After the “delightfully dishevelled” and “remarkably raw” The Ugly Sisters in January, RashDash Productions is returning to the Soho Theatre with Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered, an experimental and challenging look at monogamy and female friendship. As if to reinforce that this company is something a bit different, the show has recently returned from an outing at the Lainsuojattomat Festival in Pori, Finland. Not the most obvious place for two Leeds-based theatre-makers to take their newest work, you might think, but as co-creator and performer Abbi Greenland told me, it has its advantages.
“I was a bit terrified of it, actually”, she confesses. “The show was still in a place where I wasn’t sure what it was and I wasn’t entirely happy with it – I suppose with a work in progress you’re not supposed to be entirely happy with it – but then two days before we went we turned a corner, and actually it went really well. It’s so useful to be somewhere that felt quite low-pressured, because it wasn’t a community that we’re based in and that we know lots of people from. It was a really relaxed space to do a showing.”
It’s not just the distance away from home that helped OICBB find success overseas; its multidisciplinary form enables cross-country appreciation as well as helping the company to achieve greater depths in their work – something that Greenland says is invaluable to their theatre-making: “There’s lots and lots of languages that are really useful in theatre: music is one of them, and movement is one of them, and words is one of them. It feels at the moment like British theatre culture values words very highly.” So how does RashDash do things differently?
“Often words can speak of very cerebral ideas articulately”, Greenland muses, “but sometimes when we’re trying to articulate an emotional experience or a relationship, movement can do that as well and sometimes better than words. Music is so emotive as well, so if they all collide in the right way you’ve got a tapestry of languages all meeting and being perfectly used.”
Yet with its reputation and love for messy, frantic theatre, it’s never as neat as a simple juxtaposition, of course. Greenland, and her co-creator and co-star Helen Goalen, enjoy clashing words and movement together, “not so they do the same thing”, Greenland explains, “but so movement can shed new light on what the words are, or do the opposite of what the words are doing”. It’s playful, but those who have followed the company’s work from the start may notice something darker creeping in. “We have always meant to push ourselves into a wilder, more unhinged, more scary and dark place”, Greenland acknowledges. “The aesthetic is different – whereas The Ugly Sisters was first and foremost a kind of entertaining cabaret romp, I hope we’re digging a bit further. It’s about monogamy and sexual relationships, and how we prioritise those above our other relationships a lot of the time. That can feel quite disturbing, like there’s some kind of ownership of each other’s bodies going on – we’re trying to push that further and explore the darker side of it a bit more.”
RashDash’s shows are certainly no one-trick ponies. With dance, song, physical theatre, cabaret, live music and images all in the company’s repertoire, there’s always a sense of the form being in flux; this is reflected in the way the creators work, with radical rewrites and re-choreographing up to and during the run. “We have the designers in the room and everyone feeds into the process – so when someone has an idea it can really shift the whole show, which is very exciting and also quite scary!” Flying by the seat of their pants perhaps, but Greenland firmly believes it is what makes the shows work: “When you’re in it as well as writing it and making it, it’s really hard to see the wood for the trees; that’s what’s exciting about having flexible people in the room.”
For the first time, Greenland and Goalen are working with an all-female creative team – an inspiring fact for those concerned about the lack of female presence in the industry. While Greenland may be cautious about it dominating the PR rhetoric (“I wouldn’t want to be on stage just because we’re female voices”) it is nevertheless a key part of the creative endeavours: “I love seeing work by women and there isn’t enough out there. I think we’ve got a massive responsibility to put more female voices on the stage, and more female performers on stage. It infuriates me that there isn’t enough and that not everyone takes it seriously”.
With this in mind, RashDash’s next production – about pornography – is in collaboration with playwright Alice Birch. “I often gravitate towards other female creatives, but we definitely set out to find a woman writer when we found Alice – though she’s brilliant aside from her gender! But we thought for the things that we’re discussing, we’d like a woman in the room; we care passionately about female voices being heard. But I suppose although it’s important to us right now, and it feels like our femaleness is really central to the way we make work, we don’t talk about it all the time – it just is.”
Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered debuts at the Soho Theatre Upstairs on 30 September, and runs until 19 October (Tuesdays to Saturdays 7pm and Sundays 5.30pm). It then tours to the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 9 October and Sunderland Bonded Warehouse on 12 November. Book all tickets for the show on RashDash’s website and follow them on Twitter.