Faust’s Gretchen is heading to the Camden Fringe thanks to an ambitious team and their production of “Fester”. With their sights set on placing a woman’s determination to take back control centre stage, this 55-minute devised physical theatre piece aims to be reflective of both then and now. As the show is set to play the The Cockpit Theatre on the 13th and 14th of August as part of the Camden Fringe, I caught up with director Megan Brewer, who chats here about the devising process, the surprising humour within this tale, and the need for greater value to be placed on Migrant work and marginalised gender work in the industry…
First of all, how are things going with preparations for “Fester” at the Camden Fringe?
Preparations are going well! We’re nearly done, and it’s just about pulling the last pieces together. It’s quite a terrifying and wonderful place to be in.
So the show is based on Faust’s Gretchen – who finds herself in hell and decides to take control of her fate. Tell me a little bit about what drew you to this particular story.
I was interested in the fact that Gretchen only appears in the Goethe version of Faust, which has existed as a myth long before this play was written. I was drawn to the story because of how much Gretchen has to endure, and how her narrative ultimately revolves around paving the way for Faust’s redemption. I think it’s a very common trope in classic and modern plays that desperately needs updating, and this felt like a good place to start – decently known but not as much (in the UK at least) as Shakespeare, so there was slightly less of an established cultural convention to wrestle with.
And this is a 55 minute devised physical theatre piece – how have you approached the devising process and what have been the highlights for you?
I tend to work very collaboratively. This process has been a mixture of talking about the bigger picture – marginalisation and the value of stories – and throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. We’ve tried countless ways of making this thing despite having a very limited time, and I’d love to see where it goes in future iterations when we can take what we’ve learned here and expand upon it. The most important thing for this process has been curiosity (and not cleverness, as we remind ourselves in rehearsal) and making sure that everyone feels like they have a safe environment to share and play around. The one highlight that sticks out is how funny the show has become. I didn’t expect that, but it’s absolutely delightful. Sometimes, we just need to share a good laugh.
For you, what is it about physical theatre that lends itself to this particular story?
I think physical theatre feels like it fits the supernatural elements of the play quite well – and beyond that, it feels like a good antithesis for Faust. The character himself is quite text-driven, and so using a method driven more by movement and the body counters it and challenges it in an interesting way. It’s definitely ended up more as a split between physical theatre and dialogue-driven work, which surprised me, but I think it ended up being what worked best for this particular version of Gretchen’s story.
Who would you say your theatrical influences are?
My influences have shifted and changed over the years. I’m definitely influenced by a lot of the titans in western theatre – primarily the work of Meyerhold, Lecoq, and Anne Bogart, and visual styles from continental Europe – but I find myself wanting to incorporate other styles of live performance into my work, especially things I’ve learned from international collaborators and from having worked in several countries.
A show about a female taking back control after finding herself under the power of others feels very current – would you say the show carries messages reflective of now by design?
Absolutely. Even though it’s drawing from a historical source, the conversations we’ve been having have been about the work have been driven by the contemporary world and the experiences of all the creatives. We’ve had countless discussions about intersectionality, structural inequality, and whether or not making art is an escape or a protest – or both. A lot of it draws on very real issues and the ways in which we grapple with dominant cultural narratives.
You clearly take pride in the fact that “Fester” is a piece created and performed by a majority migrant and marginalised gender team – what does it mean to you to be able to bring this work from this team to audiences via the Camden Fringe?
Migrant work (and marginalized gender work) is shamefully undervalued in English theatre. There’s such a rich mix of cultures here – especially in London – and yet most shows I see tend to ignore that completely. Not only that, but we’re still seeing all-male, all-white creative teams and casts despite the promises of change made during the pandemic. It’s wonderful to make work for the Camden Fringe audiences, and I hope that people will support all the incredible migrant and marginalized gender-led work being made at the Fringe and across the UK.
And finally, in just one sentence, why should audiences come to see “Fester”?
Audiences should come see fester because we all need to share a collective laugh and a collective cry after everything we’ve been through.
So there you have it! Remember: Fester plays The Cockpit Theatre on the 13th and 14th of August as part of the Camden Fringe and you can find your tickets here.