Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ian Grant: After The Ball

By | Published on Wednesday 28 February 2018

Coming up at Upstairs At The Gatehouse in Highgate is a production of a new play by actor and writer Ian Grant, produced by the company he co-founded, Time Productions. It’s an emotional and political sounding piece, set largely during and between the two world wars in Europe.

To find out more about the inspiration and content of the play, and something about the brains behind it, I arranged to have a word with Ian, ahead of opening night.

CM: What story does ‘After The Ball’ tell and when is it set?
IG: In ‘After the Ball’ we follow a south London family from 1914 to 1971. A similar tale could be told about any European city family who suffered and persevered through the catastrophic wars of the 20th century. It’s a story of resilience in the face of personal trauma. It’s a story of political and social bonds that get stretched beyond breaking point. It’s story of female liberation and political emancipation and the triumphs and challenges these bring. ‘After the Ball’ comes to the stage in the centenary anniversary year of the end of the First World War; on the centenary of the first votes for women in British political history; and opens on International Women’s Day, March 8th.

CM: Can you tell me what themes the play explores?
IG: Through the stories of the characters in ‘After the Ball’ I try to express some of my core beliefs – we are what we do; what we do can never be undone; our acts have ripple (or explosive) effects long after the act itself; women and men are entirely equal; individual and state violence to other human beings is unforgivable.

The play emphasises the role of the individual within a social and political context – we see women and men campaigning for the right to vote, for equality in society and for their ability to choose a way of life. We see women and men falling in love, making good and bad decisions, working as best they can to survive in a society pummelled twice in 30 years by world war. Within that framework is the key theme – that we are all individually responsible for our own actions.

CM: What inspired you to write a play about this particular subject?
IG: The play was prompted by a puzzle in my family’s history. My grandfather served in the First World War but didn’t return home until the end of 1919, a year or more after the war had ended. I have a document from the British military camp in Liège – a permanent leave pass for November 1919 for him to leave the camp – and I have never known what he was doing. I spun a new story, not the story of my family, out of that puzzle, which developed into an exploration of the traumatic effects of war on family life. In the story an act of betrayal reverberates down the generations.

CM: What kind of research did you do to inform the setting of the play?
IG: Some of the material about the First World War comes from my memories of my grandparents; I studied the history of the socialist movements in the early 20th century, the women’s suffrage movement and documents in the Imperial War Museum about the recruitment drive for the war effort.

The detail of the Second World War period comes again from first-hand memories of stories told by family members and of growing up in the 1950s when school playgrounds were the cockpit of childish war-games. Out of school we played on bomb-sites that remained untended for many years. Some years ago I wrote two social studies of British life in the city and the countryside during the Second World War and the research for those books was useful once again.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the characters in the play, and who plays them?
IG: Blanche (Julia Watson), a bright, shy seamstress from a silent traumatised home, is set up by her affable cousin Albert (Jack Bennett) on a date with William (Stuart Fox), a charismatic, politically active telephone engineer. Blanche and William find common ground in idealistic politics but very soon after they marry, in 1915, William and Albert are swept up in the national fervour to push back the enemy. They join the army and are plunged into battle in Belgium.

The play moves in an emotional arc rather than a chronological line, so we see scenes from their later life, with their lively daughter Joyce (Emily Tucker) growing up during the Second World War, intercut with action and memories of earlier and later periods of time.

Margery (Elizabeth Healey) a very independent, slightly mysterious friend drives some of the action. Elizabeth Healey doubles as Marguerite, daughter of a Belgian farmer, and the source of a betrayal that affects the family through the generations to come.

Mark Carlisle also plays two parts – the recruiting sergeant Ted Turner, who leads his men on the battlefield, and M. Lépine – father of Marguerite. They’re both robust, bluff characters in their different ways, with kindly hearts.

CM: Can you tell us about your involvement in the production?
AG: I am the playwright and, with Niall Bishop, co-Executive Producer. Niall and I have appointed with a strong creative team around us. As the writer, I have handed over the script to Nadia Papachronopoulou, the director. There is a strong theme of women’s political and social liberation in the play and Nadia brings her female, European perspective that enriches the work.

CM: This is Time Productions’ second show, isn’t it? Can you tell me a bit about how you came to be setting it up?
AG: Niall and I set up Time Productions partly to make our own work and partly to develop our own practice as actor and writer by collaborating with very experienced theatre-makers as well as offering opportunities to new young talent. We met as actors in a production of Vaclav Havel’s ‘Largo Desolato’ some years ago, got on well, and share an ambition to make high-quality work that gets noticed. We’ve put on two shows this spring, are working on developing short-form online content, and planning our next shows for late 2018 and beyond.

CM: What about you? How did you come to be acting and writing plays, and how did you decide that was the right path for you?
AG: I acted at school from the age of five, a lot at university and for two or three years afterwards, during which time I wrote a couple of pieces for the stage. Then I entered the publishing industry, married and had children and acting was consigned to the back of the cupboard.

After nearly 40 years, it forced its way out again, prompted by my wife Alison. I was cast as Polonius in an amateur production and enjoyed it so much that I applied to drama school, and was lucky enough to be selected for the full-time one-year MA Acting course at East15 Acting School.
The acting training led to some work as an actor. Just as importantly the training released me from the constraints of running businesses and allowed a fresh openness to new influences and greater curiosity about everything. I discovered an impulse to write again and this has developed strongly in the three years since I left drama school.

CM: What ambitions do you have, for yourself, and for Time Productions?
AG: Our ambitions are limitless. We want to make great work in the UK, Europe and further afield. Time Productions is set up as a portfolio of new writing for theatre and online content and revivals of work from the last 15-20 years. We have set out with the principles of having equal numbers of female/male members of our casts and backstage creative teams with BAME members in our teams. We want to create an independent, sustainable team that everyone who works with us will be proud of.

CM: What’s coming up next, after this?
AG: Work on our online content, a reading of my next play, ‘Scapegoat’, on themes of struggle and triumph in contemporary European politics, and discussions with our advisory board on selecting the next two seasons’ shows!

‘After The Ball’ is on at Upstairs At The Gatehouse from 7-24 Mar, see this page here for info and to book.

LINKS: | | |

Photo: Mitzi de Margary