Arts

Behind the Scenes at NNT: Pilgrimage

Last week, the Nottingham New Theatre opened their in-house season with a punchy, hilarious performance of Pinter’s Celebration. This week, they launch their more experimental, student-written fringe season with Pilgrimage. I sat down with the play’s writer and director, Tara Anegada, and her producer, Jack Titley, to discuss the upcoming production.

“I think people should be prepared to come and see it and leave with a range of conflicting emotions. But at the same time, we are hoping that it’s a really beautiful and touching piece of theatre.”

D: So, what’s the play about?

T: Pilgrimage is about five friends in first year [at university] and it follows them over the course of the year and into second year. It’s about what they get up to, how their friendships and relationships involve.

J: It explores the dangers of first time independence and what can happen to young people when they’re removed from their support networks and how they cope.

T: There’s suddenly no rules when you turn up to uni, which I think is very difficult for some people  who don’t know how to cope without those in place.

“Without any complicated set or tech, we are hoping to bring people into each location just by what someone tells them is there.”

J: And the dangers that that freedom can have.

T: It’s all set around University Park as well! There’s eleven locations, ten of which are set on University Park, and the final location is in Lenton. So, each scene moves you to a different place. Some of them might be places people know, for example Mooch is one of them, the outside bit… Equally, others are sort of hidden locations within the little forests or down little paths of campus, which has been really nice in terms of bringing people into the environment.

J: All the descriptions are quite visual, so that is great.

T: The way in which it’s written, it sort of moves between people’s conversations and what the narrator’s thinking. The narrator changes for each scene so they often describe a place and what is happening there. Without any complicated set or tech, we are hoping to bring people into each location just by what someone tells them is there.

D: Writing this play, would you say it was inspired by your own experiences as a fresher?

 T: Yeah… So I wrote a series of short descriptive pieces in first year that were set in all these spots that me and my friends used to hang out in. Then when I was trying to write a play, I created five characters that were loosely inspired by me and four of my friends. But the journey that they all go on is completely different to anything that happened to us. We were all the jumping off points. It’s a really nice mix of something that is personal to me but equally has evolved a lot through rehearsal and the creative process. All the actors have brought their own interpretations to the characters which has made what is hopefully going to be a really nice piece of theatre!

D: Has it been difficult being in the first slot and putting it together so quickly?

“We can do it…We have a very talented cast.”

J : I think it was difficult for us mainly because Bill, who is our wonderful Brooke, was the director of ‘Celebration’ and Ollie Binns was in it, so we missed out on about six days of rehearsals because all the scenes basically contain every character! We could do some monologue work, but we couldn’t really dig into dialogue scenes that much.

T: Jack and I were also auditioning for our Edinburgh shows last week so we lost all of the daytime as well.

J: So, we are meeting for the first time as a full cast today… and the play is in five days…

D: How long is it?

T: About 50 minutes?

D: Oh okay, it’s doable…

T: Yeah! We can do it in three days, I just keep shortening the days when I say that! I’m sure it will be fine. We have a very talented cast.

D: Do you have any funny rehearsal moments?

J: We had a pretty funny rehearsal last night.

T: And we were only missing one person! But Jack kindly stood in. I feel like everyone was just taking the mick out of me! I was really trying to control the room…

J: Yeah it was mainly that…

T: We haven’t really had enough time to find anything properly funny!

D: Are there any characters that you’d like to play/particularly identify with?

“Yeah, basically I’d play all the characters. But I’d probably land on Stevie, because the descriptions are really really impressive.”

T: I would like to be Brooke. The characters are all pretty equal but Brooke’s kind of the main one because he has this piece that’s very close to my heart at the end, which is this sort of existential realisation of what the future holds. I think I’d want to play Brooke just to do that end bit.

J: Maybe Rory… I filled in for him last rehearsal, that was quite fun. I quite like Stevie as well… because Stevie has really beautiful… Maybe Zed?

T: So that’s just all of them?

J: Yeah, basically I’d play all the characters. But I’d probably land on Stevie, because the descriptions are really really impressive.

T: The girl that Stevie was based on, I told her about my play and she was like “Oh! Do you want some bits?” because there was a lot that I’d written down in first year but she sent me a couple of photos from  her journal. There’s one that’s in the play about wanting to be a plant and just wanting to sit still and eat sunlight for the rest of your life. Which I think is really cute and it came directly from her.

D: Verbatim.

T: Yeah! There’s lots of little personal touches which do link the characters to their real-life counterparts in a very non-explicit way. Just little, abstract bits.

D: Would you say it’s quite a hard hitting play or are there elements of comedy in there?

“I think it definitely covers a range. There’s some scenes that are really wholesome and hold that first year excitement. And then, as Jack said, there’s very dramatic things and almost very dark moments.”

J: Well I have been in tears four times so far.

T: And considering we haven’t had a proper rehearsal!

J: It really covers a whole spectrum of – and I think Tara disagrees with me on this in some respects – but there are moments of real, light-hearted comedy.

T: No, I agree…

“It’s a challenging piece of theatre that will force the audience to come away and make their own opinions and really dwell on what they have watched.”

J: And then there are also incredibly dramatic, high tension moments, as well as existential, introspective monologues that I feel like, especially as a university student audience, will cause the audience to come away thinking about their own experiences and the similarities between them. I suppose, in that way, it’s quite introspective for the audience, as well.

T: I think it definitely covers a range. There’s some scenes that are really wholesome and hold that first year excitement. And then, as Jack said, there’s very dramatic things and almost very dark moments. There are moments that are very sad and what’s nice about the fact that the narrator swaps every scene is that you get to know what’s in each character’s head at different points. In fifty minutes you definitely get to know a lot about the people that we are putting on stage.

D: Could I have a couple of sentences about why people should come and see ‘Pilgrimage’?

T: It’s definitely an experience. I think people should be prepared to come and see it and leave with a range of conflicting emotions. But at the same time, we are hoping that it’s a really beautiful and touching piece of theatre.

J: It’s a challenging piece of theatre that will force the audience to come away and make their own opinions and really dwell on what they have watched, which to me is always the type of theatre that I most enjoy.

D: That’s the definition of good theatre, really.

T: Yeah… I like theatre that makes you think.

Daisy Forster

Pilgrimage will be showing at Nottingham New Theatre on Monday 9th March and Tuesday 10th March. There are two shows per night, starting at 19:30 pm and 21:30 pm. Tickets available here.

Featured image courtesy of  Tara Anegada. Image use licence here. 

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