Popcorn Productions’ new show Into the Deep delves into a wide array of important issues ranging from relationships to toxic masculinity, mental health and PTSD. The show plays the Camden Fringe at the Etcetera Theatre 20th – 23rd August so I caught up with Director Layla Madanat and Writer Ed Lees to find out about all things Popcorn Productions, Into the Deep and theatre…Tell us a little about Popcorn Productions as a company – who are you and what’s the story behind the name?
LM: Popcorn Productions was set up in 2015 by some of our friends, who were then at Bristol University, to take ‘Submarine’, a theatre adaptation of the film, to the Edinburgh Fringe. Since then they have toured to Edinburgh and Camden theatres in 2016/7. This year they very kindly offered us the company to take ‘Into the Deep’ on tour. With regards to the name… I have no idea whatsoever.
EL: No neither do I. But we’re very much indebted to the work of Anjali Singh-Mitter, our executive producer who set up the company, along with Rachel Kelly who has also written for Popcorn in the past. Her show ‘Zero’ is a female monologue that did incredibly well in Edinburgh a couple of years ago so we have big shoes to fill.
As an emerging company, what would you say your goal or vision is when it comes to the work you produce and what was it that drew Popcorn Productions to Into the Deep?
LM: So Popcorn Productions have focused on new writing coming from Bristol University graduates for the past few years, and especially shows with themes of identity and growing up, so ‘Into the Deep’ seemed like a pretty good fit!
EL: Exactly that. With both ‘Submarine’ and ‘Zero’, the company grappled with really complex themes to do with the human spirit but approached it in such an accessible, engaging manner and that’s something we’re hoping to emulate.
Your six lined selling pitch for Into the Deep is one of the most impressive I’ve read – it covers exceptional ground in record time and pitches the production beautifully. So let’s set about unpacking it…
The production centres on a fishing family dealing with ‘poverty and inter-generational struggle’ – is this a modern narrative, a story of bygone times or a timeless tale?
LM: Can I say all three? Because of its non-linear narrative, it shows how family tensions and traits transcend eras, and how when it comes to masculinity, the struggles faced in the past are not far from those faced today.
EL: It’s definitely a mix of all three. There’s aspects of nostalgia blended with a relatability that tries to weave a knot between the two.When you refer to inter-generational struggles, how far-reaching are they? Are we talking lineage and legacy, housing markets and melting ice caps, the gender pay gap and gender identity or something else altogether?
LM: I think we explore the inter-generational struggles that we feel inside, but don’t really speak about. I’d say they were more about a differing worldview between generations, and different views on what it means to be a man, than about facts and worldly debates.
EL: Yeah, it’s a human story about how masculine tropes transcend time and generations.
The play covers a range of topical and problematic areas including mental health and toxic masculinity. Would you say the depictions of those living in poverty, or with mental health, or facing toxic notions of masculinity are handled with truth and sincerity?
LM: Absolutely, the writing is so incredibly simple and stark, which means honesty is right at the front. There has been no attempt to flourish or write with anything superfluous. Ed has just displayed the reality that so many feel inside on stage.
EL: The language is very stripped back and monosyllabic in a very deliberate manner. Yes the story itself is fictitious and pushed for dramatic engagement but the building blocks for the internal struggle are laid bare in the least hyperbolic way possible.
The narrative features a man dealing with ‘the dreams of his children’ and the ‘realities’ of their life; focusing on a male as father and carer is a relatively rare narrative – is this a conscious device to enable the exploration of males in their most caring and under-represented roles?
EL: Absolutely right. Often the narrative that we see with fathers is that they’re there to support the mother or that they have some sort of self-imposed responsibility to provide financially. So what I’ve tried to do is question what happens when you remove the archetypal mother figure and force that archetypal father to fill both roles.
LM: It is such a privilege as a director to work with such emotionally exposed male characters, as they are quite hard to come by, so it works beautifully in helping explore male characters.Does the story feature a mother or daughters and if so, how is the notion of toxic masculinity explored by the female characters?
EL: There is one female character that we see (though others are mentioned). This is Carla, she’s the main characters daughter. I think she’s an intrinsically important character particularly in the conversation about mental health. Without giving too much away, it’s been interesting to explore how her wellbeing is approached against those of the male characters.
LM: I think the knock-on effects are very clear through the character of Carla, but she is not just a canvas to show the effects of toxic masculinity. She has a wonderful journey and role in her own right that shows the pressures of living as a young girl in a male-dominated world.
Into the Deep promises to explore ‘how far loyalty extends in a cold microcosm of the patriarchy’ – would you say the play associates patriarchal restrictions and toxic notions of masculinity specifically with rural locations dependent on manual jobs or the traditionally masculine roles themselves?
EL: The location and the jobs in the play are really just the world that’s been created in order to tell a story that could be transferred to another man’s world in an entirely different place or time. So the intentional comment on masculinity is universal for sure.
This sounds like a gritty drama with plenty of hard hitting issues to explore – would you say there’s hope or any light relief running alongside the darker issues and themes within the narrative?
LM: There is space to laugh in almost every scene. The writing is very witty, and the actors have fantastic comic timing, and I think humour is often a fantastic device in exploring difficult subjects. Audience members should definitely come expecting a show they can laugh at.
EL: I hope the audience laugh. Or we could be in for a long 45 minutes. But yeah, the comedic elements are pretty crucial to maintaining its naturalism.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing Into the Deep, what would you like that to be?
EL: Engage with the men you know and their feelings. People use the word ‘conversation’ a lot in theatre but it needs to become literal rather than this concept within the world of theatre. There’s a great campaign on facebook at the moment called ‘#ITSOKAYNOTTOBEOKAY’ which encourages men to be honest about their feelings but in order for that to be of any use it requires a person to be on the other side of the table.
LM: I think acknowledging, and questioning, the role family plays in shaping us as people, for good or bad.Now for the Quick Fire Round!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
EL: Jez Butterworth. I wanted a livestock in ‘Into the Deep’ like ‘The Ferryman’ but Layla said no.
LM: Carly Wijs’ ‘Us/Them’. But that couldn’t be more different to this play…
Favourite theatre genre and why?
EL: Musicals. Weirdly. Can’t sing or dance.
LM: I like quirky and playful theatre, especially a genre that I call “children’s theatre for adults”. It can still be a serious subject, but it’s the way things are approached and presented.
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line?
EL: Worthwhile but it’s gone too far recently. If you’re telling progressive, talented theatre makers to avoid certain stories that aren’t otherwise being told, you’re being divisive and unhelpful.
LM: Definitely worthwhile. It takes so long to create theatre that for someone to come in and be rude just actually upsets me, but sometimes it goes too far and risks making theatre non-inclusive. Some people need just a bit more patience and others a bit more respect.
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre to London right now, what would it be? What does London need?
EL: Grassroots engagement definitely. Not enough kids are getting the opportunities to explore drama.
LM: Collaborations between established theatre-makers and more diverse groups! BAMER (especially refugees right now), women, LGBTQ+, disabled, working class, all these hidden or overlooked stories are coming out and need to keep going. It just makes theatre more exciting.
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence!
LM: A play about confusion, desperation, and wanting to escape running across generations; how far do the pressures of the masculine world affect those living within a patriarchal, working-class family?
So there you have it! Remember: Into the Deep plays the Camden Fringe at the Etcetera Theatre 20th – 23rd August and you can find tickets here.