Interview: Rachel Briscoe

Ovalhouse is a lively theatre and arts centre, based on the Kennington Oval, in London.  They are produce a broad spectrum of diverse and exciting work, continuing this season with Fabulism – a programme of work in which “…time operates on the vertical axis, nature behaves mysteriously and ideas take limbs of flesh and dance the macarena in a forsaken building where no two walls are parallel and the heating doesn’t work properly…”

This week I interviewed Rachel Briscoe, who is one of the Directors of Theatre at OvalHouse (alongside Rebecca Atkinson-Lord), who filled me in on everything we need to know about this fantastic new season.

1. The Autumn season at Ovalhouse entitled Fabulism looks extraordinary, could you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea for the season?
When we looked at the shows in the season, we were struck by how they were all so different -in subject, form, audience experience- but there was something about all of them which felt both reassuringly familiar and excitingly peculiar. This combination, this fabulism, is central to what Ovalhouse exists to do: combine an acknowledgment of how things are with a playfulness around how they could be if we turned the rules inside out. We may be a small theatre in south London where the internet goes at snail-speed when it rains, but the artists we’re working with are magic.

2. You have five full length plays, and seven First Bites (works-in-development), how did you go about selecting the work / finding the artists to work with for the season?
So at Ovalhouse we specialise in supporting artists to develop themselves and their work. We’re big on long-term relationships so although the work is new and fresh, we’ve been talking to a lot of these artists for some time now. Selina Thompson, who is presenting Dark and Lovely, did a residency with us in May, starting to develop the ideas in the show about Black British Female identity; we’ve been wanting to work with Selina for a while now, so we’re really thrilled she opens the season. I missed Susannah Hislop’s How a Snake Sheds its Skin in Edinburgh 2014 – I sprinted across the city but didn’t make it before the show started; since then we’ve been looking for a way to work together. fanSHEN did a show here in 2006 and now return with Invisible Treasure, a really urgent political piece, which does some pretty exciting things in a collaboration with digital technologists Hellicar&Lewis . We’ve also been making relationships with artists outside of London – with Me and Mr C and then LEAP, we’re bringing some really fantastic artists from the North East to London audiences. Our FiRST BiTES artists have all come to us with the seed of an idea; Leigh Obolewicz & O’Connor, Tatty Hennessy, Nick Field, Accidental Collective, TFIU, Xavier de Sousa and Amahra Spence are all brilliant and we can’t wait to share their work with audiences.

3. You’re covering a vast range of themes and ideas under the umbrella of Fabulism, could you briefly share as many of those with us as possible so our readers will know what to expect?
Black identity, feminism, power, agency, having voices in your head, risk and reward, cells, cupcake power-play, hope, (be)longing, watching and being watched, class, inheritance. Oh and the elephant in the room.

4. Is it all theatre, or varying art forms?
Ummmm, I’d say it is all theatre but not much of it is theatre in the sense you might see it in the West End. Lots of the artists we’re working with are doing really exciting things with what role the audience play in their piece… Selina might invite you into an igloo made of weave, while in Invisible Treasure there are no actors and the actions of the audience will shape the experience to be different each time.

5. What has been the best thing about putting the season together?
(Apart from picking the image for the cover, which I LOVE…) I think seeing the combination of extraordinariness and ordinariness. Our vision for Ovalhouse was to make it somewhere that really big ideas could be explored in fantastic ways, but also somewhere really down-to-earth. These artists are showing that the two things are not mutually exclusive.

6. Who is Fabulism for?
People who like something a bit different, who like to laugh but also to be challenged a bit; people for whom it’s about heart rather than everything being shiny and expensive; people who want to reflect on how we live and how things could be different (but not in a depressing way); people who like really good food (remember to try Mazi Maz’s cassava chips while you’re here!); people who find traditional theatre a bit dull.

7. Where can we read more about it online?
http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/fabulism

Thank you so much Rachel!

(C) Amie Taylor 2015 (@spoonsparkle)

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