Caro Meets Theatre Interview

David Loumgair: Tiny Dynamite

By | Published on Thursday 4 January 2018

The next show to go up over at the Old Red Lion Theatre is a revival of Abi Morgan’s ‘Tiny Dynamite’, a play that, as readers may remember, made a serious impact when first produced, but which has not been professionally staged for fifteen years.

The team behind the production clearly think it’s about time it got seen again. I spoke to one of them, director David Loumgair, to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the plot of the play? What’s the story…?
DL: Well without giving too much away, the story follows two childhood friends, Luce and Anthony, who both experienced the same traumatic event at an early age. That trauma has impacted them in different ways, and has led them down very different paths in life, but each summer they come together for an annual pilgrimage to the countryside.

The play kicks off almost ten years after this event, and follows the course of their last summer together, where a girl called Madeleine suddenly enters their lives and has a striking effect on the two friends. The three immediately form a close bond, but as the play develops we follow the growth of their relationships with Madeleine, and we discover a lot of mystery surrounding this girl – about who she really is and whether they’ve met her before. Her arrival acts as the catalyst for Luce and Anthony to start confronting this trauma that has left them incapable of moving on with their lives, building like a pressure cooker towards the moment where the pair finally have to stop running and face the truth.

That’s about as much as I can give away without ruining it, but I keep describing it as a love story meets a ghost tale meets a psychological thriller, so hopefully that’s intriguing enough for people to come and see it!

CM: What are the primary themes of the piece?
DL: There are a lot of layers to the play, and a lot of ways you can interpret it, so I’m hoping the audience will take quite different things from it. Primarily though I think it’s about the relationship between grief and recovery. It explores the impact of trauma on our lives and asks when we should take responsibility for our actions, as well as putting faith and rationality in a boxing ring and seeing which comes out the champion.

At its core, I think the play explores the different ways we respond to bereavement and loss, and ultimately shows that by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to pain, we can become stronger because of it.

CM: What made you want to direct it?
DL: Strangely I’ve found that a lot of my work over the years has explored the relationship between grief and recovery, which is quite a depressing thought, but without a doubt there was something subconscious that kept pulling me back to the play after I first read it.

I consciously wanted to direct it because of the endless layers I found each time I read it, and even now we’re in rehearsals we’ve found a whole new depth to it. The relationships between the three characters are also incredibly complex and multi-faceted, so that’s always an exciting discovery that makes you eager to take it into rehearsals and start working practically.

There’s also a colossal, epic atmosphere that hangs over what is an incredibly intimate play, and I’m fascinated by the contrast between those two elements and how they can be effectively balanced on stage.

CM: The play had a tremendous impact when it was first staged in London, so it seems surprising that it’s not been staged more here since. Any ideas why?
DL: I genuinely have no idea why it’s not been staged in the UK more since the original production. I know the Donmar Warehouse produced a revival of Abi’s play ‘Splendour’ in 2015, which was first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000, but there’s not been a professional revival of ‘Tiny Dynamite’ since it was done at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001 despite its huge critical acclaim.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about the play recognises the title, and almost all of them had even read it, so It feels like a play that people know of but might not have considered reviving. It just makes it even more exciting to be the first to bring it back, and I hope we can do justice to the audience’s expectations. Although there’s a part of me that hopes we might exceed them!

CM: I imagine a lot of readers will know about Abi Morgan, but for those who don’t, can you tell us a bit about her?
DL: Over the past decade or so Abi’s moved away from playwriting and is now a prolific film and TV writer.

I think people will probably know of films she’s written like ‘Suffragette’ starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Ben Wishaw, or ‘The Iron Lady’ with Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman. Yet we so rarely take note of the writers of these films, and I wasn’t aware she’d written them until I looked more into her career, so people may not be aware of the breadth of her work.

But before she moved into writing for film, Abi wrote breath-taking plays like ‘Tender’ for the Hampstead Theatre and ‘Lovesong’, another production she worked on with Frantic Assembly, who co-produced the original ‘Tiny Dynamite’, so I hope she does come back to the stage and write another play soon.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast?
DL: So, with permission from Abi, and for this revival of the production only, we’ve changed the gender of the character of Luce from male to female. It’s an exciting change that brings an entirely new dynamic to the revival, and our Luce is being played by the raw talent that is Eva-Jane Willis, who recently finished performing at Nottingham Playhouse and the Octagon Theatre.

Niall Bishop is playing the character of Anthony, who is struck by lightning when he’s six years old and subsequently has this bizarre effect on his surroundings. I’ve worked with Niall before and he’s a force to be reckoned with, and the relationship he and Eva have built in rehearsals is already charged and loaded with complex history.

And last, but certainly not least, we have Tanya Fear playing Madeleine, our familiar stranger who threatens to uncover a truth the two friends have spent a decade trying to escape. Tanya’s recently finished working on a new film for HBO called ‘My Dinner with Hervé’, and filming on the TV drama ‘Clean Break’ for ITV with Sheridan Smith.

CM: This is the debut show from Time Productions. Can you tell us about the company, and how you came to be working with them?
DL: Time Productions was founded by Niall Bishop, one of our cast members, and his colleague Ian Grant earlier this year. Their mission is to build a sustainable model of producing new work and reviving classics that strikes a personal chord with audiences, with diversity and the creation of leading roles for actors from under-represented backgrounds at its heart.

I came to work with them through directing Niall in a one-man production at the Hen and Chickens Theatre in 2015, a modest project that ended up as a five-star show, and after that we became close friends and colleagues. It was back then that conversations about reviving Tiny Dynamite started, so nearly over two years ago now, and as the prospect of bringing this play back to the stage became more of a reality, Niall and Ian had the brilliant idea of founding their own production company to support it.

It’s incredibly difficult to produce new work on the London fringe now, because of reasons like rising business rates that have a huge impact on unfunded theatres, and an admirable push for equity pay for actors and creatives, but these factors mean budgets are getting higher at a time where public funding is getting lower.

So it’s brilliant to be working with Time on their inaugural production, and to be directing not only a brilliant play, but one with incredibly complex female characters who aren’t defined solely in relationship to men. The over-saturation of male-driven narratives is a real bugbear of mine, as I’m sure it is the bugbear of many, so it’s refreshing to be working on a play with a completely different perspective.

CM: Can you tell us about your involvement with Common?
DL: I founded COMMON at the beginning of 2017 to support artists from working-class and backgrounds in being able to achieve tangible career development in theatre.

I was coming up against a lot of barriers myself as a working-class artist, and talking with other artists from these backgrounds who I support through my work as a dramaturg, they were all saying the same thing – that they were unable to access opportunities that those from more financially stable backgrounds could.

COMMON is an attempt to offer responsive support services to working-class artists, like career development workshops, commissioning opportunities and peer-led discussions with venues about the barriers they encounter whilst trying to develop a sustainable career.

We’re also in the process of doing research into the barriers these artists face with support from multiple sociologists and arts organisations, to try and get a better insight into what types of support will be most beneficial, and to make sure that the theatre ecology is aware that we are facing a crisis in accessibility and opportunity for the working-class.

CM: What aims do you have for the future?
DL: My aims for the next few years are to start working with larger theatres as a production dramaturg, and hopefully in the process of doing so create new opportunities to support early-career dramaturgs who can rarely progress their careers, because of the lack of formal routes in to working as a dramaturg.

I also plan on evolving COMMON to the stage where it’s both the leading support service for artists from working-class backgrounds and a sustainable means of supporting myself as a theatre-maker, which also allows me to have the freedom to continue working on freelance projects.

I also hope to stage a few more plays in 2018 that I’ve been developing for the past few years, so fingers crossed!

CM: What’s coming up next, after Tiny Dynamite?
DL: I’m working on the development of a new production that explores the concept of self-worth and sexuality, which we’ll hopefully be working on in Coventry in the next few months, so I’m really looking forward to that.

I’m also aiming to bring back a play about early-onset dementia that we’ve spent a good two years developing and working on, and it’s a play that is very close to my heart, so I’m putting a lot of effort into trying to bring that the stage in 2018.

‘Tiny Dynamite’ is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre from 9 Jan-3 Feb, see the venue website here for information and to book.

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