Play Pieces' last presentation is another sell-out and it comes from Emma Anderson, from Tomatin originally. Emma is a writer and performer whose Beautiful House for the Play Pieces lunchtime theatre last year took the audience deep into Egyptian death rituals. For the last lunchtime drama of this season, on Saturday Emma has created The Gamekeeper, where Cameron has just accepted the post of head gamekeeper at a large estate in the North of Scotland owned by a laird who rarely visits. But the isolation will be broken with the arrival of a bureaucratic PhD student who shakes up his world.
1 You took us to the rituals of Egypt with your last play for Play Pieces, Beautiful House. Why did you decide to come closer to home and the traditions of the Highlands for this one?
Emma: To be honest it came from a chat with a writer friend of mine who said that sometimes the best work comes from writing about what you know. I grew up around gamekeepers, my family and majority of ancestors are or have been gamekeepers. My fondest and earliest memories were spent in Ben Alder in Dalwhinnie where my granddad was a keeper for many years.
Also there are quite a few keepers in the village (Tomatin) where I’m from.
I realised that their stories weren’t being told especially in the medium of theatre.
It was hard to confine all the issues faced in this line of work into a one-hour performance without being too controversial. So I ended up focusing on the emotional side of the job and how the isolation affects the people working in such rural areas.
2 Do you find the restrictions of space, time, small scale that Play Pieces imposes more challenging than stimulating, vice versa — or both!
Emma: A stimulating challenge! As a theatre maker it is good to have some restrictions, it makes you think about how best to use the space you are given. Play Pieces has found its home in pubs, so for The Gamekeeper we sought to use not only the stage area, but the bars as well.
I make sure we have two weeks rehearsal so the performance as slick as possible, and the actors are comfortable in their roles. Also I really enjoy intimate theatre as I feel it makes the performance more personal and playful.
This year I have been working with the fantastic talents of Newtonmore actress Carrie-Anne Wilde and Moray actor Fraser Sivewright. Both took to the script and direction so quickly and professionally.
3 What was the biggest headache logistics-wise for this show?
Emma: I wouldn’t call it a headache, I knew what I was signing up for with Play Pieces and the budgets for each show — but again, I found it a stimulating challenge. I suppose the biggest challenges were having to design and build the set, borrow costume from my family, and beg my parents to allow the actors and I to commandeer the house for lodging during rehearsals. This was very much a family affair, and I am incredibly grateful that I have had their support.
4 How do you feel Play Pieces and its offshoots has helped you as a performer and writer?
Emma: Play Pieces allows a creative freedom that is hard to find elsewhere; rather than trying to tick boxes, you are able to explore more experimental/imaginative expressive opportunities with little limitation.
By virtue of this freedom, I have been enabled to experiment with different genres and performance techniques.
For example, the first year I was involved in Play Pieces as part of my first theatre company — SkinnyDip Theatre — I performed a black comedy. The second year my current company Gunshow Theatre produced in collaboration with Wildbird Theatre a dark thriller and finally this year we have more of a romantic comedy.
Play Pieces can be a fantastic stepping-stone for a production. Play Pieces gives you exposure, it opens you to reviews and audience feedback, which in turn makes the production more sellable to venues and future development.
As proof of this, Gunshow’s dark thriller The Beautiful House from 2013 Play Pieces season is off on tour around Scotland in April. Make sure you catch it if you missed it that last time!
5 Are you already thinking of something for your next possible Play Pieces production — if so, any small clues?!
Emma: Oh now that would be telling! But the application is already in! Well, it’s in collaboration with a local actress and we are going to be moving even closer to home and much further back into the past
6 What else are you up to at the moment and planning for the rest of the year?
Emma: It’s all go really, Gunshow and Wildbird are touring The Beautiful House at the end of March to April. We’re touring to: Gairloch, Nairn, Melvich, Ardross and The Drygate in Glasgow.
I am working on a few projects with collaborators in Edinburgh and attending workshops as part of the Tron 100 club and the Traverse Emerging Directors Scheme.
Also I have started researching for the next Play Pieces, that is if we get accepted. Fingers crossed!
The Gamekeeper by Emma Anderson is the last Play Pieces lunchtime theatre show of this season and is on at Elgin’s Drouthy Cobbler on Friday and the Phoenix Ale House, Inverness, on Saturday. Both shows are sold out, though there may be the chance of a return. Go to: www.playpieces.co.uk