Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Caroline Bryant: I’d Rather Go Blind

By | Published on Friday 27 September 2019

Coming up at Omnibus Theatre is the first staging of a new piece from woman-focused production company Futures Theatre. Written by Somalia Seaton, and informed by the experiences of women in the criminal justice system, it focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter during a significant point in their lives.

The show is directed by Caroline Bryant, the company’s founder. I spoke to her to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the content of the play? Where does the narrative take us and who are the central characters?
CB: ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ gives audiences an intimate glimpse into the unique relationship between a mother and daughter, Ruby and Michelle. The story takes place at a highly charged point in both of their lives; Ruby is turning eighteen. As the play unfolds we learn why Michelle has kept this relationship so hidden.

CM: What are the primary themes of the play?
CB: We explore the extremes of motherhood; what it means to be a mother and the sometimes flawed bond between a mother and daughter. The play also looks at isolation; both loneliness and isolation as security and protection. And, in keeping with much of our programme at Futures, hope. It is a hopeful story of a woman learning and owning her own strength.

CM: Can you tell us about how the play was created? From what I understand it’s informed by the lives of real women’s experiences of the criminal justice system..?
CB: Yes indeed. The play is the final commission from a three year engagement project we ran from 2015 to 2017. Each year we worked with a different group of women and, as part of that programme, we commissioned a new writer each year to create a script that is inspired by the women who engaged – including ‘A Cracked Plaster Sky’ by Kay Adshead in 2015 and ‘Never Vera Blue’ by Alexandra Wood in 2016). Throughout 2017 we worked at The Beth Centre in Lambeth with a group of incredible women. Their experiences of the criminal justice system and their wider life experiences informed this production. The women read early drafts of the script and also attended the rehearsed reading last year and are excited for this full staging of the piece!

CM: What made you want to stage a play focusing on these particular themes? What inspired it?
CB: When we began delivering long term engagement work – many years ago! – we worked with a group of women who were all working in street-based sex work. Their experiences and stories were at times traumatic but also funny, illuminating and believable. Their desire to be seen as the full, interesting and warrior women they are and their want to have their story told and heard inspired us to commission this trilogy of plays. As a company founded and run by women, we are interested in telling stories of women who are heroines, which perfectly describes the women we worked with in the creation of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?
CB: It’s the fantastic Somalia Seaton. We work with writers who are invested in and interested in our engagement work with women’s groups; which has certainly been true of Somalia. From early on in the process when she led sessions with the group of women who inspired the play, Somalia was really interested in the themes of motherhood and isolation. That allowed her to tell a story that explores ‘imprisonment’ without focusing on prison.

CM: Would you say the play has political motivations?
CB: Yes. We see it as a political act to put women, who are under-represented and often ignored, front and centre stage. We want our work to be a catalyst for change and to be part of larger conversations which push for true equality.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast?
CB: We have an amazing cast for this play. Toyin Ayedun-Alase is playing Michelle, Leona Allen plays her daughter Ruby, and Anna-Maria Everett plays Chrissy, a women’s worker who is walking alongside Michelle at this critical time in her life. Rehearsals have been a joy with this company who are working with the openness, playfulness and energy that this story demands.

CM: Futures Theatre is your own company. What are its ethos and aims?
CB: I founded Futures, as a young actress, out of a frustration at the lack of opportunities for women in all aspects of the industry. It’s still our aim today to promote and advance women in all areas of the theatre; both within the stories we tell and the women we work with to stage those stories.

CM: The company was formed in 1992, which is quite a long time ago now! What have been the highlights thus far?
CB: That would be a long list! Looking at recent years, the production ‘Offside’ has been a real stand out: a production about women’s football was an idea percolating for many years. I love football and the history of the women’s game is so tied to political and feminist movements. After a national tour, ‘Offside’ was also the first production we took to the Edinburgh Festival, which was a long time coming!

A very different production was ‘A Cracked Plaster Sky’, which we staged for the first time a couple of years ago. This piece is especially close to my heart and deals with really challenging themes, including sexual abuse. It’s an epic story, a beautiful lyrical script, inspired by extraordinary women we worked with. I can’t wait to stage it again.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the company in the future?
CB: To continue building our name as a company which centres and nurtures women; both as artists and participants. To take work to a broader audience and work more in venues throughout the UK.

CM: Do you have any plans for this production after its run at Omnibus Theatre?
CB: We’re using this run at Omnibus to plan for the future of the production. This is the first full staging so will help us identify the right home for the show in the future. After the run we’ll reflect with the whole creative team to plan for its future.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
CB: We’ll be heading straight in to the next production! We’re looking forward to remounting our show ‘Underwater Love’ for young audiences – so thirteen plus – for the final time.

‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ is on at the Omnibus Theatre from 1-5 Oct. For more info and to book your tickets, see this page here.

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