DugOut Theatre: George Chilcott (Director), Jimmy Walters, Ed Smith, Will Barwick, Tom Gill and Harry Williams.
Dugout Theatre’s Dealer’s Choice was a standout production at this year’s NSDF. The lads of this six-strong ensemble met with AYT to discuss forming their company, the importance of ‘good stories’, dodgy curries, and why it is important to never forget your script…
So, how did you all form DugOut as a company?
GEORGE CHILCOTT: It started when Ed and I met in the first year at Leeds University. We wanted to do Journey’s End, but we found that with the Leeds Theatre Group, there were certain rules with casting and play selection, and it sometimes difficult to do what you wanted. So we started our own company in order to do what we wanted.
What were the challenges of putting a company together?
GEORGE: It wasn’t very difficult, because at that time Leeds Theatre stopped charging straight-up fees for a slot, and instead only took fifty per-cent of ticket sales. That made it easier because financially it didn’t cost you anything to put on a show. Off the back of that we booked a couple of slots. It both was and wasn’t a financial gamble because you were guaranteed a fifty-fifty split. It wasn’t stressful at all. It was a joy.
How did this particular project get started?
GEORGE: I saw Sam West’s Dealer’s Choice in the West End, and really enjoyed it. In the same way as Journey’s End, we saw a good play and just wanted to tell that story again. We’re fairly apolitical and don’t really have any motives other then to tell a good story. Mike Leigh came here last year and he said that it was incredibly important not to forget that the origins of theatre are in storytelling. We wanted to entertain! We didn’t want to do any dance, physical theatre or political drama, unless it was also going to be really good fun to watch. We did this production in Leeds and then took it to Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We didn’t know what Edinburgh was going to be about at all. We were actually warned not to do it, because Dealer’s Choice isn’t ‘new writing’ or stand-up comedy. But we got lucky.
JIMMY WALTERS: When we put it on in Leeds, and got people from NSDF and the student newspaper to review it, it meant that we had those reviews before taking the play to Edinburgh. By this point, George and Ed had been at Leeds for two years, so they’d established themselves as good actors and directors. It became quite easy to sell out those initial four nights in Leeds, get some reviews in place, and establish a building block to proceed from.
WILL BARWICK: It was also a complete testament to how much we all got on. There were no restrictions and we could all be completely creative together. It was very, very collaborative, and a lot of fun. It’s nice to reap the rewards of it now by doing this sort of stuff.
HARRY WILLIAMS: We had so much fun telling this story in Leeds, and working together. So it felt like, why stop now? Let’s go up to Edinburgh! Six of us shared a flat, promoting on the Royal Mile everyday. There wasn’t one instance when we actually got genuinely angry –
TOM GILL: There was one moment. In a curry house.
HARRY: There was one bleak moment. It was mid-Festival, it was late and we’d been working hard. We couldn’t go to the regular café we liked, and everyone was just in a really odd mood.
WILL: It was a bleak curry.
HARRY: Yeah, but apart from that, everything’s just been enjoyable.
JIMMY: When we rehearse, we know we all want the same thing. So there’s this environment where everyone feels they can say anything, or make a point, if it’s relevant. There’s a real ‘work hard, play hard’ atmosphere. We’d get up early; rehearse for about eleven hours straight. Non-stop until it was completely done.
WILL: I was probably the only outsider at first. I didn’t know any of these guys before I went for auditions, but we instantly just clicked from then onwards.
ED SMITH: George’s greatest attribute as a director is to step back and allow six people to just talk at each other at the same time. So, the technique is that when someone has something decent to say, they shout it louder! And everyone else just stops talking and listens. You can sense when someone is really on to something. Everyone’s been allowed to contribute and I think that’s really great.
Why Dealer’s Choice?
GEORGE: For me, it wasn’t really anything to do with my sense of the current zeitgeist. I like Patrick Marber and enjoy black comedy as a genre above all. It was something I just wanted to share with as many people as possible. It’d be nice to say I saw the credit-crunch coming. There’s a line in the play: ‘’What do you think of Marx’s theory of the inevitable decline of capitalism?’’/ ‘’Unlikely, look at us’’. But I’d be lying if I said that was the case.
WILL: I worked on Dealer’s Choice in school for A-Level. So, when I found at about the auditions at Leeds, I was really excited. It’s probably one of my favorite plays. Now more so, given that we’ve done it a couple of times.
JIMMY: I did it at school as well. So when George told me about the audition I was hugely excited. Also, I think the play is accessible to many people. Lots of my friends don’t regularly go to the theatre. They might watch a Shakespeare play but find it difficult to understand. But they’d come along to this and think it the best play I’d been involved in. It’s great that we can target that demographic.
TOM: The writing is so extraordinary! It starts and you think it’s going to be a comedy. You think everything’s going to be nice and fluffy, but by the time it reaches the end we see this bleak existence that the characters are all living in. It sort of comes out of nowhere, but you can feel it bubbling away. For me, that’s why it’s such an exceptionally well-written play. We constantly discovered new things. We found ourselves continuously reinvestigating what we were doing, and that’s an incredible process.
GEORGE: If we’d got bored of the play, we wouldn’t have gone to Edinburgh. And if we’d got bored of it then, we wouldn’t have brought it to NSDF. But every time we go into a rehearsal we find something new within a scene. I still don’t think we’re there yet, at all. I’m sure we’re yet to scratch 10% of the iceberg.
HARRY: I think we’re done now, though.
Tell us a little bit more about the rehearsal process. Were there any particular strategies or methods you used? And how did the cast respond?
GEORGE: Well, because he forgot his script, Jimmy apparently sat down and wrote out the entire play!
JIMMY: I’d forgotten my script for NSDF, and so my dad said I should try writing down what I could remember. We did it thirty times in Edinburgh, and it just sat in my head.
TOM: In terms of what the process was, we’d work out our intentions for every single scene: What was it that every single character wanted? What were their reasons for being there? There’s nothing worse than watching someone on stage whose just reveling in the fact they’re on stage. It’s just really boring. What we wanted to do was to be able to tell the story, but we needed to know what each character wanted from the other and from themselves. That’s really what it was: an investigation. Every time we did that we journeyed a little bit deeper into the process.
GEORGE: We had certain buzzwords. Our buzzwords at the beginning were ‘pace’ and ‘slickness’. That’s what we kept saying. But, when David Newman [NSDF selector] came to watch it, he said the problem was it had become so slick the exchanges had become ‘telepathic’ and we weren’t listening to each other anymore. So, we began listening and responding to each other again.
HARRY: We’ve never really worked with a fancy set, or anything like that. We’d always performed it in very weird spaces. We were working on our characters and their physicality, and try to portray the character through the whole of yourself.
JIMMY: Because of the claustrophobia of the play, some of the most interesting stuff we worked on was looking outside the text. We had little improvisations with Karl as a pizza boy, and tried to build up events leading up to the beginning of the play in the restaurant.
When it came to the transitions and scenes of poker playing, it was performed as a robotic dance. How did you arrive at that idea? And how did you practise it physically?
GEORGE: I’d decided with Ed that I didn’t want clumsy blackouts to get in the way of the slickness. We brought a choreographer on board, Ellie Gibbons, and she did the initial work with us. But it was very much a collaborative thing; it involved Ellie and all of us.
HARRY: It was born out of the fact George just doesn’t like blackouts. It was important to the passing of time as well.
GEORGE: When you read the script and the part with the poker game, there are three bits when it just says “Later on”. You could’ve achieved that with a momentary blackout, and have the actors fumble with their ties and move stuff around. But it just becomes awkward.
ED: It was the only time in a rehearsal that I lost my temper. I find choreography very difficult and it’s the part I found hardest from all the challenges posed by the play.
JIMMY: I got lucky, because my character is something of an outsider, and so he isn’t part of the whole choreography beat-by-beat. I lounge back and do everything in normal rhythm. It was a lot more interesting to play upon that idea of not having the same rhythm and I think it worked. If Ash didn’t come into the restaurant it would be a normal Sunday night for these characters, but it’s because of Ash’s arrival that the story happens. There is that element of looking around and monitoring everyone’s movements. Also, the characters you meet at the beginning of this play are completely different by the end as a result of the poker game.
How has this production developed from your performance at Edinburgh?
ED: At Edinburgh Fringe, we played the show for laughs. The audiences who were coming along meant that we went for the gimmicks, whereas now we’re more aware of telling the story and looking harder at the characters and their intentions. In Leeds, I was throwing in accents, silly high-fives that missed and silly dances. While it wasn’t particularly true to the story or character, it seemed to work at the time. But that sort of thing isn’t helpful when you go to the Edinburgh Fringe.
TOM: We’ve removed the gimmicks and introduced real intention and real understanding.
ED: The dance is still maybe a bit of self-indulgence…
JIMMY: I think what Ed’s always done with the dance is that he’s never simply done it for the audience. Whenever I watch it, I feel like I’m seeing Mugsy in his bedroom, thinking he’s on his own and doing it.
ED: I’d possibly disagree. I think it purely depends on the audience reaction. At the first NSDF show, there was mostly students in the audience and so I was just completely showing off and I was completely breaking character and being silly.
What do you think NSDF offers young companies like yourselves?
ED: It was great to get that external point of view. At Leeds, we’re surrounded by friends and you’re in this bubble, so it’s been really nice to hear the opinions of people we didn’t know. At NSDF you’ve got the opinion of industry professionals, and that’s really useful because you don’t get that at university.
HARRY: When David Newman came in and gave us that session of notes, it was unbelievably interesting. It’s been one of the best experiences as an actor, to have this very, very good professional watch a show from part-time amateurs who are doing it simply because they really enjoy it.
JIMMY: It bridges that gap between student theatre and going out into the profession. Going to NSDF can be the first time that anyone involved in student theatre is exposed to these kinds of connections.
WILL: We did three shows in one day, and that tested our stamina. Also, we were now part of a really professional set-up.
HARRY: It was also the first time as a company that we’ve been able to walk on stage, and think “Wow, these guys [technical crew] have done such a good job!”
GEORGE: We owe a lot to Matt Thompson [NSDF Lighting Designer], who we spoke to two weeks before the Festival. We said that we weren’t going to be able to get our own lighting designer to join us, and he told us to leave it to him. He ended up doing our lighting design, and not only according to what we wanted, but adding his own touches that made it as good as it was. So, he was amazingly helpful. It showed the real difference from a student who does what you ask of them, to someone who can take it and do far more with it.
ED: They go beyond the call of duty. If you happen to feel like putting a bulb above the kitchen on stage…bam, it’s done!
JIMMY: What I’ve taken from it is the honesty of everyone’s reactions. There’s nothing worse then doing a show and everyone telling you it was really good, when you can tell that that’s not necessarily going on in his or her mindset. It’s been really good to get that constructive feedback. Everyone’s being totally honest, and sharing with us what they genuinely thought about the play.
Three days in, what has been your favorite moment of NSDF so far?
WILL: Finishing our three shows. After the final performance, we all had that extra buzz to go to the bar and meet lots of new people.
TOM: I think there is something extraordinary in knowing that this probably marks the last time we’ll perform this play. We’ve been doing it for a year so this has been a long time coming. We feel like we’ve finally given a performance that we’re incredibly happy with.
JIMMY: Tom’s an incredibly talented person at warming people up. We did the Alexander technique on Monday, and standing up from that felt absolutely incredible.
WILL: One of our mates was warming up with us, and he described it as euphoria!
GEORGE: For me, it was probably arriving here and realising we’d got to where we wanted to be. Until then it had been a pipe dream. We didn’t expect to end up here doing it. So, it was arriving here, knowing the performance rights had been paid, and that we’d be performing as part of NSDF.
HARRY: For me, it was putting on that costume again and performing for people who are all really grounded and passionate about theatre themselves. You walk out onto the stage and think, “This is what it’s all about”.
JIMMY: This is my first time at NSDF, and it’s exciting for me to know that I’ve still got the whole ‘NSDF experience’ to enjoy, such as going to watch shows and the awards ceremony. We’re only a few days into it and still have the whole week ahead, so we’re all just really excited.
One last question: what’s in store next for DugOut?
GEORGE: We’re touring our productions of Othello (Zoo Southside) and Bouncers to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. We’ve also got two slots booked for Leeds Theatre next year, where we’re staging two shows. We’re not yet shooting for the stars, but we’re going to keep putting on good shows, telling good stories, entertaining people and having fun!
DugOut Theatre will be performing their productions of Othello and Bouncers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011. For more information about the company, please visit: http://web.me.com/chilcottg/Site_2/Welcome.html