Continuing our coverage of VAULT Festival 2018, theatre editor Daniel Perks catches up with Joyous Gard, a company bringing three works to this year’s table – TigerI Have A Mouth And I Will Scream and Timothy.

In many ways, the latest set of productions by Joyous Gard embodies the overall demographic and principal of VAULT Festival 2018. The three shows encompass new writing, writing developed from scratch nights and established work that has taken on new meaning in the current climate. The shows are dark, funny, brutally honest, eye-opening and provocative. Artistic Directors Joe Eyre and Beth Eyre have chosen a very different, but potentially perfect, triad:

Joe: “It’s part of what we always hoped this company would do, a happy coincidence that we ended up putting this group of plays together. They have some things in common and are also wildly different, on different timelines or amounts of performance before VAULT. Tiger has never been shown anywhere before now; I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream is the first time as a full-length play; Timothy is already hugely successful from a wonderful writer.”

It has the right to be awful

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

Joe Eyre’s Tiger

Joe is also the writer of Tiger, a show that juxtaposes coping with loss with an absurdly life-affirming living situation. It’s the second production from Joyous Gard after the success of their debut show, Crocodile, won a Highly Commended award at VAULT 2017. Is Joe feeling the pressure of a second production that has never been performed before?

“The permission to fail – that was important with putting Tiger together. It has the right to be awful as it’s so new.”

“I don’t have the skill to write a play about grief, second chances, rent or depression. But wouldn’t it be funny if a bloke in a costume dances around for a while? You find yourself accidentally writing about very personal things that hopefully chime.”

Joe speaks with such humility about his own work, in deference of the two other writers that join him in the latest chapter of the Joyous Gard journey. Yes, both Abi Zakarian and David K. Barnes have more experience under their belts, but surely every writer begins the journey of a new play at the same starting point – their imagination and a blank page:

Abi: “I draw on myself – with my previous one-woman play, Fabric, there’s nothing in there that didn’t happen. It’s drawn from the universality of women’s experiences. I do a lot of eavesdropping on people, listen to what they’re talking about – I like to build characters from real life.”

David: “I often start with an idea rather than real life experiences. With Timothy, I thought of an image and wondered what would be fun about stretching that – in this case taking a guy who’s pretty bland and thinking why you’d want to kill that person. Specifically, why would three women in a cellar want to kill that person. It’s a surreal, suspense, comedy thriller with nobody quite knowing who’s telling the truth.”

I stand for everyone and I stand only for myself

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

Peyvand Sadeghian in Abi Zakarian’s I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream

The difference in Abi and David’s answers poses an interesting question – to what extent can a writer only draw on their own experiences? If so, are they required to continuously seek out the new and exciting in an effort to drum up sufficient inspiration? If not, when does this stray into the issue of cultural appropriation, as opposed to cultural exchange?

Abi: “I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Part of me says no, if you haven’t lived a particular life… But then that’s idea of artistic licence. It comes down to personal responsibility as a writer – I would never presume to think that a character is only going to be one thing. You’ve got to do the research and a really good way is to collaborate.”

“In I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, there are six very different women who are meant to represent no one and everyone. When I say something as an author, I’m speaking for myself; I’m speaking for other people; I’m not speaking for anyone.”

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

Rafaella Marcus

Rafaella Marcus, director of both Timothy and I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, approaches this idea of experience and truth with the purpose of physically representing the individual on stage, “In casting, I kept running into this nightmare of representation – I want to be able to represent all women because I’m really fed up of seeing feminist work that features thin, white, twenty-something, cis-gendered people.”

“At a certain point, you start to wonder if you’re reducing people to their attributes. Part of the brilliance of what Abi’s written is the idea that I stand for everyone and I stand only for myself. Otherwise representation turns into a box-ticking exercise that a lot of white, male gate keepers in theatre bring in.”

Abi: “We are going to try, we might fail. Six women try to address every subject – the keyword is try.”

Truth becomes irrelevant

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

It’s the act of trying that is so often condemned in this industry. Companies like Joyous Gard need to be allowed to make mistakes, whether that be in terms of concept, narrative or realisation. There is just not enough opportunity for conversations to naturally evolve their own rugged path – the Aziz Ansari allegation is an example of condemning a new movement because it doesn’t immediately chart a perfect course. David notes that the same can be said of pressure put on a playwright:

“To expect an author to solve society in sixty minutes… I do something that shows a potential way forward, a potential glimmer of hope. This is what could be done, this is an attitude we need to look into further. Timothy is a play doesn’t go into the deeper themes in that sense. But I’ve seen each of the four characters played by lots of different people, so there must be some kind of shared experience in the script.”

Rafaella: “The linking factor between Timothy and I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream is that both of them have groups of people who are trying to establish what the reality of the situation is. In both of them, truth becomes irrelevant in the end.

“How do you change the mindset of people who don’t think there are systematic problems? It’s great bunkering down in this echo chamber but getting through to people by empathy rather than argument ultimately turns the tide. A lot of theatre articulates really well, but the missing ingredient, which hopefully will come across in I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, is visceral.”

There are an extraordinary number of funny women out there

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

Beth Eyre’s Snatchback Company

Rafaella’s point about being visceral and empathetic, rather than argumentative, strikes at the truth of the matter. Fervent beliefs and tenets stem from an impassioned devotion that what you choose to follow, or the way you choose to behave, is in the best interests of society. And that helps to shape a climate that constantly changes and fluctuates with socio-political inputs. It must be fascinating for a playwright to see how their work is received as the environment shifts over the years:

David: “When it was first conceived, Timothy was an amusing puzzle box play with some snappy dialogue. Now, I wonder if people will come to a play with a different cultural context to fit it into – there might now be adages of nuance that we hadn’t initially intended. It’s a play about trusting people at their word.”

“The big joy of it for me has always been seeing a trio of talented very talented, female comic actors interacting.”

Rafaella: “There are an extraordinary number of funny women out there. I have a list if anyone wants it, a rebuttal to not putting more women in comedy.”

David: “I’m sick of shows with several men and one woman, who is clearly a talented performer and would give a great performance if the script would allow. The female character is always the eye roller. The one goal I set myself is to try and have a 50:50 male: female performance, which is the rule of Beth’s company Snatchback, and to have funny roles for women.”

David’s final point about championing funny women in the industry is one I’ve come across several times in my articles, from interviewing Tamar Broadbent to discussing the female comedy scene on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. But one thing about all of the Joyous Gard productions is for sure – these shows, these writers and directors, this company, all are committed to voicing work that experiments, takes risk and isn’t afraid to spark conversation.

 

 

Joyous Gard bring three productions to the VAULT Festival 2018, which runs until 18 March. For the full programme of events, visit the website here.

Tiger plays from 14 – 18 February 2018. For more information, visit the website here.

I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream plays from 14 – 18 February 2018. For more information, visit the website here.

Timothy plays from 14 – 18 March 2018. For more information, visit the website here.