarrass her in front of her new amour, King Charles II. Nell fears that if she cannot be her sexy, lively self onstage, the King will fall out of love with her off it. So, aided by the audience in the Pit, she concocts a plan to win Hart round and consolidate her roles as comedienne and courtesan. This is no traditional monologue – it is stand-up comedy 17th Century style: bawdy and energetic, with an occasional social bite.
What’s unique about the show?
Nell Gwyn was one of the very first female comedians, laying the groundwork for the countless women who followed in her footsteps. This production is a blend of theatre and stand-up comedy, from the point of view of one the pioneers of both.
Describe one of your rehearsals
Loud and bawdy! Nell is not shy and retiring, and neither is Lucy Formby, who plays her. Being in rehearsal is like being with the cheeky and vivacious Nell herself, and anyone watching would need to take care not to get drawn into proceedings…
How did the show come into being?
Orange Girl Productions is a new fringe theatre company based in Edinburgh, Scotland, whose principal aim is to present new writing (both original scripts and adaptations) on a professional but affordable scale – for both the company and its audiences. "Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue" is written by Laura Ingram, who first encountered Nell’s story when she worked backstage at Drury Lane in the late 1990s.
Following successful workshops in Edinburgh in 2014 (in collaboration with Black Dingo Productions and Tightlaced Theatre), and at the Pleasance Stagespace in London in January this year, this new and revised production is directed by Andy Corelli and sponsored by Edinburgh film-making company, Strange Company Ltd, as well as being generously supported by Arts and Business Scotland through their New Arts Sponsorship Award.
What’s your favourite show, and why?
It’s a complete cliche, but "Les Miserables". The music is haunting, the characters are so well-drawn, and it just swallows you up.
Read our Fringe Diary entries at TVBomb
Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue has been in development for just over a year, its earliest iteration being the workshopped performances at Discover21 in Edinburgh, in April 2014; a co-production with Black Dingo Productions and Tightlaced Theatre. From there, we had a one-off performance at the Pleasance in London in January. This gave us the necessary insight to make important changes ahead of the Fringe, including hiring an external director, and clarifying and trimming areas of the script.
The last couple of weeks has seen ‘Nell’ take it up a gear. I received notice of our New Arts Sponsorship (NAS) grant funding from Arts and Business Scotland last week. This is match funding against the ‘in-kind’ sponsorship’ provided by Strange Company, in the form of our production trailer. We’re thrilled with the news.
Yesterday, I met our director, Andy Corelli, to finalise the script changes. We also discussed practicalities around rehearsals and performance timing (he has another production at the Fringe – also in Sweet at Grassmarket!), and agreed to hire a desk operator for the technical stuff so that I won’t be wearing too many hats (in addition to being mummy to my toddler!) We’re currently looking at the distribution of funds between this, the flyering team, and hiring our two ‘audience plants’. Finally, we agreed dates for his first ‘pre-rehearsal rehearsal’ with our actress, Lucy Formby, in June – a chance for them to meet and discuss the script and directing methods, ahead of the start of the formal rehearsal period in July.
Next up is to draft our Fringe press release, some related press articles, and any other marketing copy required, as well as to put some thought into the design of the flyers (my husband is the whizz on this), and work with Hugh Hancock of Strange Company on finishing our amazing production trailer (to be seen here shortly!).
Not much has progressed on the surface since our last diary entry, but there have been plenty of rumblings underneath. My production style is a little bit ‘feast or famine’, with things simmering in my subconscious for a while, then suddenly boiling over in a burst of deadline-fuelled activity!
The most significant box that has been ticked lately is that our tickets have now gone on sale at the Fringe Box Office. It suddenly seems very real! All the plans detailed in our last entry (press copy, poster/trailer completion, early rehearsal, etc) are still in the pipeline, but the most time-consuming aspect of production at the moment is proving to be the script. The initial changes agreed with Andy, our director, have grown several arms and legs, as I’ve been streamlining some aspects and discovering larger structural problems as I go. These changes are all to the good, and I’m certainly not getting scissor-happy; I think having a few months away from the script has allowed me to see the wood for the trees!
Next up: get the final script to Lucy, our brilliant actress, and hope she doesn’t blanch at the number of changes! When she comes up to Edinburgh in June, we’ll work on learning these together. In the meantime, I need to start sourcing all the new props that have ‘appeared’ in the script – starting with recipes for 17th-Century sweetmeats. Yum!)
I said last time that my production style is “feast or famine”. The past few weeks have been all about the feast. At the moment, I’m juggling a hundred balls of varying weights and I can’t remember how many I’m supposed to have in the air. Every task completed generates three more. Things I think I’ve done already grow extra arms and legs. It’s a producer’s banquet, and I bloody love it.
In the past few weeks, we’ve kicked off rehearsals with Andy, our director, and Lucy, our actress; I’ve ordered new props and costume fabric, and 8kg of Turkish Delight; we have a quote for insurance and an excellent deal on flyers (my husband is designing these literally as I type); I’ve sent out dozens of press releases and had a few encouraging responses; I’ve had an interesting email conversation with an actress currently playing Nell at the Hollywood Fringe; and – thank the gods – I’ve finally finished the revisions to the script.
Next up: 1.) dust off my sewing machine and get stitching; 2.) finalise the flyers; 3.) push yet more press releases; 4.) complete my venue’s technical questionnaire; 5.) Skype Lucy about the script; 6.) send a bribe to The List’s Edinburgh office (it’s legit – it’s a thing on their website); 7.) figure out what to do with the wig; 8.) provide Robyn at the Fringe office with more details to enable her to advise me as to how best to ensure a future life for our show, and in “spare” moments, I’m putting together a Fringe Clash Diary of my own to help me plan for August.
24th July, 2015
It's inexcusably dull of me to start yet another Fringe diary entry with, "For this month, see last month," but July's producorial* feast is as hectic as June's, and consists entirely of Haribo. My to-do list is officially high. (*It's a word, I checked.)
All the things I said I'd do - buy insurance, send flyers to print, bribe/flirt lovingly with the Press - I've done, and we're putting finishing touches to the costumes, props and hair design. Suffice it to say, we're keeping the hair dye business afloat right now (anything to avoid wigs).
Even more excitingly (to us), Rehearsals Proper have begun with our marvelous director, Andy, and we've successfully cast our two fabulous audience plants (don't tell anyone). It's been wonderful to step back from the rehearsal room and let Andy and Lucy do Their Thing. I'm slightly jealous that I'm missing the fun, but I'm relieved to be able to focus on the producing side at this stage in proceedings, and I'm stoked to see what they've achieved at the Tech.
With less than two weeks to go till Opening Night, I'll be tying up loose ends, courting venues and promoters, and looking more closely at the Technical Stuff. Generally, though, I will be found (hygienically) wrapping the endless mounds of sweetmeats - and consuming more than I ought, as the Producer's Prerogative. Who needs Haribo? (Don't tell anyone.)
View 2015 Fringe production trailer (1:58 mins)