Veronica Aloess interviews Susanna Narvaez and Patrick Maubert about a new site-specific productions around Blackfriars in London.
Another Day is a play rooted in its setting – playwrights have been commissioned specifically to write about Blackfriars, and the site-specific production will be performed in the area next month. The play shines a light on one London community and the eccentricities that make it unique.
A Friend Of A Friend is a new writing company and took this project as an opportunity to commission new plays from six writers, which Resident Director Patrick Maubert threaded into an overarching storyline. He explains it was a struggle because “there’s been a lot of editorial dramaturgical work which I think some of the writers were perhaps a little wary of and I think they were afraid that they’d lose their voice. Every writer has a different voice but in order for it all to fit cohesively together as a piece the trick is to get everyone speaking within the same timbre.” Artistic Director Susanna Narvaez adds, “we’ve got ten characters and they all weave together, so someone we meet right at the beginning of the production comes back at the end because there is that sense of knowing each other, they’ve all lived here forever.” Indeed the last play had to have all the characters involved so it couldn’t be written until all the other pieces were complete.
Another Day is the last of four projects that has received funding and support through Southwark Council which is redeveloping the area. Maubert is from a rural town in Canada so, for him, the sense of community he’s found in Blackfriars feels like home, “our society at the moment is obsessed with connecting on the internet and social media, but we’re not connecting at all”.
Narvaez goes on to explain how they met with residents of the community face to face: “when we started we had a campaign trying to get people to tell us their recollections of Blackfriars called What’s Your Story? Getting someone to tell you about something fascinating that they think is just ordinary; they don’t come to you with that sort of thing.” For Maubert, “it’s very important that this show is a real representation of everyday people and everyday lives.” Narvaez describes the process as “stripping back the drama and leaving just the bare bones of simple, beautiful life. We’re making the mundane beautiful.”
Some stories clearly touched them both, “it was incredible the amount of times we’d leave a meeting in tears, genuinely moved,” says Maubert. For example, Narvaez tells me a story about a woman who lived to 99 and only saw St. Paul’s once in her life. “We keep finding a lot of pockets of people who keep the traditions and the community alive despite the ever growing city around them. For example, a lot of the laundrettes are gone and so many buildings weren’t built with washing machines so a social hub has been removed, yet they still find a way to make their mark and be heard.” Another Day promises audiences the chance to learn things about Blackfriars, which people who have not lived there all their lives may not know. The play journeys from, “the Mad Hatter on Stamford Street, still in the river’s sight, still quite glossy. Then we’re going to be taking the back routes past the Peabodys, referencing things like the Cross Bones Graveyard on the other side of Union Street where there’s an old pauper’s burial ground where they do monthly vigils. Then Hatfields Estates which is quite well known – apparently there used to be a lot of sanatoriums around here, historically it’s the forgotten area.”
Narvaez and Maubert’s last project together was also a site-specific piece of theatre, which fed into creating this work. “You’re immersed in your own life when you’re walking down the street, this just happens to be someone else’s life. Taking it out of the theatre is how we make those stories relevant.” Narvaez illustrates the difference between site-specific work and proscenium arch theatre. “We actually had the auditions in the room of a pub, it was still accessible by staff and patrons, and we did that on purpose to see how the actors would react,” Maubert reveals. He continues to explain that site-specific theatre is always difficult to produce¸ but he’s learnt to just allow the spaces to work for themselves and not worry about the common theatrical conventions.
Narvaez raves how her partnership with Maubert has been invaluable on such a complex project: “We drive each other to do bigger and better things, and there’s a comfort of having someone to encourage and push you to do something anyway even if you’re not sure.”
I interviewed Narvaez and Maubert separately, but the strength of their partnership becomes clear when, without realising it, they agree that this is a labour of love for their community. In a nutshell, Maubert describes it as “celebrating the spirit of the community.” I think I would describe Another Day as a play about the community from a company that understands the importance of operating like one.
Another Day will be performed 20, 21, 22, 26, 29 October at 7:30pm. For more information and tickets, visit A Friend of a Friend’s website.