For the second week of our SPRING festival we have a double portion of extraordinary work which has come from the Young Company. The first is The Grandfathers which is about to return to the National Theatre this summer. The second is RIOT which has had two sold out runs at Bristol Old Vic and is returning for one last visit. Jesse Jones is involved with both; as director of The Grandfathers and as a performer and creator of RIOT. We caught up with him to ask him about the two shows.
Tell us about the two shows you’re returning with for SPRING.
The Grandfathers is written by Rory Mullarkey, and was performed originally as part of the National Theatre Connections festival. Every year ten playwrights are commissioned by the National Theatre to write plays for performers between the ages of 12 and 19, and those ten plays are put into production by youth theatres and schools around the country as part of NT Connections. For each script one production from the whole country is selected and last year we were chosen to go to the National. It was a real success at Bristol Old Vic and the National, and because of this we’ve been asked to come back to Bristol Old Vic as part of SPRING.
RIOT is a devised show by The Wardrobe Ensemble which is a company that was formed here through the Made in Bristol project in its first year (2010-2011). The show is about the Ikea riots of 2005 where Ikea opened a store in London and advertised incredibly cheap deals all over the city. The store opened at midnight and 7,000 people turned up; someone got stabbed and 33 people were hospitalized. We tell the ridiculous events of that day in quite a tongue-in-cheek, satirical way, which looks at people thinking it’s all right to riot over want and not need. The shows complement each other very well; both are very creative in their staging and use live music, but both come from a very different style and place.
What drew you to Rory Mullarkey’s NT Connections script?
The Grandfathers is about eight young conscripts between the ages of 17 and 19, and it follows their story through their 14 week training process. The script isn’t gender specific but I read it as the story of eight young men who are chucked into a pressure cooker environment. The play is about how they learn to live with each other and themselves, and grow into men. Which I think for the performers is a really exciting topic, and the context allows us to see this process intensified. We see the effect of the war on them in the sense that a terrible tragedy happens when they are caught out on the battlefield. Really it’s not about war, and it’s not about whether young people should be sent off to war, even though those things do come up. It’s about the relationship and the dynamics of a group of young men and it’s incredibly well written.
What has it been like returning to the script?
Really interesting. We first performed in April last year, then we returned to it in the summer for the performance at the National Theatre, and now we’ve been asked to come back here. It’s been quite a fragmented rehearsal process because of the fact that some of the boys are at university or at school, and this time we had to rehearse really intensely in January. As it was last time, it’s been amazing returning to the script. We’ve done so much work on it that the performers are really attached to these characters and they know the story so well, so it’s been nice to find some new things in the characters and script.
You’re taking The Grandfathers back to the National this Summer, are you excited?
We are very excited about taking it to the National. We’re going to be there for a week, and the Learning Department there are really excited. The invitation kind of came out of nowhere, because this has never happened before. They have never invited a NT Connections play back, so it’s a big thing.
Could you tell us a little about the formation of The Wardrobe Ensemble and the Made in Bristol project?The Made in Bristol Project was born out of a want for the older members of the Young Company to be given a route into the professional world of making theatre. They put together a programme of a year’s training where we trained together twice a week. These sessions were with various different theatre practitioners, and were, at the time, led by Tid and are now led by Miranda Cromwell. We were given a slot in the studio, and we decided to form a theatre company and create that show. We knew we wanted to take it on elsewhere and so we took RIOT to Edinburgh. Then we’ve continued on as a company, touring RIOT nationally and more recently to the United States.
What drew The Wardrobe Ensemble to the IKEA Riot story?
We were brainstorming ideas and Tom Brennan (the director) brought in a newspaper clipping and told us about it. The story sounded so ridiculous to us and that we instantly found it really interesting. The amazing thing about IKEA is that all sections of society go there which is not normal for big stores. On the day of the riot there was everyone from accountants to people on benefits there, and that dynamic, for us, felt like an exciting place to start. As we researched it more we became more and more fascinated by what happened, and we felt we could tell the story in an accessible and energetic way, which is our style of theatre-making.
You’ve been touring for almost two years with RIOT, including travelling to the U.S., do you have plan to take it elsewhere?
We plan to tour it in the future as part of our ‘Real Things Trilogy’, the second part of which we are in development with. It’s called 33 and is about the Chilean miners crisis, and we’ll be working on that for the next few months. We hope to take that to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and then tour that.
What’s next for you?
I continue to be co-artistic director of The Wardrobe Theatre which is here in Bristol and is going from strength to strength. It’s been open two years and we support local theatre-makers in their infancy. I’m also doing some work with The National on their Christmas 2013 show as assistant director. I spend a lot of time between London and Bristol splitting my time between projects. In the near future I’m going to be doing some schools work with Travelling Light and continuing with the Young Company. On top of this myself and Jesse Meadows (also in The Wardrobe Ensemble) are also working a project together which we hope to develop during the next few months.