Fairground discuss devising with a writer


After a short hiatus, Fairground are set to return with their take on the story of history’s most infamous outlaw couple, Bonnie and Clyde.  Since it was founded in 2007, the company has experimented with a blend of text, music and choreography in The Red Man, Where You Can’t Follow and Out of Touch.  To me, what seems most interesting about Fairground is how they combine collaborative devising with new writing.  I caught up with Artistic Director Tid and Writer Adam Peck to find out more about Fairground’s process, Bonnie and Clyde, and their wildest dreams for the company…

– What were Fairground’s initial aims as a company?

A: We wanted to combine music, new writing and physical performance in a way that we felt other companies weren’t doing.  We wanted to tell stories in an interesting and all-encompassing way.

– What would you say is different about Fairground’s ethos and process compared to other companies?

A: It’s not text-led, but also not entirely devised.  There will be a narrative structure in place, so we know what it is we’re trying to say and in what order we’re trying to say it.

– How has that process changed over the three years you’ve worked together as a company?

A: As time’s gone on, Tid’s become more of an auteur of his work, and for me when I was trying to find a voice as a writer that was difficult because essentially we were both trying to author a piece.  That led to our work in the past either being more script-led, or more led by devising and direction.  The Red Man was very much a devised process; what the actors improvised in the room was written down, whereas the Trilogy (Out of Touch) was written and then staged in a more conventional sense.  There’s more of a middle ground now.  I’m less strict about the story and the script, and Tid’s more mindful of structure.  By working together we’ve both learnt how to make work in a devising process that has the integrity of a scripted piece, and the intangible things which really enrich the theatrical experience in a way that other mediums can’t.  Two bodies in front of you, in real space, in real time, there’s something special about that.

– What are the best and worst things about working with each other?

T: The best thing about working with Adam is that he cracks me up.  The worst thing isn’t about him, but our history.  You go through stuff with people and sometimes it leaves scars.  Sometimes they’re what you draw from and what pushes you forward, but sometimes they can be the thing that’s holding you back.  You have to watch that when you’re running a company, because you need to be honest, but you also run the risk of hurting each other.  You need to find that balance, and most of the time we do.  You’re there to make the best piece of work.

A: The best thing about working with Tid is he’s always surprising.  He takes me off on tangents that I wouldn’t have explored if I’d just been writing a script at home.  What’s frustrating is that he doesn’t give the text any real reverence.  He doesn’t look at a text and say ‘why is the character doing that?’ or ‘why has the writer written that?’, he has a ‘just get up and do it’ mentality.


– Adam: How does working with Tid compare to other directors you’ve worked with?

A: Some directors look at the script as if it has the answers.  Changing it tends to be the last resort.  In the past I’ve been frustrated by Tid pulling my work apart and wrecking what I consider to be the integrity of it.  As a result of that I tend to be less precious about what I write for Fairground, and a lot more generous, and also I can respond a lot more quickly to ideas that are generated in the room.


– How did the original concept for Bonnie and Clyde come about?

A: Tid approached me, because he had left Fairground at this point, and said ‘what do you think about doing Bonnie and Clyde?’.  I thought, ‘that sounds like a really good story’.  Bonnie and Clyde lived recently enough to make it about two people who are in love, who do something crazy that’s a bit Mickey and Mallory out of Natural Born Killers, but it was long enough ago to make it historical, with that nostalgia of something different, something distant.  As with other projects, we discussed it a lot.  I remember sitting down with lots of people and saying ‘what do you think this story’s about?’.  Because actually, everyone’s heard of them but nobody knows who they were.

– Tid: How much do you work devising scenes before Adam writes them?

T: There’s always devising, or improvising, and then Adam will write something, and then you have a response to that: either a conversation about where that can go, or then you devise around that text.  It happens quite a lot initially, but it’s a process that disappears as the script becomes thicker, because it starts to create its own logic, and the characters start to become more definitely drawn.

– Adam: what do you do if Tid makes a directorial decision that you feel is wrong for your script?

A: Sometimes he’ll make a decision that I think is wrong, and then it’ll turn out actually to be right, so I’ve learnt to give it time.

T: Sometimes it works the other way round too, so I make a decision that is wrong, and eventually I go back to Adam and say that bit of text he had was right, we need to go back on that.

A: What’s difficult is that it takes a long time to write a script that works, and you bring that and the director says ‘no, that’s not right’, and you might have spent eight hours on it.  And it’s not just saying no, it’s actually creating work.  He’s saying ‘I need this tool to be able to make my arc, and I can’t make that tool myself, can you bring it for me?’. 

T: I think that often what’s misunderstood within making theatre is that the director is the most powerful.  The director’s job description is that they get to say yes or no.  It’s not a hierarchy, its just different responsibilities.

A: There’s a trust there that we are there to make the best show, it’s not about ego.  Tid’s authoring the show, he’s telling the story, and I’m just providing one element of that.

– What have you learnt from Bonnie and Clyde that you will take away for another show?

T: Don’t be scared to work with actors that you haven’t worked with before.  But, it’s really nice to introduce them into a language and a practice.  Trying to combine one or two new elements each time you make a show.

– What advice would you give to other devising companies working with a writer?

A: It depends who originates the process.  If a devising group are bringing in a writer, my advice would be don’t let the writer impose his script on you, make sure that script responds to the devising process, and that you ask the writer to write specific things.

T: If you just want to work with a writer, then commission one and work on the script they write.  Not all writers have the capacity to create with a group of people.

A: Make sure the writer is willing to write in the room.  Not necessarily finished stuff, but make sure he is responding to what the director and the actors are doing, and that he knows what the intention of the scene is.


– What would be your wildest dreams for Fairground?

A: An orgy!

T: To be in the place of Complicite, or Kneehigh, or Cheek by Jowl.

A: Or Improbable.

T: Just to be there amongst those nationally and potentially internationally respected companies.  But, while not letting that dictate the work that we do.

A: I want Fairground to be a mark of quality, not of style.  Having said that, Fairground does have a style, but that style can be applied to any sort of work, because it would have a certain blend of words, music and movement.  And that’s what Fairground’s identity is, truly trying to combine artforms.  We’re interested in making something, this sounds a bit wanky, something that is entirely itself, where nothing could be got rid of.

T: Yes, we want to make something where everything’s essential.

By Eleanor Fogg

Fairground’s Bonnie and Clyde will be on at the Brewery from the 5th – 23rd October (tickets: 0117 902 0344 or http://tobaccofactorytheatre.com/shows/detail/bonnie_clyde/).  You can find out a bit more about the company and look at the research for Bonnie and Clyde at http://www.facebook.com/visitfairground.