Whilst some questioned whether they could survive the pandemic and others wondered what to do during lockdown, Kitty Ball and Alexandra Hannant took control of their own destiny and set up Burning Brick Theatre Company, so it was a delight to catch up with them – and compatriot Phoebe Coop – to discuss their forthcoming production, Seeking Arrangement, written by Hannant, directed by Ball, and starring Coop.
By day, Bolton lass Charlie struggles to make a difference as a UN intern, working to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of women across the world. By night, she moonlights as Sugar Baby Tamara, trading companionship and intimacy to survive in New York City. Assessing feminist ideas of ownership of the body while yielding it to a paying consumer, Seeking Arrangement follows one woman’s battle as she tries to advocate her own self-worth and ambitions while being a full-blown people pleaser.
The play is based on Hannant’s own experiences in New York working as a UN intern – the irony of her own low pay sitting in contrast to the stated aims of the institution – which provides the piece with a refreshing Northern female voice as well its underlining authenticity. Although initially written chronologically, the three have workshopped the play – including a couple of previews at ALRA North to garner audience feedback – to allow it to evolve and unravel in a different way that challenges its audience to engage more with the ideas it presents.
I’ve always liked Gabriel Byrne’s approach of assuming your audience are intelligent enough to work it out for themselves, so it is refreshing to see this bright young company bravely implement a similar philosophy as they present contrasting ideas to their audience and, in a world where there is no definitive right or wrong, ask them to question their own moral compass on subjects as wide-ranging as empowerment, self-confidence, and sexuality: good theatre tells a story; great theatre makes its audience think.
Their approach to rehearsals has seen them tackling the challenges of the pandemic head-on, utilising their natural good humour and sense of camaraderie when one of the team was required to self-isolate for ten days, as they worked tirelessly to make and create this important piece of theatre.
There has been a lot of debate about the future of theatre, including how the main venues are structured and financed, and the relevance of the work that they put on. Here we have an emerging theatre company driven by three inspired individuals who are providing a voice for those not often heard – regions; women; younger people to name a few – and tackling real issues with a relevance to society today. As much as the adversity of Coronavirus has provided them an opportunity, it is important that the future theatrical landscape embraces and supports what they and others are doing otherwise theatre, rather than becoming a force for change, will descend unwisely into a farce from which it may not recover.
Burning Brick Theatre Company is based in the North West of England, its stated aim to produce theatre that shakes the foundations and understanding of current issues and ideas, while at the same time providing opportunities for creatives in the region. Further details https://burningbricktc.wixsite.com/bbtc
Note: this interview was held in October 2020 but sadly Coronavirus flared and their ambition to perform as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe was put on hold along with this Preview.
However, I am pleased to announce that several months on, Seeking Arrangement deservedly performs at King’s Head Theatre in London on 18th July with Gaby Richardson taking the lead role. Tickets for the matinee performance have sold out but there are still some available for the evening show at 7.30pm. Booking details at https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/playmill-seeking-arrangement