Alex Newport: Whimsy
By Caro Moses | Published on Thursday 9 March 2017
Have you ever fantasised about being all powerful and getting whatever you want? How do you think that might go? Well, if you’d like to see an exploration of what might happen in this scenario, tackling themes of corruption and power, look no further than Theatre N16, where this month Scram Collective stage a new show, ‘Whimsy’.
To find out more about the play and the company behind it, I spoke to writer and company co-founder Alex Newport.
CM: What’s ‘Whimsy’ about – where does the story take us?
AN: ‘Whimsy’ is about Aoife, an ordinary but very bored woman who gains the power to do whatever she wants instantly. If she wants a steak, she gets it. If she wants a holiday, she’s suddenly at the beach. If she wants to commit a crime with no consequences… you get the idea, she can do anything. The story takes us through Aoife’s exploration of absolute power and shows how an ordinary person would handle such an ability. As well as showing the fun that Aoife can have with her new-found power, the story also portrays the effect this has on her psyche. After all, how could you have everything and yet remain grounded in reality?
CM: Who are the central characters?
AN: Aoife is at the centre of the play, and is the character most identifiable to the audience. Surrounding her are ‘the bodies’ – these are characters that help Aoife achieve her various whims throughout the play. They are bizarre beings that only care about Aoife being happy, and help her harness her abilities to have the most fun possible. While Aoife is our lead, her relationship with the bodies forms a collective consciousness which drives the play forward.
CM: What ideas and themes does the play explore?
AN: The play is primarily about corruption, and the idea that when given enough power, any individual can very easily abuse their privileges. Aoife can do anything, but that affects everything in her life, including her interactions with other people. It’s this idea that made me want to explore the abuse of this power in a more personal context – I wanted to see the moral dilemma of someone wanting to use their no-consequence abilities for sexual gain, but knowing that it would be a violation of her prospective partner’s will. The play touches on the fine line of consent, and how anyone can fall victim to either abuse or becoming the abuser.
CM: Can you give us an idea of what style of theatre to expect? I get the impression that it’s quite physical?
AN: It’s very physical, yes. I think it needs to be in order to get across the surreal nature of the subject matter. It’s all very well having characters talk about ‘doing anything’ but I feel it’s useless unless you actually see it happening. The physical movement of the bodies is heavily inspired by Commedia dell’arte – which uses very distinct physicality to portray its character types. By using this as a base, we can immediately see who these characters are and what they’re like. Also, there’s a great element of fun to the play, it is showing wish-fulfilment in its purest form so there’s the opportunity to go a little bit mad with it. It’s incredibly fast at times, and the broadly comic tone will hopefully bring the audience into this bizarre world that we are creating as Aoife discovers what she can do.
CM: What made you want to write about this subject? Where did the inspiration come from?
AN: It’s something that’s occurred to all of us – what would we do with complete authority over everything? After talking about this with several people, usually this daydream boils down to our own personal desires – to be respected, to have nice things, to be loved etc. but it’s interesting how quickly this conversation can take a dark turn. If you can have anything, then all sense of achievement is lost. If you can influence anyone, you take away their free will. It’s these ideas that fascinate me, and the conversations on wrestling with that power is what inspired me to form the play.
CM: Did you write it by yourself or did the rest of the company get involved in the development? What’s been your role as the production has progressed?
AN: While I am the sole writer on the piece, I couldn’t have done it without the rest of Scram. Throughout the writing process, I was often asking the company for feedback on drafts and what they liked/didn’t like. If everyone felt that a scene wasn’t working, then it had to go. If someone suggested a scene or idea, then I would work it into the next draft to see if it fit. Having this constant feedback and team dynamic has resulted in a much more well-rounded play in my opinion.
My role in the production has changed significantly since I finished the last draft. Once rehearsals began, I had to see this not as my play, but as the directors’. Heather and Calum (director and asst. director) had the script, now whatever happened with the play was their decision. They were both so passionate about the piece that it was frankly quite easy to let them get on with it, and I think the end product is great.
CM: Who are Scram Collective? How did the group come together? What plans do you have for the future?
AN: Scram Collective consists of me, Beth Smith (Playing Aoife, pictured) and Heather Millar (Director of Whimsy). We all met during our actor training and one night during a long pub conversation, we realised we all wanted the same thing – to make theatre ourselves rather than sit around waiting for jobs to come to us. We decided to form Scram to achieve this, quickly recruiting Calum Robshaw (asst. director of ‘Whimsy’) as an associate artist in the process. Our aims are quite simple – to create new, fun and challenging work based on human experiences as well as reinventing existing works with a touch of the surreal. ‘Dark, comic and a little bit unusual’ is the motto we aim to work by.
CM: What’s coming up next for you?
AN: In the next year, we’d like to take ‘Whimsy’ further. In London, we intend to develop the show even more and apply for festivals within the city. Outside the capital, we’ve already had success in Swindon’s Shoebox Theatre and would like to take the play to other places around the country – finance permitting of course!
After ‘Whimsy’, though, things will be interesting. We’ve all got ideas for projects that we want to develop, and it’s simply a case of picking one and running with it. We don’t want to give away too much about these ideas just yet, but rest assured, we’ll be beavering away at something exciting!
‘Whimsy’ is on at Theatre N16 from 15-18 Mar, see this page here for more information.