Nan Flory spoke to Will Bowry about his production of Gregory Burke’s Gagarin Way, set to be performed at the prestigious National Student Drama Festival this coming April
The National Student Drama Festival, or NSDF, is the most prestigious student theatre showcase in Britain. Held annually in Scarborough and now in its 51st year, the week long festival is an opportunity for students to share their work with their peers and with an illustrious audience of theatre practitioners who, almost more importantly, also lead workshops and discussions with attendees. Getting selected, or even short-listed, to perform in Scarborough this April is a great and rare honour, with 120 productions from various educational institutions across the country vying for a place. This year the University of York made the cut with Will Bowry’s production of Gregory Burke’s play, Gagarin Way – one of just twelve shows set to be performed, which will be playing at the Ocean Room from the 1st until the 7th of April. The venue is purpose built and has a capacity over three times that of the Drama Barn – a chance to experience working in a more professional setting than the University can offer.
Any production which is predominantly a student work can enter the festival, for a fee of £95. If selected, they must also pay all their own expenses, including travel, accommodation and subscription tickets. The money is well spent, however, when you look at what’s on offer during the week. Past festivals have seen the likes of Timothy West, Michael Billington, John Godber and Henry Godman in Scarborough to give talks and guide workshops. The chance to have such prominent industry names see and discuss students’ productions is obviously valuable, as is the networking that takes place within the student drama community. In addition, the Times runs a feature spread on the festival, opening the student productions up to a type of national exposure which would never usually be available. A £99 (concessions) or £135 (adult) subscription ticket enables any member of the public to attend all shows, workshops and speeches; alternatively, you can buy tickets for individual events. Tickets are available now, with details of how to get them provided on the website, www.nsdf.org.uk.
Gagarin Way follows two frustrated factory workers, Eddie and Gary, who turn anarchist and kidnap a visiting company executive, eventually murdering him, in order to make a statement against the capitalist system they are trapped in. Unfortunately for their polemic, the executive they kidnap, Frank, turns out to be as much a servant of capitalism as they are, rather than a representative of oppression. Burke stresses this point with the revelation that Frank comes from the same tiny, left-wing mining town of Lumphinanns, Fife, as his idealist captors. Eddie and Gary’s action becomes impotent and brutalised as we see that bucking against those above you in capitalism’s hierarchy will get you nowhere. Eddie dresses up his actions with French philosophy but ultimately he commits a cold-blooded murder. The play heightens our awareness of how constructed the political world is, and how dangerous it can be to act on behalf of unfiltered principles, rather than on a case by case basis.
Director Will Bowry explained that what originally interested him about Gagarin Way was the fact that, since its debut in August of 2001 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the events of September 11th instantly dated the play and transformed its message. Bowry says “any revival of the play, must try to make a reappraisal of the idea of the ‘powerless individual’.”
He explains that the terrorist actions against the US, by changing the political environment from which audiences approach the play, have ‘subvert[ed] [Eddie and Gary’s] actions into terrorism, which I don’t believe was the playwright’s intial intention’. This awareness of the added complexity the progress of history has given Burke’s play, without any changes to the text itself, has not gone unnoted by NSDF judges. Gagarin Way is the only production out of the twelve playing Scarborough which is a revival of an already existing text; the other eleven are all original writing.
The play was performed in the Drama Barn in week 5 of the Autumn Term. Amongst the audience was Laurie Sansom, lately appointed Artistic Director of Northampton’s Royal and Derngate theatres. He assessed the play, (the NSDF provides feedback for all the productions their representatives see, regardless of whether they qualify for the Scarborough event or not) which was then discussed by a panel of judges who deemed it suitable for performance at the festival itself. The four strong male cast is made up of Ed Watson, Tom Hunt, John Hoyle and Nick Payne. Naomi Glass is producing and Katie Kelly is stage managing, with Chris Lewis as technical director.
Note these guy’s names, you never know, one day you might be trying to convince people you knew them before they were famous