<b>Gareth K Vile</b> chats to Mark Prebble and Marion Short, the team behind In Transit at the GRV
Al Megrahi's return to Libya after being released from prison, following his conviction for the notorious Lockerbie plane bombing, was a moment of national drama. The Actors Kitchen decided to take a look at the personal stories that may have been influenced by that moment in a new production at the GRV.
Although it is set in a very specific location, does the title In Transit have any broader comment on the pace and nature of modern life?
Modern life has a certain manic business to it that encourages being self-absorbed. This often prevents us from seeing what’s happening right in front of us – either on a personal lever or a socio-political one.
In Transit explores awkward moments created when you are stuck for hours in a busy place. When you have to finally talk to the weirdo sitting next to you. When you can no longer hide your problems with business. What happens when meticulously scheduled days are thrown into disarray?
You are working with five writers, yet call this a devised work. How did that go as a process?
We've been very lucky that through The Actors Kitchen and Edinburgh Screenwriters, we've had a big talent pool to call on. Also thanks to The Arts Complex (http://www.artscomplex.org/) we've been able to have a long rehearsal period within which to devise, at a very low cost.
Marion started the process started with a month of rehearsals where actors and writers would bring ideas for characters or stories, either from their own life or imagined. We would then mix and combine different stories and characters and the actors would improvise scenes. Different exercises abstracted and developed the characters into scenes the writers could script.
Over the next month the writers worked with the actors and Mark to refine and craft the stories into those that reached the stage. After the writing period finished, Mark script edited the fifteen scenes into the play we are performing.
There are nine actors yet over twenty parts. How does this impact on the production?
Each actor plays multiple roles. Some actors have more characters, others play characters that appear more often. As you can imagine the rehearsal process has been a logistical challenge, co-ordinating up to fourteen people at once, not to mention the need for some quick changes during the show.
On the plus side, it has meant that a large group can absorb the budget of an unfunded production and no-one is carrying the full financial risk. Likewise, it broadens your guaranteed audience base of friends, family and colleagues.
The GRV is a bijoux, lovely space, yet this piece has quite a scale! How does the venue influence the nature of In Transit?
While the themes of In Transit are large in scale we focus on the intimate moments that reflect them. Sure it’s set in an airport, but it’s in small areas within it, e.g. a check-in desk, bar, departure lounge, etc.
The cast is big but most of the scenes only have two or three actors in them. This all helps to suggest that within the chaos of a busy airport, many small unheard stories are happening. We’ve found that working in a small performance space focuses this quality and brings an intimacy to the acting and stories that would be lost in a big theatre.
It appears that you are using a critical political event to examine personal stories. What made you decide to use Al Megrahi as a focal point?
Marion decided to set the project in an airport from quite early in the process because it seemed an interesting place for a diverse group of characters to be. We knew we needed something that connected the characters and scenes together and to the greater world, and hoped to find this from within the work.
Then at one rehearsal, on the day that Al Megrahi flew back to Libya, one of the actors improvised this amazing character of a plane spotter who’d come to the airport to watch him fly away. We immediately saw that, as well as being a highly entertaining and moving scene, it provided a useful linking mechanism. The more we developed the scripts, the more we noticed how other scenes reflected themes and issues raised by Al Megrahi’s release and departure.
While the play is not about Al Megrahi as such, nor does it past judgement on his guilt, different scenes thematically connect to his story. One scene deals with compassion, another has a scapegoat taking the fall for others, a third explores to what degree a character’s own actions have contributed to seemingly unconnected events. By focusing on personal stories, In Transit can hopefully ask of its audience “If you can’t deal with these issues in your own life, how can you expect to deal with them as a society?”
What influences your work – any particular other companies or writers?
Marion recently did some acting workshops with Justin Molotnikov and Stephen McCole who made the brilliant film Crying With Laughter. This is a scripted film that developed from an improvised base. Hearing about their process and witnessing the quality of the results was highly influential on how we structured our process.
Mark, who wrote the Plane Spotter scene that does deal directly with Al Megrahi was highly influenced by Robert Fisk’s book, 'The Great War For Civilisation', in particular how Fisk examines the tragedy of the Lockerbie bombing in a greater historical context.
What is the mood that you are hoping to convey to the audience – amused, defiant, engaged?
Some of In Transit is very funny, particularly the character of Ursula, a dodgy property developer who spouts Malcolm Tucker-esque obscenity. So we’re definitely hoping for laughs with those scenes. Overall we hope audiences will be engaged in the personal stories, amused at the different characters and moved by the wider themes.
Tuesday 17- Saturday 21 November - 8pm GRV, Guthrie St (off Chambers St) £8 / 6.50 Bookings: 0131 554 3005http://www.actorskitchen.org