Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Abigail Graham: And Now – The World

By | Published on Thursday 24 September 2015

When I heard about ‘And Now: The World’, I immediately wanted to find out more. The play sounds intriguing and very relevant to modern life, and comes from an acclaimed German playwright, plus, it’s produced by a group whose approach I really admire.


So, all that being the case, I sent some questions over to Abigail Graham, artistic director of OpenWorks, and director of the piece.

CM: Tell us about this play. What happens in it? What does it aim to prove, or explore?
AG: The play is about a young woman who spends more time online than outside. It’s about working out who you are; and working out how to become an agent in your own life, and wanting to change the world but not knowing how to, or if it’s even worth it. It asks questions about the effect of the internet, climate change and capitalism and on human behaviour. It’s very funny and totally accessible.

CM: The play was first staged in Germany, wasn’t it? How was it received there? Did you have to get it translated…? Is it hard to find the right person to do something like that?
AG: The play won the Theater Heute German Play of the Year Award 2014 – Martin Crimp won its foreign language counterpart. Sibylle was keen for Ben Knight to translate the text as he has translated a couple of her novels into English. It made complete sense for him to do it.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?
AG: Sibylle Berg is a well-known playwright and novelist in Germany and around the world – her work has been translated into 26 languages. She’s also known for a weekly newspaper column ‘Ask Sibylle’ in one of Germany’s most famous newspapers – Der Spiegel. A number of her plays including ‘A Few People Seek Happiness And Laugh Themselves To Death’ (based on her novel of the same name), ‘Helge’s Life’ and ‘Dog, Woman, Man’ have been nominated for the most prestigious award for German speaking playwrights, the Mülheim Dramatists’ Award.

CM: What made you want to produce this particular play? Are its themes important to you?
AG: Sibylle manages to put into words all sorts of things that I have been trying to articulate for ages – the text unpicks massive ideas in a really accessible way.

There’s a line in the play that really sprang out at me: “Am I a superhero trying to free my mother from the confines of patriarchy, or am I just a bitch like everyone else?” It made me jump out of my seat when I read it.

As I delved deeper into the text, I realised it was also exploring the isolating effects of our capitalist, digital age and that’s something that’s been worrying me for some time. It took me into my mid-late twenties to really work out who I was and what I wanted to do, and the text gets under the skin of what that’s like, so I felt compelled to do it.

CM: It’s a one-person show, isn’t it? As a director, do you need to have a different approach when it’s a one on one situation?
AG: One simple thing is we do shorter days, as Jenni (Jennifer Jackson, performer) has a lot of lines to learn, and she’d get knackered if we did 10-6.

In plays with 2 or more characters, the actors have each other to play off and useful things can develop from there. So, the creative team – who are in the room as much as possible – try to fill the void. Sound is really important in ‘And Now: The World’. It gives Jenni stuff to play off in the way other actors would if they were on stage with her.

CM: You are Artistic Director of OpenWorks Theatre. Can you tell us a bit about the company – its aims and its ideals?
AG: OpenWorks makes rebellious, honest and humane theatre, and our art and outreach develop hand in hand.

We believe 3 very simple things:
• Excellent art should be available to everyone
• Everyone should have the opportunity to make excellent art.
• The wider the range of people who make art, the more reflective of society and the more relevant it will be.

So, our audience development and outreach work are integrated into all our work from inception to delivery. We make it easier for word of mouth to spread and make cheap tickets easily available. We create a new theatre going audiences by involving them in the production from the beginning; we take on paid trainees who then become ambassadors for the show amongst their peers.

We piloted this model with ‘Debris’ (Southwark Playhouse 2014) and it resulted in in over 150 young people going to their local theatre for the first time – over half of these young people had never been to the theatre independently before. With ‘And Now: The World’ we are providing paid traineeships for 6 young people through Platform Youth Hub. They were with us throughout rehearsals and are acting as ambassadors for our previews and for when the show returns to London at the end of October. In Derby, where we are rehearsing for our final week, we are working in partnership with Derby Theatre and Barnados to provide traineeships for 6 more young people, who will act as ambassadors for the show’s performance there on 2 Oct. I’m really looking forward to seeing the statistics for this one.

‘And Now: The World’ is the first show we have toured, and the first one we have taken into schools (we’re going to two in London and three in Bristol) and non-theatre spaces – e.g The Moor, Theatre Delicatessen’s space, which is a disused Woolworths in Sheffield. This is another way of fulfilling our aim of making excellent art available to everyone.

CM: What’s next for the company?
AG: We are developing a show for 2016 which fulfils our mission statement in a slightly different way. I can’t really say more than that as it’s not been announced yet.

CM: What’s next for you?
AG: I’ve got a couple of freelance projects in development – one new play and a classic. But since setting up OpenWorks in 2013, not a week has gone by where I’ve not been working on fundraising, planning or strategising…. so I imagine that as soon as the show opens I’ll be back doing the artistic director part of my job.

‘And Now: The World’ previews from 24-25 Sep at Platform Islington Arts Hub, before setting off on tour. See the venue website here for more info. 

The show returns to London, and heads to Hackney Showroom, from 27-31 Oct. See this page here

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photo: Flavia Fraser-Cannon

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