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Arches Award For Stage Directors 2008 - Rob Drummond and Daljinder Singh

One of the best things about the Arches Award For Stage Directors Awards since they were set up several years ago is the breadth of work it allows. With a brief for its two winners to concentrate on new work presented as an original idea rather than a finished script, participants can utilise a variety of methodologies. These can vary from taking total ownership of the project from its inception, to employing outside artists in a more collaborative venture.

Results have been varied, although the award, now run in association with The Traverse Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland, has consistently provided early showcases for some of the brightest talents around. These include Davey Anderson, Cora Bisset, Adrian Osmond and Neil Doherty. Significantly, all are noted for taking a polymath’s attitude towards theatre making, with all four having worked between them as writer, actor or composer as well as directors of self-generated work.

This year’s Arches winners are typically diverse in both their outlook and experience, as the two plays which flagship the equally eclectic Arches Theatre Festival should prove. Sixteen is the highest profile platform for Rob Drummond, who previously wrote Gag for Arches Live and acted in previous Arches Award For Stage Directors winner, The James Dean Death Scene. The Severed Head Of Comrade Bukhari, on the other hand, finds Drummond’s fellow winner Daljinder Singh drafting in playwright Oliver Emmanuel to help shape her wonderfully named work.

“The title came first,” she says, “which I thought was really cool, and I thought could be something about a group of guys. Then a friend told me about something that happened in Bradford with a gang, which was really quite disgusting and made me feel queasy, but which in the play I’ve made even more extreme. So from being stuck, and then hearing about this real life incident, mixing them up has really worked. I knew it was the right time for me to apply for the award, and The Arches is the perfect venue for the sort of atmosphere I want to create.

Drummond too began his project with a dramatic scenario equally close to home.

“It’s about a 15 year old girl who makes it clear that she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend on the stroke of midnight when it’s legal,” says Drummond. “I’d read about people being imprisoned for statutory rape when the girl was 15 years and eleven months old. It just seemed really odd to me that in one month, the same law that had convicted them, would not only have prepared them, but would have protected them. By boiling it down to one hour makes that situation even more crucial. The play’s done in real time, and the actors have a clock on them. It has to be so well rehearsed, because the actors can’t get to the end of the play before the characters do.”

Drummond’s involvement in theatre began while studying English at Glasgow University. With a second subject required, he eventually plumped for Theatre Studies, and fell into acting after accompanying a friend to an audition. Before long he started directing, and became president of the student theatre group. Prior to becoming involved with The Arches, Drummond wrote several short plays, which were performed at Gilmorehill.

Now, “I just can’t imagine ever wanting to stop,” he says. “Doing Gag gave me the confidence to apply for the award. I’d considered it last year, but instead went and wrote something for the New Writing, New Worlds Festival at Gilmorehill. I’d met Neil Doherty when I acted in The James Dean Death Scene, and he agreed to direct Gag after I got talking to him about writing, and that was that. I can’t imagine anywhere else where I’d be welcomed in as family and allowed to try things out.”

As well as writing, directing and acting, Drummond also moonlights performing front of house duties at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre, and spends his weekends acting in murder mystery tours.

“At the moment I just want to try out everything I can,” he enthuses, “and can’t imagine not doing one thing or the other. This is a chance to say that I’m serious about what I’m doing.”

As if to illustrate, he mentions in passing that he popped over to Latvia recently to watch a show by Forced Entertainment. Oh, and he’s written a novel as well.

In contrast, Singh’s theatre career was launched in her native Leeds at West Yorkshire Playhouse before moving to Glasgow four years ago as a trainee with TAG. This led to working with the multi-racial Ankur Productions, directing their debut show, Fewer Emergencies. Singh has also directed a version of Kafka’s The Penal Colony for Tar Arts, as well as work with Contact, Talawa and the NTS.

“I knew from when I was a very young child that this was what I wanted to do,” Singh says. “Apart from a very brief moment when I wanted to be an astronaut, I’ve never wavered from that. The first piece of theatre I ever saw was by DV8, and the second was by Theatre de Complicitie, and they both created a real impact on what I wanted from theatre in terms of ambition and inspiration.”

Bringing in Emmanuel, whose work has been seen in Edinburgh via his own Silver Tongue company, and was suggested to Singh by Playwrights Studio Scotland, was a calculated risk.

“It’s about working to my strengths,” says Singh. “I could easily spend five weeks playing around with ideas but get nowhere, so I knew I had to find the right person to put a voice to my ideas. That was quite strange, because it was my idea, and we had to be incredibly honest with each other. From the start I said if it’s not his bag of fish then he shouldn’t do it, but it’s worked brilliantly so far.”

Beyond the Arches New Directors Awards, both winners, still only in their 20s, have pretty busy itineries Under the mentorship of Douglas Maxwell, again via Playwrights Studio Scotland, Drummond is working on a play about a secret passion which he describes as his dirty little secret.

“Professional wrestling,” he says. “Half of it is set in the very real world of Glasgow, and the other half of it is in the very fake world of pro wrestling in California.”

Drummond is off to Liverpool in a few weeks to watch a programme put together by American promoters.

Singh, meanwhile, sounds even more ambitious.

Theatre should be one of two things,” she asserts. “Either it should be terrible or brilliant, but it should never ever be boring. I think I’ve directed five shows professionally, but how long can you be emerging for? I want to be director of the world. It needs it.”

Sixteen and The Severed Head Of Comrade Bukhari, The Arches, Glasgow; April 8-12; April 16-19, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


Arches Theatre Festival highlights

Including Sixteen and The Severed head f Comrade Bukhari, this year’s Arches Theatre Festival features sixteen different shows. Some names will be familiar, others not so much. In essence, however, the amount of theatrical activity taking place throughout every subterranean nook and cranny should be a fitting legacy, not only to The Arches’ outgoing founder and artistic director Andy Arnold, but to the energetic young team he’s left behind.

Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree was a big hit at The Traverse a couple of Edinburgh Festival Fringes ago, and it’s tale of a man who visits the stage hypnotist who drove the car that killed the man’s daughter is pretty much unmissable. The trick here is that each performance will feature a different guest actor who has never read a word of the script, but whose lines and actions are fed to them via Crouch’s instructions.

David Leddy’s Paster Noster is similarly inventive. Played at fifteen minute intervals to an audience of one contained in a pitch black room, this is the latest of Leddy’s ongoing explorations of sound as theatre, and promises to be a deliciously captivating experience.

From America comes Popsicle’s Departure 1989, a show almost overlooked in Edinburgh last year. This one-woman tour de force is a self-destructive rock n’ roll romance set among Boston’s grunge scene, where a couple of scenesters clash. Also with punkish roots is MuddClubSolo, which flips between the night-club of the title and a more idyllic countryside setting.

A big hit in Dublin last year was Art Raid, in which Will St Ledger takes the audience to a very special Private View. Questioning the value of what it means to put a price tag on art today, St Ledger ushers in a real live smash and grab runaround in which everybody attempts to get a piece of the action.

Elsewhere, Arches Creative Associate Al Seed’s new show, The Fooligan, sees this thrillingly physical performer play a village idiot staring in the face of Death. Company Of Pram return with their self-explanatory Trampoline Orchestra, while a pick and mix of performance in its rawest form will no doubt be thrown up in The Arches now regular Scratch night. Out of such nights, future theatre festivals are born.

Arches Theatre Festival, April 8-19

The Herald, March 25th 2008



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