Caro Meets Theatre Interview

David Brady: Reading Gaol

By | Published on Sunday 15 July 2018

Coming up at Theatre N16 is a very interesting sounding adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad Of Reading Gaol’, reflecting the sad and unpleasant circumstances that the writer faced in his later years, and created by the relatively young but definitely rather good Proforca Theatre Company.

To find out more about the show, I spoke to its director, David Brady, a founder of the group.

CM: Can you start by explaining what we should expect from the show? I understand that it’s an adaptation of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ but it also has writing by other people in it, doesn’t it?
DB: We’ve taken the original work and remixed it with five new pieces of writing to create a brand-new piece of immersive theatre. You can expect a confrontational mix of classic text, brand new writing from some really talented new writers, and really interesting physical theatre, in a great industrial inspired venue (and some special surprises which we’re keeping for opening night!).

CM: And for anyone who doesn’t know what it is, please can you tell us a bit about ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol?’
DB: In direct contrast to the witty society figure everyone thinks of, Oscar Wilde wrote ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ in poverty and disgrace towards the end of his life. The playwright that we celebrate today died in some quite unfortunate circumstances.

The original work tells the observational story of a prisoner hung for murder and is both a reflection of Wilde’s own circumstances and a commentary on the very difficult and terrible life and conditions in prison which Wilde himself experienced. We’ve adapted that poem into a stage show and added in some new material which gives it a bit more of an “expanded universe” feel and a more immersive theatre experience.

CM: What inspired the company to do a show based around it?
DB: I don’t think we’ll ever do a ‘classic’ version of a show, that’s not really for us. We actually staged Reading Gaol back to back with a take on ‘Earnest’ last year and doing so it really brought out a contrast between the lighter, more humorous side of most of Wilde’s work with something that has a much darker and more unexplored edge.

If you can imagine how pointed and direct Oscar is when turning his cutting wit on the triviality of society, you can imagine quite how brutal he can be when describing the conditions in which those prisoners lived and some of the injustices they may have faced.

So much of Wilde’s work is affluent people talking in drawing rooms. We wanted to trash the drawing room, set fire to the curtains, let the cucumber sandwiches go mouldy, and give the butler the night off. We wanted to bring a darker, more human and grittier edge to the Oscar Wilde that everyone thinks they know and love.

CM: What are the primary overall themes of the show? Does it have specific messages to convey?
DB: The themes of ‘Reading Gaol’ are as relevant now as they were then. Censorship, Oppression, Conflict and injustice are just as prevalent now as they were during Wilde’s times and we’re hopeful that the audience will see those themes brought out in the material.

It’s really interesting to look at some of the material through a “modern” viewpoint, particularly with themes such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality (Wilde himself was pardoned in 2017). Do the prisoners in Reading Gaol really deserve the fate that society has laid out for them? We ask the audience that question.

The new characters all have their own stories to tell which we hope give a human shape to those themes. They’re rounded characters in a dark place. Lost, oppressed, violent and sometimes even funny but we hope that while there might be despair, there may be hope, somewhere, if you look for it hard enough…

CM: Can you tell us a bit about all the writers involved in creating it?
DB: The writers are brilliant (we’re biased, but they are) – they have crafted rounded and relatable characters and really interesting stories with such diverse points of view and settings, which all have a prison as their jumping off point. We go from the grime of Victorian society to the forest of Africa and back with some really interesting concepts as to how we stage the piece. It’s been great to bring their awesome words to life.

CM: Can you tell us something about your approach to this as director? What challenges did you meet with?
DB: We wanted to throw out the rule book and create an Oscar Wilde work that was modern, relatable and most of all different. We’ve got the very talented James Vincent, Malcolm Jeffries, Nic James, Miles Parker and Nick Cope who make up our brilliant cast of prisoners and directing them has been a joyful experience so far. It’s a challenge to make a poem and a set on monologues cohesive in tone and they really do bring something to the work.

We’re also very lucky in that we have the brilliant Harriet Lambert who has a brilliantly creative take on the physical theatre aspect of things and Erin Read who is a talented director in her own right as members of the creative team, and we’ve got some brilliant new ideas for the production. Having Theatre N16 as a performance space is also amazing – it’s such a great venue and an ideal place to stage this new take on the show. It’s a great challenge to stage something in such a big venue which isn’t supposed to be used as a theatre!

CM: You’re a founder of the company, Proforca. Why did you come to form your own group?
DB: We started with our first production ‘If I Go’ in May 2016. The group was formed just to get that one piece performed and when we found we liked it (and each other) and so we carried on growing from there. Since then we’ve done a musical, Oscar Wilde, and some more very well received new writing and massively opened up the family with our ‘Feel’ and ‘Feel / More’ performances this Spring.

The really great thing about Proforca is that we work hard but play hard too, and it’s a privilege to have met some people I count as friends as well as creatively inspired individuals who all bring their own strengths to each project.

CM: What aims and ethos does the company have?
DB: As we’ve grown we’ve become clearer about the types of stories we’ve wanted to tell and who we work with to tell those stories. It’s also been brilliant to work with some actors and creatives at the early stage in their careers and give them some chances to be seen and take on some really challenging roles. I’d love to be able to do more of that in the future.

CM: How did you end up directing theatre? Did you always plan this kind of career?
DB: I ended up directing entirely by accident, but then fell a bit in love with it (theatre is very addictive). I actually started directing a bit later than some people do, as I’ve got another career in an entirely different more corporate industry so the theatre side of things allows me to be creative (and still get the bills paid). – I’m very lucky though in that my “other” job and the people in it are so supportive of the theatre side of things and my friends and colleagues have been a definite inspiration to get out and get creating.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future, for yourself and for the company?
DB: Our job now as a company is to continue to make some great work and to build our audience, and I really want to do this by making some critically acclaimed work which people want to see.

Nothing beats the collective thrill of having a well-received show, and it does wonders for morale and your creative energy when you get a good review. So, ambition wise, I really want to make sure we choose our next project super carefully, pick up the ball and run with it as fast as we possibly can.

CM: What’s coming up next, after this?
DB: We’ve had a brilliant six months, but it’s been very, very busy. I’m off to plan our next production, but first I’m going to have a very cold, very big glass of Diet Coke and sit in a pub which doesn’t have a theatre above it and remind my loved ones what I look like…



‘Reading Gaol’ is on at Theatre N16 from 23 Jul-2 Aug. See this page right here for more information and to book tickets.

LINKS: www.theatren16.co.uk | www.proforca.co.uk | twitter.com/ProforcaTheatre



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