Visionary playwright Caryl Churchill brings together two exhilarating one act plays in Blue Heart, which Tobacco Factory Theatres is delighted to add to its in-house production repertoire this season, in a co-production with the Orange Tree Theatre and directed by David Mercatali.
Kerrie Burke-Avery, Producer at Tobacco Factory Theatres, told us about working on this exciting new production of a contemporary classic.
Tell us about the creative team working on Blue Heart.
The creative team for this Tobacco Factory Theatres and Orange Tree Theatre co-production was borne out of a desire to use creative people from both our cities, Bristol and London. We’ve got the wonderful David Mercatali, who’s directing the show and who has presented work in Bristol before, including Radiant Vermin – one of my favourite shows! We’ve got Angela Davies, who’s the designer, and we’ve worked with her before, such as on Living Quarters last year. There is also Max Pappenheim, the sound designer, who is one of David’s favourite creatives to work with in London. And we’ve got our very own Chris Swain, who’s going to be our lighting designer, and he’s worked with amazing companies such as Gecko.
Describe the partnership between Tobacco Factory Theatres and the Orange Tree Theatre
Tobacco Factory Theatres has been trying lots of different ways to create new work through partnerships with artists and other organisations over the last three or four years. As a producing department, we want to challenge ourselves and get our work seen by as many people as possible. We’ve started to identify venues across the country that we’re really excited about and venues that share our artistic vision in terms of the sort of work we want to present to our audiences – and the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond is one of those theatres. It’s on a wave at the moment, it’s getting incredible national coverage and taking quite a lot of shows up to the National Theatre itself. We’re really pleased to be partnering with them.
How would you describe Blue Heart to someone that has never heard of the play?
Blue Heart is two plays – it’s Heart’s Desire and Blue Kettle. I think they’re challenging. I think they’re intelligent. I think they’re warm and funny and emotional and true. And they’re also an open invitation to look at the world in the way that you probably wouldn’t have looked at it before.They’re fairly unique. Particularly at the time they were written, there was nothing else that had ever been created like that. It could be said they’re a one off.
Of all the Caryl Churchill pieces that you could have chosen why choose this one?
I think Caryl’s work is always relevant and because of that it’s always getting re-made. This piece therefore came as a bit of a surprise to us, through suggestions from Paul Miller at the Orange Tree and conversations with David. It’s a piece that hasn’t been done for twenty years and there’s a reason for that – it’s a tricky play. It’s something that is difficult to stage and I think that the creative team that we’ve got, and us as a producing team, we’re at a certain stage in our careers and as venues where we like challenges. So, rather than being put off by the difficulties, we’re excited by the fact that the play hasn’t been seen by audiences in a number of years.
What are the main opportunities and challenges of working on a production like Blue Heart?
Blue Heart is a type of play that doesn’t get written very often and I’m talking about writing for older performers. Caryl is an expert at writing for experienced and season professionals in the industry. I think that it’s something that some playwrights steer away from. This play goes to the other extreme – out of the cast of nine, we have six that are over sixty. And it’s a script that is challenging and would be challenging for anyone at any point in their career to take on and learn with such precision. I think it’s going to be a really interesting rehearsal room. I think those that are involved are going to learn quite a lot about themselves and their own craft. I think everyone involved is going to come away thinking they’ve developed themselves, as actors, as a creative team and as a venue. The main opportunity is that we’ll get to see some of the country’s leading older actors really showboating. And that’s exciting!
What has been the biggest surprise while working on the production?
When I read the script for the very first time, I didn’t understand it at all and I felt there was nothing in there for me – nothing warm, nothing to draw me in. I’ve been surprised by the way that it’s grown on me because it has warmth and depth and humour. But the biggest surprises have been when we’ve had casting sessions and hear the script being spoken… When the rhythm is right and when the intonation is right, and when you hit that correct speed that Caryl is intending the play to be presented – it sings. That was shocking, absolutely shocking, and it just takes on a new dimension. I think when all nine actors are in rhythm and performing the show, it’s going to be really, really outstanding.