Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Rhiannon Faith: Drowntown

By | Published on Friday 28 May 2021

If you’ve been paying attention to our output this last year, you will – I am sure – remember our interview with Rhiannon Faith about ‘Drowntown Lockdown’, a filmed prologue to her sadly postponed live show ‘Drowntown’ – a gritty, uncompromising and dark new dance-theatre piece giving voice to the vulnerable and unheard in modern Britain’s areas of social deprivation.

I was really pleased when I heard that we are poised to get a chance to see ‘Drowntown’ itself this month, not live as originally planned, but as a ninety minute film, which will be streamed via the Barbican initially, ahead of a digital tour of further venues.

I caught up with Rhiannon Faith to find out how the film came together, and what to expect in the future.

CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from ‘Drowntown’ in terms of genre and narrative?
RF: ‘Drowntown’ is a dance theatre live show that was due to premiere at The Barbican Centre when COVID hit. The themes of the show are really prevalent to what the world has been through this past two years, so we wanted to get it out there as soon as we could.

After lots of hard work from my team, we were able to raise enough funding to make a digital film of the show. We worked with Big Egg Films and our co-producers Harlow Playhouse, and the film is in post-production as we speak.

CM: What themes does it explore?
RF: The show is about broken towns and communities, and the brokenness within them. Six strangers arrive on a beach and try to connect, but their own suffering gets in the way. It’s about feeling abandoned in a place that’s poorly. Loneliness in itself is a disease, and each of the six are infected.

CM: What messages does it have? Would you say it’s political?
RF: It asks us to see the people that live in marginalised towns that experience not just financial poverty but emotional poverty, and offer them care. It asks us to value and see those people in our communities that are suffering and to look at them softly, without judgement. It asks for accountability, and for more support, which of course is political. It offers hope that there are social lifeguards out there being superstars and making real change in the world.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
RF: When we originally started creating the show we worked with a brilliant cast of performers, who – as COVID hit – continued with us and made our digital prologue ‘Drowntown Lockdown‘, which shows the characters just before the show starts.

After the live show was cancelled for the second time, people’s lives had moved on. Some of the cast became parents, others had to work in other jobs, so we decided to recast, with Donald Hutera and Shelley Eva Haden continuing from the original line up.

We held auditions via Zoom and found an amazing cast, including Dominic Coffey, Sam Ford, Finetta Oliver-Mikolajska and Marla King. They are authentic beautiful performers that lay themselves and their suffering bare on the stage. We had three weeks to get the show ready, their dedication and courage are remarkable.

CM: When we spoke about the prologue ‘Drowntown Lockdown’, it seemed as though live dates for the main show would be happening in 2021. What made you decide to do a digital tour instead?
RF: After our live dates got cancelled for a second time we just thought that the show needed to be seen now to have the greatest impact. The only way to do that was digital. The work will resonate with audiences and their recent experiences. Its purpose has always been to reach out and tell people that they are not alone in their pain or suffering and affirm that this time will pass. Now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, it just feels the right time.

CM: Do you think a live tour will happen eventually? Or are you happy with the digital format?
RF: This show definitely has to be experienced live. We want to book a tour as soon as possible. The Big Egg Film team have captured the heart of the show and we are so excited to see the final results, but this was always made to be a live show, and I can’t wait for audiences to experience it that way too.

CM: Has ‘Drowntown’ changed in any ways since last year? Did doing ‘Drowntown Lockdown’ – or just the intervening months – change the approach to the film?
RF: I was able to be much more subjective than I have been before, as I had time away from the work so I could see it with a fresh new perspective.

When I looked back there were definitely new decisions I made, ideas and writing that developed. Working with the new cast brought new things to the work too. I gave them the autonomy to be themselves within the Drowntown world and we found new good stuff together.

The show felt ready, so when it was time to film I really left it in the hands of the film crew, they are artists and experts and I trust them.

CM: Things are, of course, becoming less ‘locked down’, but digital work continues. Will you continue to make digital work yourself do you think?
RF: I like live work so, so much, but I’m open to all new ways of working and pushing myself into new territories. It was really cool watching the process of capturing a live show digitally. We will have to invest in more digital films of work moving forward, just to be smart and have content that can become available for our audiences in any situation, but this will mean bigger budgets, which for independent companies is tough.

CM: The last year has been very hard for the cultural industries. How difficult have you found it? What has helped you get through the lockdown period?
RF: It’s been so rough for so many people, especially freelancers, it was clear when we got back in the studio that the impact of COVID had hit hard and we all felt so grateful to be there together.

This show really has got me through, I was determined to get it out there, so that really kept me busy. Thanks to my brilliant team it became a possibility.

But also my little girl Dolly Blue was born just before we went into lockdown, so I had my hands and heart very full.

CM: What plans do you have for the future?
RF: I’d like to get ‘Drowntown’ a healthy tour and reach as many audiences as possible. I have just received an Arts Council DYCP grant to research a potential dance theatre musical. It’s very early days but I have a load of songs I’ve written that need a home. We will also be working with Harlow Playhouse on a new project called ‘The Care House’.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
RF: After the world premiere, I want to sleep for a week! Ha, not likely with a sixteen month old. We do have some things to look forward to… I was chosen by the British Council for their New Conversations programme, where I’m building a project with a wonderful Canadian artist, Roshanak Jaberi, and we have just been nominated for two National Dance Awards – for Best Independent Company, and for Best Digital Choreography for ‘Drowntown Lockdown’ – so I’ve got to pop out and buy a new frock for that!

‘Drowntown’ will be broadcast on 1 Jun via The Barbican website, and will be followed by a Q&A with Rhiannon Faith, psychologist Joy Griffiths, selected cast members and filmmaker Adam Sheldon of Big Egg Films. It will be available on demand until 6 Jun. See the Barbican website here.

It will then go on a ‘digital tour’ with screenings available on demand via Cambridge Junction from 7-13 Jun, Gulbenkian Canterbury from 14-20 Jun, Ipswich Dance East from 25-27 Jun, and Harlow Playhouse from 28-30 Jun.

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Photo: Paul Pickard

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