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Grid Iron – Letters Home at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Grid Iron Theatre Company have had the keys for number twenty-three
Charlotte Square for a couple of weeks now. Judging by the pile of
wires, lights and other technical debris holding the front door of the
once plush town-house turned a now deserted private bank open, however,
it's not quite home yet. As the Edinburgh-based pioneers of
site-specific theatre prepare for their latest show, Letters Home, the
presence of assorted production managers liaising with their team,
designers sprawled on the floor marking out costume patterns and a
technical team holding a quick catch-up meeting in the building's large
front room, there's never a dull moment in the company's temporary
residence.

A collaboration with Edinburgh International Book Festival, who are
similarly in the throes of moving into an array of tents in Charlotte
Square Gardens, Letters Home moves into three other addresses in the
neighbourhood to present a quartet of dramatised short stories by
diverse writers under the guidance of four very different directors.

Two weeks earlier in a former church hall off Easter Road, Grid Iron's
co-artistic director Ben Harrison is overseeing Eve and Cain,
Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas' look at the Bible's most
dysfunctional family in an age before letter writing began. In the room
next door, Joe Douglas, who has just directed Bloody Trams at the
Traverse,  has gathered his cast around a table to dissect Details,
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's email love story.

Once Grid Iron have moved into Charlotte Square, one of the other empty
town-houses is co-opted by composer Michael John McCarthy, who has
reimagined Jamaican author Kei Miller's study of sexual realisation,
England in a Pink Blouse, as an audio installation. In a fourth house,
film-maker Alice Nelson is putting the final touches to her immersive
interpretation of Karachi-born Londoner
Kamila Shamsie's War Letters.

“It was a very loose brief when the writers were commissioned,”
explains Grid Iron's Chief Executive and other co-artistic director,
Judith Doherty, who first conceived what became Letters Home before
presenting the idea to Book Festival director Nick Barley. He then
selected the writers for the project and commissioned them to write
short texts up to three thousand words about the  idea of writing
letters home.

“We'd started thinking about the Square and its history,” says Doherty,
“and about all the things happening this year in terms of the
Homecoming and the Commonwealth Games, and we thought there had to be
something there. Then we brought in the directors, who aren't all
theatre directors, but were people Grid Iron were interested in working
in, and who we thought might be good working in this way. There was
also the thing that no-one really writes letters anymore, and what that
means.”

Audiences for Letters Home will be split into four groups of twenty,
who are led around each house, where each piece will be performed four
times to each group.

“We wanted it to be like a box of delights,” says Doherty of presenting
Letters Home in this way, “or like a treasure trove, so that you can
get all these different perspectives about what home means, or about
what it doesn't mean, whether that's in Scotland, in Nigeria or
wherever.”

The performance will finish up back in Charlotte Square Gardens, where
a post-script, penned by Zinnie Harris, will wrap things up. Harris is
also acting as what is described as the show's creative co-ordinator,
providing a kind of artistic neighbourhood watch over each
mini-production.

“The stories are all so beautifully different,” says Doherty, “that I
think there will be a need to bring everyone together to share their
thoughts, bring things back to Scotland, and maybe get a hug off us
before everyone goes back out.”

In many respects, Letters Home is a logical step for Grid Iron, whose
finest works have often been dramatic reimaginings of literary sources.
These have ranged from performing Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber in
Mary King's Close, to staging Jim Crace's novel, The Devil's Larder, in
Debenhams department store, and Barflies, a compendium of Charles
Bukowski short stories, in the Barony Bar.

“It was almost an inevitability,” says Doherty. “Literary adaptations
have always played quite an important part in the company's history,
but we're also part of the Fringe, which is the first time ever
something like that has happened. Coming in to Charlotte Square during
the Book Festival is a completely different experience to the Fringe,
but being able to bring Grid Iron's Fringe audience into that space was
too good an opportunity to miss.”

Letters Home, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Aug 9-25,
6.15-8.45pm
www.gridiron.org.uk
www.edbookfest.co.uk

The Herald, August 9th 2014



ends

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