Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Douglas Deans: 24. 23. 22.

By | Published on Sunday 21 February 2021

Having interviewed the creative team behind producing company Chronic Insanity last year – about their ’12 Shows In 12 Months’ project – I was really pleased to hear that they are still moving at high speed, with another show-per-month venture.

The next production to happen – online, of course – is ‘24.23.22’, a gig theatre piece boasting some rather interesting touches: for example, it’s told via a variety of social media platforms. Plus each character is played by two performers, and audiences will choose who plays out the story for them, a bit like selecting a character in a video game.

I spoke to writer Douglas Deans to find out more.

CM: Can you start by giving us an idea of what ‘24. 23. 22’ is about in terms of narrative? What story does it tell?
DD: “There’s something about today. Something’s gonna happen. I don’t know what it is but everything feels a bit…like it’s holding its breath”

‘24. 23. 22’ is a story told both forwards and backwards set across one day. Fran wakes up hungover and late for work, with little in the way of control over things. Brendon lies bleeding out in the street, having fallen eleven floors. From there, Brendan’s narrative flows backwards while Fran’s flows forwards, retracing steps and following paths until they meet violently in the middle.

CM: What themes does it explore?
DD: It’s a question that I’ve been attempting to answer since I wrote it. Time is a theme. I wanted to explore the idea of time not as a vast expanse, but as self-contained moments of immediacy, and how we live in those moments either by fiercely seizing them or simply drifting. I also wanted to explore anger, and how we swallow it down, and how we sometimes feel at our most in control when we’re out of control.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of a genre?
DD: An experimental modern drama. Or, a modern dramatic experiment. A thrill?

CM: It’s being staged in an unusual way, even for an online cultural project – what motivated that approach?
DD: It’s all down to the genius of Joe, artistic director of Chronic Insanity. Joe’s created a way of experiencing the story using multiple screens.

CM: What was the inspiration for the project? What made you want to tackle this subject and themes?
DD: I’ve been wanting to write something that was fast paced for a while, a theatrical expression of a panic. I also wanted to see what would happen when two ordinary people were suddenly pushed to extremes, and how they would react to that. Then, one day last summer, the shape of this play and its two characters dropped into my head. It hung around for months and wouldn’t leave me alone until I sat down and wrote it.

CM: Have you created work for this kind of media before?
DD: This is entirely new to me, but it speaks of the trust that comes with creative collaboration. The play was originally conceived for stage and, indeed, when I pitched it to Joe, he told me to write it as if it were still for stage. When I told him “I honestly don’t know how you’re going to translate this to your new form”, he simply said “I like a challenge”.

CM: There’s been a burgeoning of culture delivered online during lockdown. Do you think it’s a trend that will continue once the COVID crisis is over?
DD: I think when the first lockdown hit, people tried to adapt very quickly, which led to a glut of online monologues. I understand the mindset, the need to maintain purpose when there was no theatre being made.

As we settled into the new normal, and thankfully the monologues lessened a little, some theatremakers used the constrictions to their advantage, mixing theatrical experience with online platforms to make some truly fascinating cross-form work. Work like ‘Ghost Caller’ by Luke Barnes and ‘Safe Space’ by New Perspectives.

My hope is that once theatres reopen, these new cross-form works are recognised and held in a similarly high regard to the typical show. Maybe the National Theatre could start a strand of cross-form/online exclusive work.

CM: This is one of a number of productions beginning runs as part of Chronic Insanity’s ’12 Shows In 12 Months 2021′ project – how did your work come to be one of them?
DD: I acted in a Chronic Insanity online show last summer, and knew Joe through our association with Nottingham Playhouse. Joe had known about the idea for a while. I wrote a pitch for it last summer as part of a job application, which Joe read over and he found the idea intriguing.

We’ve been wanting to work together for a while, and he saw a lot of potential in the way the narrative plays with time. Then, in November, he asked me if I was still doing anything with it.

Initially I said I’d given up on the idea because no-one had been interested. Joe said “I was interested”. I said “Were you?!” He said “Yep. Still am actually. If you write it over Christmas, I’ll include it as part of our new season”. Well, now I had to write it.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you come to be working in the arts?
DD: I originally worked as an actor musician after finishing university. It was in 2016, after a year and a half of not working as an actor-musician, that I felt I wanted a little more agency.

I had the idea for a monologue play and – rather foolhardily – I booked a slot at Edinburgh Fringe before I’d started writing it. The play, ‘Mine’, only had an initial week run, but it was reviewed in The Scotsman, who gave it four stars. Our audiences began getting bigger and we got the chance to extend our run. I’ve been playwriting since then.

CM: What effects has the pandemic had on your work?
DD: Previously, all of my own work has been self-produced, and as such I’ve balanced the writing with all the other aspects of putting on your own work. As such, I’d pile on the pressure for the play to do well, and the writing itself was a stressful act. It’s been strange, because for the first time, with everything shut, I’ve been taking my time with writing, and discovering that it can be enjoyable. That’s been the most important thing for me, and learning to enjoy it has meant the writing itself has improved.

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for the future?
DD: Joe and I are looking over the idea of doing a live version of ‘24. 23. 22’ when theatres begin to reopen.

Aside from that, I’m currently working on a new piece of gig theatre about Britain’s music-festival culture, which is being supported by Nottingham Playhouse and Middle Child. I’m excited for the future.

‘24, 23, 22’ opens on 26 Feb and will be available until the end of the year. You can find more info and book tickets here. The show is part of Chronic Insanity’s ’12 Shows In 12 Months’ project for 2021. To read more about the company’s other upcoming shows, see this page here.