Art & Events Interview Caro Meets Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Nick Llewellyn and Emma Selwyn: The Interrogation

By | Published on Sunday 22 August 2021

The Greenwich And Docklands International Festival begins this week and, as usual, there’s lots of very interesting work taking place in the open air.

One such event is ‘The Interrogation’, which, as it happens, comes from a company we are always interested in hearing about – the brilliant Access All Areas, purveyors of theatre and performance by learning disabled and autistic artists.

To find out more about what to expect from ‘The Interrogation’, I spoke to its co-directors, Artistic Director Nick Llewellyn and trainee director Emma Selwyn.

CM: Can you start by explaining the format of ‘The Interrogation’ – it’s an audio production, from what I understand, but can you tell us a bit more about how it works for audiences?
NL+ES: The audience use an app on a smart phone with headphones and go to a start location in one of the towns or cities we are performing in. It’s not just audio, there are interactive elements such as videos to watch plus a game to play. You are guided by a GPS map to take you from location to location and end up near the theatre that you booked the ticket with. It will take around 75 minutes for the experience, or you can take longer if you so wish to sit down on occasions.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the technology being used to create this experience?
NL+ES: We are working with Marmelo, who are a creative technology company that often work in the crossovers between performance and technology. So the audience download the SRR app – that’s See it, Record It, Report It – which was inspired by neighbourhood watch or crimewatch type apps that are becoming prevalent around the world. The aim of the apps is to track where crime hotspots are in your neighbourhood by the general public uploading reports of suspicious behaviour.

CM: Can you tell us now what it’s all about – does it tell a story?
NL+ES: It’s loosely based on Access All Areas artist Charlene Salter’s experience of being out in public and being judged for being learning disabled. The story we created is that Charlene’s character is trying to get to the theatre but gets lost and is asking for help. Her intentions are misunderstood and some difficult situations occur. We wanted the character of Charlene to be seen to be independent and be active in the community, but society’s lack of support and awareness then creates the drama that unfolds.

CM: What themes and ideas does it explore?
NL+ES: We explore communication barriers, processing information, and supposed criminality of learning disabled people. Really it’s a show about not judging a book by its cover and for audiences to check their unconscious biases.

CM: What was the inspiration for it? What made you want to create this kind of work?
NL+ES: We started working on the idea before lockdown. Originally it was going to be a studio performance, but then once we were working on Zoom with Charlene and the rest of the Access All Areas artists, we changed the format to create an outdoor experience inspired by these crime apps.

Access All Areas, of course, create work that disrupts and questions audiences’ assumptions of learning disabled and autistic people and their place in the world.

CM: Can you tell us about the creative team behind it?
NL+ES: We are co-directing the performance. Nick is Artistic Director and Emma is a trainee director on the Transforming Leadership programme. It is co-written by Dublin-based writer Shaun Dunne with Charlene and Access All Areas. Mann Bros created the video content with Max Pappenheim on sound. As we mentioned, the app is designed and realised by Marmelo. Heather Johnson is creative support and we have other Access All Areas performers in the show – Lee Philips, Dayo Koleosho, Kirsty Adams and Cian Binchy.

CM: Tell us about the creative process? Is it different for a show like this?
NL+ES: Access All Areas’ process is always one of collaboration and co-authorship. We are always flexible and adaptable in our theatrical forms, often creating interactive and technology based performances. Access is a big part of our devising process in that the show is created so it is relaxed.

CM: Does Access All Areas often do this kind of project?
NL+ES: Yes we do, although we’ve never made a show with an app before. But we have made two previous audio based outdoor shows – ‘Eye Queue Hear’ and, with our Black Cab community project, ‘Still Here’.

And Access All Areas has made interactive and immersive performances previously too. These include ‘Unreal City’, a co-production with dreamthinkspeak at Battersea Arts Centre, which was a mixed live / virtual reality experience. We also created ‘MADHOUSE re:exit’, which was an immersive show set in a crossover of a fun house and a care home in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, and also in Manchester.

We often create interactive work, as interaction is an accessible way for audiences to have their world shook up around disability. We break down barriers between them and us and challenge preconceived notions of what learning disabilities and autism are.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the history of Access All Areas – its work and ethos?
NL+ES: Access All Areas began in 1976 as the Rainbow drama group in Hoxton Hall and was one of the first drama groups for learning disabled people in the UK. In 2009, Nick took over as director, rebranded the company, and worked to create training and professional opportunities for learning disabled artists to create their own work and push the industry to be more inclusive.

We began the award winning Performance Making Diploma at the Royal Central School of Speech And Drama in 2014, and now have a cutting edge training ground to bring forth emerging artists into our professional company of artists. The artists create their own work, drawing on autobiographical experiences and creating new forms and aesthetics.

We also have a casting agency and offer consultancy to mainstream theatre and television. To complement the work, we have a dynamic Take Part programme too, reaching on average 500 people annually with an eclectic mix of workshops to provide all people with learning disabilities the opportunity to be creative irrespective of perceived ability.

CM: What ambitions and plans does the company have for the future?
NL+ES: Emma is currently a trainee director on the Transforming Leadership programme and they are currently also working on developing a new version of a previous work, ‘#Binariesbegone’. This will be Emma’s first non co-directed piece.

Our associate company, Not Your Circus Dog, will be performing in Duckie’s ‘Princess Promenade’ piece in Vauxhall in September. It’s inspired by the Molly houses of the 1700s and explores the freedom to be queer.

We want to continue to work collaboratively with Access All Areas artists and other theatre and television companies to push boundaries and disrupt normative working methods and forms.

CM: What’s coming up next after this?
NL+ES: We hope to bring back ‘Unreal City’ and we also aim to tour ‘Not F**king Sorry’ with Not Your Circus Dog. Both shows were either cut short or cancelled due to the lockdown.

There are other shows in the pipeline but we have to keep quiet for now!

Also, the nine Transforming Leaders across directing, digital influencing and chairs of trustees are going from strength to strength and we’re so excited to see what they’ll be up to next.

‘The Interrogation’ is on as part of The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival on 29 Aug, and returns to London from 28 Sep-3 Oct with simultaneous runs at Battersea Arts Centre and Rich Mix. It also calls at The Marlowe in Canterbury, The Lowry in Salford, and at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres in September.


READ MORE ABOUT: | | | | | | | |