Lights Down Productions are set to entertain Camden Fringe-goers with Shards, an intriguing play looking at relationships within the framework of shifting time and sense of perspective. The show plays Camden People’s Theatre 15-18 August (tickets here) so I caught up with producer Caley Powell, writer Catherine O’Shea and director Abbie Lucas…
To begin, tell me a little about the company – when and how did the company and name Lights Down Productions come to be and what’s the vision?
Caley: I set up Lights Down Productions in January 2018 after 2 years producing. I realised that the projects I was choosing and connected with the most were female led new plays and I wanted to create a company that specifically produces female led new writing, a name to put all shows under, rather than as a freelance producer.
I chose the name because the lights going down in a theatre before the show starts is the most exciting feeling. As a producer you work so hard on getting everything to that point and then when it happens it’s just exhilaration, mixed with relief and nervousness and I feel that even more when it’s new writing as I know what the expect but the audience doesn’t!
Our first show was called ‘Hear Me Howl’ by Lydia Rynne and is a punk and pro-choice one woman show about a woman joining a punk band as a drummer and was told from behind a drum kit. I like to have music elements in my plays it seems as ‘Shards’ has live Lindy hop!
What exactly drew the company to Catherine O’Shea’s play Shards?
Caley: ‘Shards’ was part of The Criterion Theatre New Writing Showcase and from only a short few scenes I was immediately intrigued by the play, the style of the piece (flitting back and forth from the Shard being small to fully built), Catherine’s writing and the characters as well as the live Lindy hop! It felt like a very unique play and I immediately wanted to help this play get to the stage and introduce it to more people!
Your characters come from very different worlds. Matt’s a swing dancing nurse who meets Laura, a particle physicist- is there a message nestled somewhere within this match? Is it a case of proving once more how opposites attract?
Catherine: Matt and Laura meet through internet dating and their lives and interests are quite different. Laura is consumed by the hunt for the Higgs Boson particle and Matt as well as being a nurse is really passionate about swing dancing. It’s definitely a play about people with very different passions. In 2013 I went to see Sir Peter Higgs talk about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and met members of his team – that gave my the idea for Laura, a physicist, who would have been part of this momentous discovery. I’m a swing dancer myself and felt the parallels between particle physics and partner dancing were really worth exploring.
The play is set in 2012 in the shadow of the incomplete Shard. Have you taken notable steps to take us back to 2012?
Catherine: When we are in 2012 the Shard is shown at half its height while in 2015 the Shard is at full height. We have lots of contemporary references to help establish 2012 in the audience’s mind.
Abbie: There are many clues in the script that speak to the time period, the biggest nod in our case being the incomplete Shard, which will be projected on stage to inform the audience which time period they are in, but also the excitement for the London Olympics, the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and a general sense of optimism that, I dare say, is not currently in the air today.
It’s always intriguing to see a story toy with time – how does the production approach the prominence of shifting time frames within the narrative?
Abbie: For me the most important thing to get across within the time frames will be how the characters, and their relationships, have changed and the fallout from the events that have occurred.
Catherine: Our main character Matt is haunted in 2015 by what happened to him in 2012 so the incomplete Shard and scenes from 2012 show us just how trapped he is in the past.
Shards promises to be ‘a lively and entertaining play about love, loss and dedication’ as well as including a significant catastrophe – how would you describe it in terms of style and genre?
Abbie: A dramedy with dance? It’s an entirely new genre!
Caley: It’s true, it is a brand new genre! It’s hard to find another play like it!
Another interesting promise of Shards is that is ‘features live lindy hop dancing on stage throughout’ – what would you say the primary contribution of dance is to the narrative?
Abbie: On one level, it’s integral to the identity of two of the characters who share an immense love of the dance, but it also serves as a visual metaphor for relationships.
Catherine: And also it mirrors what is happening in the particle accelerator. Just as particles are being thrown at each other at faster speeds in the large hadron collider, the dancers are relying on tension and propulsion in their moves to make it work.
The play combines an unusual trio of root themes: dance, physics and dating. The three seem all at once at odds and entirely in sync – do you feel there’s a science to both match-making and expressive dance?
Catherine: Chemistry is really important in both cases and you might on paper think that someone would be a good dance partner (or a good lover) but until you’re actually trying to dance together you would never know if it will work.
If audiences take just one thing away from seeing Shards, what would you like that to be?
Caley: To fall in love with our characters and be inspired by them.
Catherine: To believe that passions and connections are possible in unlikely places.
Abbie: To search for the beauty in chaos.
And finally, to close – in one sentence only, why should people come to see Shards?
Caley: It a unique play that will hopefully move you, make you laugh and inspire you to take up an interest in swing dancing or particle physics!
And now for the quick-fire round of general theatre related questions…
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
Catherine: Caryl Churchill – I’ve always been really inspired by her writing.
Favourite theatre genre and why?
Abbie: Comedy. The energy that comes from a huge room of people laughing is magical.
Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?
Caley: Our show ‘Hear Me Howl’ was at the Vault Festival in January and the show ends with a awesome drum solo that’s brilliantly performed by our actress Alice Pitt-Carter. After hearing the characters story its is such an exhilarating and rousing end to the play and every night it brought the house down and in the last performance, for the first time ever, Alice dropped her drum stick mid solo and there was an awkward pause as she had to stand up and get it and then carry on, but then I could hear the person next to me go ‘come on Jess’ and the audience started clapping and egging her on and I realised how much the audience were behind her and she just sat back down, got back into the groove and smashed the solo one last time!
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, what would it be?
Caley– I just want more female stories to be told, there has definitely been improvement due to there being loads of companies like mine now that are making efforts to make female led work and theatres that are making conscious efforts to programme work but a lot of control on what is successful is due to the audience that they have a lot of control and have to support this work so we can continue making it.
If a male led play isn’t successful then it’s written off and everyone moves onto the next one, if something female led doesn’t work then people assume that it’s because people don’t want to see female led work and it can affect us all, so audiences need to go see all female led work and help us spread the word more. I’ve created a hashtag #WomenOfCamdenFringe where I’ve posted a thread on Twitter of all female led shows at the festival so people can easily find the plays to watch!
So there you have it! Remember, the show plays Camden People’s Theatre 15-18 August 2019 and you can find tickets here.