What is unsayable in the 21st century?

Fraser Grace

Sally Delbeke interviews Fraser Grace, working playwright and Teaching Fellow for Playwriting Studies at the University of Birmingham, about his play 'Always Orange' and the 'Making Mischief' festival.

What is the Making Mischief festival?

It’s a festival to officially re-launch The Other Place; the reawakening of a space that was first established in 1974 by a young director called Buzz Goodbody. The point of the space was always that there would be a site within the RSC for exploration, experimentation and new writing. This is really being brought back online by Erica Whyman who is the RSC’s Deputy Artist Director. The premise of the festival is things we find it difficult or impossible to talk about in the 21st century; talking about the fact that there is real threat in the world is where my play fits in. 

What is your involvement?

My play is called Always Orange and it is one of two new short plays, 70 minute plays, commissioned specifically for this festival by the RSC. The other play is Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier by Somalia Seaton. The two plays are performed in rep and are through-cast.

Always Orange is really about living with the threat of terrorism, the changing nature of that threat and the closure of local libraries. I have always written plays about things that I don’t understand; the play is my way of grappling with things and facing them head-on. I don’t think we are very good at accepting that there are people in the world – driven by certain corrupting ideas – that want to destroy the tolerance that holds our society together. This play in part helps us to properly value the things we have to offer against such hateful ideology – and will prevent us becoming hateful in response.

Always Orange in productionAlways Orange in production. Photo by Richard Lakos © RSC

What was the inspiration behind Always Orange?

Always Orange is really borne out of seeing terrible things happen to people, journalists and others; particularly seeing people who live by words, which is kind of what I do, meeting a terrible end at the hands of this wave of Islamic fundamentalist terror. I feel a sort of a compulsion or duty to face up to that personally, and as a playwright; I think this is our role, or at least my role, to be the first in that line of very scared people looking at these events and thinking about how we respond.

Tell us about your experience of working in The Other Place

Working at the RSC’s The Other Place with Director Donnocadh O'Briain has been really interesting. The building has some fantastic rehearsal spaces; actually it is probably the first time I have ever rehearsed in a space that is bigger than the performance space, which has obvious benefits. And I really like the stripped down aesthetic of this place; it suits this play in particular. The Other Place is a hub of creative activity which feels very good to be part of. The other day there were rehearsals for our show happening, as well as for Somalia’swhile Greg Doran’s forthcoming production of King Lear was being rehearsed upstairs with Antony Sher. So it is really inspiring! 

Always Orange rehearsalsAlways Orange in rehearsal. Photo by Julia Nottingham © RSC

What are the benefits of the University’s collaboration with the RSC?

I think it can only be a really enriching thing for students to have access to a place like this and it is a mutually beneficial thing. The RSC is obviously interested in young minds and new talent.  I think to come into a place like this is an opportunity. There are little things about The Other Place that symbolise what it is about, such as open windows to the rehearsal rooms. Usually the rehearsal room is a very closely guarded space, but here you can witness the processes involved in theatre making first-hand. Often in academia, the standard way of working is that you look at a finished text; you don’t have access to the resources necessary to understand how the play came to be or the relationship between the written text and the show. So that is what this places offers and that can only be of tremendous value I think to students.

Student performance at TOPStudents performing at The Other Place in June 2016. Photo by William Fallows

What’s next for you?

In terms of the play, we don’t know! In the short term, the plays are being published together by Oberon Books. In the longer term, there’s hope of course that there will be opportunities for further exposure.

Always Orange and Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier are playing now until Saturday 27 August at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Visit www.rsc.org.uk for details.