EDINBURGH 2017: BWW Interview - Stephen Whitson
BWW speaks to Stephen Whitson, Associate Director on Hamilton and 42nd Street, about bringing You Forgot The Mince to the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Tell us a little bit about You Forgot The Mince.
You Forgot The Mince tells the story of two young adults, Rosa - intelligent and curious - and Niko - streetwise and sharp - who fall in love but have no way to deal with the pressure that life places on their relationship. Rosa travels to university in London, Niko is imprisoned for a short time after being convicted of a crime related to his mother's drug addiction.
On his release, the conflict caused as they depend on each other more and more while trying to contain their frustrations very quickly leads to their relationship imploding, but, without a vent, their small London flat becomes a pressure cooker environment and we see in microcosm the difficulties faced by young people finding their way in the world. Having said all this, there is a huge amount of joy and laughter in the play - these are characters bound by love and desire.
Why bring it to Edinburgh?
The audience reaction to the play is startling - in a play that, in part, deals with abuse, everyone we talk to after the performance says "I recognise myself in those characters, in their behaviour" - there are several pensive faces leaving the theatre every night. This is because the line between a relationship we might consider 'normal' or 'loving' and one we consider 'abusive' is so fine - when does a person's need for love or control in their life become damaging to their partner?
It's also a very honest and frank depiction of an abusive relationship - TV tends to portray simplistic versions where the man is violent towards a woman but Francesca Joy's play sets out to explore the different types of abuse that can be quite subtle and almost undetectable to the outside world. Violence is only one type, there is also emotional, financial, sexual abuse amongst others. It also asks what responsibilities society has towards situations such as these.
Coming to Edinburgh has enabled us to offer four free tickets to each performance for young adults in care which has huge social worth and we're really proud to support the community. I'm originally from Edinburgh and our movement directors, Errol White and Davina Givan, are based there so we're looking forward to bringing a production home.
What research has been carried out for the play?
Francesca wrote this play based on her experiences working with offenders, ex-offenders, those with mental health issues, addicts and recovering addicts, young adults in the care system and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In our research phase, we visited a prison and spoke to several of the offenders imprisoned there to try and understand what life is like for a young man, like Niko in the play, to be imprisoned for a long period of time - what effect it has on outside relationships and how it feels to be so restricted, 24 hours a day.
How we deal with offenders is a hugely complex issue that concerns the whole of society. The need for security and to keep people safe in prison is a constant concern, which results in certain kinds of oppression of the individual which impacts on their ability to cope upon release. The noise on the wing is astounding - there isn't a moment of silence - think what that would do to your ability to cope with absolute separation from the outside world.
We also spoke to charities that help people who identify as victims of domestic abuse and those that work with people who identify as abusers which opens up a huge range of issues about how domestic abuse is challenged in this country.
The most insightful experience was speaking to a young woman who had been in two abusive relationships. She was still angry that her family hadn't intervened - a common feeling amongst those who are abused. Why do we turn the other way when we see someone arguing in the street or so readily accept the explanation for an unusual bruise? Can we do more?
Why has it been important to tour the show around prisons?
When visiting a prison last year, one man sat in silence for a long time after it had concluded. When he eventually told us his thoughts he simply said "I never thought of it like that. All I ever heard was her screaming at me, I didn't know what she wanted." I believe that we've changed that man's life and that of his future partners.
What do you hope audiences take away from the piece?
Francesca's aim is to challenge the audience with a domestic situation that contains abuse so that they might recognise the signs and be able to make a choice not to follow them should they ever find themselves feeling or acting in a similar way to Rosa and Niko. If we can just make people think twice about their behaviour to those close to them we will have done our job.
What's next for you after the Fringe?
You Forgot The Mince goes on tour so I'll be checking in on that around the country. I continue my work as Associate Director of 42nd Street in the West End which, with a cast of 58, is never a quiet day! In September I start rehearsals for Hamilton as the UK Associate Director - last year, just before we rehearsed You Forgot The Mince, I rehearsed in New York with the Hamilton cast that's currently appearing in the production resident in Chicago, so I feel like everything has come full circle.
Finally, 42nd Street has been a great success in the West End - why do you think audiences are connecting with classic musicals at the moment?
The joy on the faces of our audiences is something that never ceases to cheer me up at the end of a long day - I speak to so many people who say that, with everything negative going on in the world today, 42nd Street's particular brand of pure escapism should be prescribed on the NHS! It's an incredible show on a huge scale that is undeniably uplifting and so much fun.
Timings and ticket information for You Forgot The Mince are available on the edfringe website.