From the 22nd to the 25th February student theatre in Durham will be overtaken by the annual Durham Drama Festival. The festival provides workshops, social events and, perhaps most importantly, performances of new and original plays. One such play is Michael Mclauchlan’s Incognito, showing on Friday 24th February. According to its writer and director, Incognito is a play which challenges people’s ideas about truth and reality. It explores the idea of whether you can trust what you see or whether everything is fixed in the imaginary and, in life, there is only futility and the absurd. The eerie plot is designed to bring out these ideas; a man condemned to an unknown punishment wakes up to find himself in a cave shackled to someone whose shadow is the only thing he can see. The interaction between the man and the so-called ‘shadow’ as they grow more hostile to each other runs parallel to the story of two German boys who, in the writer’s own words, ‘find love in a hopeless place’. If you are a fan of Rihanna perhaps this is the play for you…
Michael is keen to illustrate the importance of the unseen companion in his play; it is only due to logistics of stage space that the audience will be able to see the actor whose shadow is so intrinsic to the story. If cinematographic style was enough the shadow’s owner would remain hidden. Michael explains how ‘quite a lot of thought has been put into the shadow’ with carefully synchronised movements needed throughout the play. Turning to what influenced him Michael instantly expresses his love of Samuel Beckett, particularly his play ‘Waiting for Godot’. Together with this Milton, Ibsen and Chekhov allowed him to develop his ideas of reality and the unseen in the play. The play has a minimalistic set, to reflect the cave where most of the action takes place, and Michael says that ‘the sound effects are the main thing- very eerie’.
In bringing ‘Incognito’ to the stage its writer admits the ‘bureaucracy of putting on a play was challenging – as a fresher I didn’t even know how to book a room in Elvet Riverside for rehearsals’. With less than a week to go though he reassures me that things are progressing well, especially with the support of the DST exec, his co-director and the cast; he has nothing but praise for everyone involved in the show, ‘they’ve all been brilliant!’
On the whole Michael says he is happy with how the work has translated from his mind onto the stage while admitting that it had changed from what he had envisaged. He acknowledges his fear of people not understanding the play and its intentions but says the most important thing is that ‘people have their own perspective and personal experience’.
When asked to sell the play to me in ten words, Michael said ‘break free…see the truth… but it can be ugly.’ Indeed he admits the play is quite depressing but it sounds like Incognito will add a healthy dose of the philosophical to this year’s festival and give the audience the chance to become immersed in some of the greatest dilemmas of life.
Surreal… stylised… and a bit weird. These are some of the ways in which Nick Waszkowycz describes his Durham Drama Festival offering, Emeric Fontal. Detailing the criminal underground into which the titular hero returns from a stint in prison, Emeric Fontal is a play which plunges deep into the issues of morality and responsibility. In the course of the play Emeric must decide whether to accept the new, different criminal world he has returned to and participate in a serious felony, or turn himself into the authorities; either way he will have to accept responsibility for what he will do and what he has done in his life. Writer and director Nick explains how the play, although not a comedy, approaches its subject with an air of flamboyance and surrealism allowing for certain humorous moments. Even though the play’s criminal underground is not gritty and dark, neither is it comforting or safe. Emeric Fontal is not a play which looks at the rewards of morality but at its difficulties and consequences; neither of Emeric’s options guarantee his happy ending.
Nick says he has enjoyed his first foray into directing a DDF production and says he has really enjoyed dealing with the difficulties that have arisen during the experience. He reveals that he threw himself into the production claiming if you want to put on a play you should do all that is needed. He admits that ‘there are a lot of strange props’ in the play, perhaps the most unusual and seemingly difficult to obtain being a large standing crucifix. Whether the production is able to source one of these will only be answered if you go and see the show; at the time of talking to Nick, the status on such a prop was unknown…
Nick hopes that the audience will appreciate the play for ‘its subtleties’ and at the same time the repetitive and stark aspects in the story will not be underestimated. Emeric Fontal is a bit different,’ he explains, ‘perhaps the most ambiguous [of this year’s DDF offerings] and with plenty of fighting’. It certainly sounds like this play will offer DDF audiences an experience they will not get with any other production at this year’s festival.
The writer’s final words on his play, ‘a surreal dairy-fuelled rampage through one man’s inescapable moral dilemma’, suggest that this production will have us all feeling the responsibility when we walk out… and perhaps in need of a slice of cheese.
Also showing at The 2012 Durham Drama Festival…
Wednesday 22nd February
Dominic Everett-Riley: Two Days From Now, Timmy Fisher: Love/Lust, Nick Waszkowycz: Emeric Fontal
Thursday 23rd February
Chris McQuillan: The Shoe Shop, Shellshock!: The Improvised Tragedy, James Morton: Marshmallows,The 24 Hour Musical
Friday 24th February
Sam Kingston Jones: Satin, Michael Mclauchlan: Incognito Gareth Davies: Dead Letter Office, Aaron Calvert: Connected
Saturday 25th February
Rachel Brooks: Just Do It, Tom Dockar-Drysdale: State of Fugue, James Morton: Scream Queens Anonymous, Durham Improvised Musical
For more information visit the DDF website here.