+3 Interview: Under My Thumb

“We have been overwhelmed with the positive responses received so far, and we could not have found a more supportive venue.”

WHO: James Haddrell, Director

WHAT: “In a dystopian present, five women are imprisoned for crimes against society. Brought together by a common enemy and facing indefinite incarceration, their one remaining dignity is their continuing belief in their own innocence. The arrival of yet another prisoner seems no surprise, just another woman brought down by the world outside, but is she all that she seems? Shortlisted for the inaugural RED Women’s Theatre Awards in 2016.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) 

WHEN: 16:10 (60 min)

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Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

No – as Artistic Director of Greenwich Theatre I’m here every year, either supporting young companies bringing their work to the Fringe or searching for the most exciting new companies to take back to London. This year is no different – we are supporting nine shows this year at Pleasance, Assembly and Underbelly, from clowning to music theatre, political theatre to award-winning drama.

Back in 2015 I directed my first show at the Fringe, a revival of John Retallack’s Hannah & Hanna – the debut production by CultureClash Theatre. I’m delighted to be back directing not one but two shows this year, but I’m particularly excited to have reunited with CultureClash Theatre for this production of Under My Thumb.

Tell us about your show.

Under My Thumb was first discovered by CultureClash Theatre when a short 20 minute version of the script was shortlisted for the RED Women’s Theatre Awards. Serin Ibrahim and Cassandra Hercules from CultureClash met with the writer, an astonishingly talented young writer called Cassiah Joski-Jethi, to talk about developing the script into a full length play.

After that, I was invited to lead a period of R&D with the writer and a full cast to explore the short script that had already been written and support the writer in developing it. We spent a week running scenes, improvising around the characters, developing an understanding of the scenario and talking about our own experiences of inequality in society. This was an amazing process, and the writer and I were incredibly lucky to have such a generous cast, prepared to share their thoughts and experiences openly and honestly and to contribute to the development of the show.

Then, with support from Arts Council England, we presented a short run of 10 test performances in Greenwich, inviting audiences to stay after every show to talk to us about the script, the characters and the premise, to see whether the show needed further development. With great feedback from audiences Cassiah spent more time on the script and then the show played at the Brighton Fringe and Incoming Festival earlier this year before finally being ready to open here in Edinburgh.

We have been overwhelmed with the positive responses received so far, and we could not have found a more supportive venue. We are presenting the show in the Snug Bar at Assembly Roxy, a dark, subterranean space that offers the perfect home for this claustrophobic, tense thriller. With the audience surrounding them, the six women incarcerated for alleged crimes against society can never leave and have nowhere to hide. Moments of projection fill in some of the back story for the audience, but the characters themselves are trapped.

We are now exploring a future life for the show. With audiences raving about it, I’m sure there will be another outing for Under My Thumb…

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

I am proud to be supporting a range of shows at the Fringe this year, so they should definitely start with some of those! The list of good shows at the Fringe is obviously overwhelming but I would recommend the two winners of the Les Enfants Terribles Award this year – GOODY by BoonDog Theatre and FORM by Rendered Retina, both at the Pleasance.

Also at the Pleasance, Patch Of Blue are back with a new show, WHEN WE RAN, after the success of WE LIVE BY THE SEA last year which transferred to New York. Hyphen Theatre bring the touching autobiographical story THE SOFT SUBJECT to Assembly George Square, and Edinburgh favourites Familia de la Noche are at Underbelly with two parallel shows, BEADLEDOM ALPHA and BEADLEDOM OMEGA, a unique pair of clown shows about life, death, and what happens when they get mixed up.

Outside of the Greenwich family, SKIN at Pleasance Courtyard is an amazing piece of hip-hop dance theatre about gender. I’ve also heard great things about VAN GOGH FIND YOURSELF, hidden away at the Natural Food Kafe…