The Fringe doesn’t know what’s hit it
A group of UEA undergrads and graduates have started their own theatre company and taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe.
The group, Turn The Key, are currently wowing Scottish audiences with their surreal play “The Cupboard”.
The self-composed production marks the group’s second consecutive visit to the world’s biggest arts festival.
Gemma Aked-Priestley, writer and director of the play, told us about the company’s humble beginnings.
She said: “We were four friends with a passion for creating ensemble theatre and we just felt like having a go at taking something to Edinburgh.
“Most of the group were already part of UEA’s various drama societies, like DramaSoc and Minotaur, but it felt like there were so many students and not enough opportunities.
“So, we just thought: ‘You know what? We’ll create our own opportunities’, and that’s what we did.”
This year, the group are performing a tale of a female rat who escapes the oppressive sewers and ends up in a cupboard occupied by living objects, including a broom and a half-broken cuckoo clock.
So where did the bizarre concept come from?
Gemma said: “I wrote the play as part of my scriptwriting module in second year. It was literally just a matter of brainstorming ideas because I had to, and the idea sort of came fully-fledged.
“I’ve always really liked the weird and the wonderful. When I go to the theatre, I don’t particularly enjoy naturalistic stuff.”
In addition to telling magical tales, the group also aim to create theatre with a strong female voice.
Gemma says: “We have a female protagonist and antagonist, but their conflict doesn’t revolve around a male lover or husband, which is quite rare in theatre.
“We didn’t necessarily have a political agenda, but it’s something we’re conscious of and very proud of doing.
“We’ve already thought about plans for next year and we might focus even more on the female voice then. But I can’t say too much about that.”
As writer and director, Gemma’s contribution could be seen to take centre stage – but she assured us that the whole team deserve equal applause.
She said: “When I suggested taking the play to Edinburgh, the company were really on board. Since then, it’s been a really collaborative process.
“So, even though I physically wrote the script, the cast heavily influenced ideas as a collective, which is how we like to work.”
Finding such a committed, creative team was no simple matter.
Gemma said: “We cast in March, and we had to do it pretty sharpish. The play was shortlisted for the Les Enfant Terribles Award 2015, which required performing at a London showcase.
“Jodie, Ellie and myself – three of the founding members – were busy seeking grants for Edinburgh, so it was a bit like ‘Oh my gosh, we have to perform!’
“So we quickly cast the roles, made the costumes, and blocked a 10-minute extract, but it was a brilliant experience.”
“After the showcase, we needed to raise funds. We did the 24-hour cycle in The Square, which is always a lot of fun, and we also ran cake and clothes shops.”
So, how long were the group able to rehearse for?
“Rehearsals resumed in July, taking place over three intensive weeks. After that, we took a break so that we didn’t all go mad. Then we had three more intensive days before going straight to Edinburgh.
“It’s intense. It really is a lot of hard work. If you’re going to come to Edinburgh, you can’t party-party every night.
“Maybe party-party two or three nights, but you’ve got to have your rest time or you’ll be too sick to perform.
“But it is so exciting, it really is. For me, the best part is the variety. At university, you can fall into trends, because you’re not always exposed to as many different things.
“At Edinburgh, you remember that theatre has no definitive right or wrong. You can lose sight of that at university.
“I love UEA – I’ve learned so much from it – but it’s amazing to meet international theatre-makers and see how different places produce different theatre.”
And for all you budding theatre-makers out there, Gemma has some closing advice on how to succeed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“You need to make sure you have an enthusiastic production team, which fortunately we have.
“Don’t just focus on your own show, be inspired, make sure you’re soaking up loads of other stuff.”
And the most important pro tip?
“Bring a rain coat. It’s Edinburgh.”