Wandsworth Arts Fringe is in full swing. Running until 21 May 2017, it promises to “thrill, move and inspire audiences from across the city.” With over 140 events, it has for the last eight years brought a treasure trove of cultural productions to South West London – a combination of visual and performance artists to some hidden venues and some well-known theatrical institutions. Like Theatre N16 for example, which has fully embraced its relocated home in Balham (SW12).
One addition to Theatre N16’s Wandsworth Arts Fringe programme is brought by Black Sheep Productions, a self-confessed ‘Girl Gang of Creatives’. Their latest work, Full Circle plays at the theatre throughout the festival, shining a spotlight on four of the most notorious women in Greek mythology.
Phaedra, Helen, Medea, and Clytemnestra have been removed from the blood-stained pages of their tragedies and brought together for the first time. They fight for their salvation in a detentionesque purgatory, cutting to the core of gender politics, asking what it means to be a mother, a sister, a wife, a woman.
I caught up with the company, including playwright and actor Madeleine Cunningham, director Madison Maylin and actors Laura McKee, Niamh Brannigan and Lucy Avison to discuss the upcoming show and some of the most powerful female figures in ancient history:
Full Circle has come back to London after being at the Arts Theatre as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. Have you changed anything between the performance runs?
Madison: Yes, lots! We have built on the feedback and success of the first run. Some elements are the same, but the movement, music, and creative are different. We also have a whole new Phaedra [Niamh Brannigan], which has shifted the dynamics. My rehearsal room mantra is: nothing is set in stone – keep discovering. Every rehearsal is different, and with any luck, so will every performance!
How does it feel performing in Theatre N16?
Madison: Theatre N16 is one of the most well-respected fringe venues in London and we’re thrilled to be taking Full Circle there. The theatre is an Equity Approved Fringe theatre and as a collective, we always pay or reach mutually-beneficial agreements with our collaborators – that’s very important to us, even though we’re a very young company.
Lucy: It’s great to be working with Theatre N16, they are so supportive of new companies such as ourselves. They have given us so much support and it adds another layer of confidence to out piece.
Where did the inspiration for the play come from?
Madeleine: I studied Classics and I was always fascinated by the tragedies and how truthful they were. But what also draws me to incorporating the Greeks into my work and re-exploring them, are questions like:
Why are we still talking about this thousands of years later? Why are these issues still relevant now? Are we as a society constantly turning full circle?
Women are still facing issues of misogyny, questioning their identities about what makes them who they are – and what ultimately defines us in a patriarchal space. We know that there have been women like Medea who have been driven to kill their children due to horrific circumstances; women like Helen who have had affairs and have been branded – this still exists now. But what I also explore in Full Circle is the way that women treat each other, and how they can equally empower and tear each other down without hesitation, based on circumstance.
These women seem to be some of the earliest examples of feminism.
Madeleine: Absolutely, they are so faceted and flawed, but within their archetypal richness there are foibles and truth that I feel have transcended history – never underestimate the woman. Yet women are still oppressed, vilified, ignored and abused – all of these situations and frustrations led these women to their bloody climaxes. Nowadays it’s not curses from goddesses, philandering heroes or Trojan horses – it’s glass ceilings, the pay gap, slut shaming and gender stereotyping.
Give me a bit of background about Black Sheep Productions – why did you form this theatre company?
Madison: We’re a girl gang of creatives and decided to combine forces to create some truly important and memorable work. That’s our one goal, but we all come from very different backgrounds which helps produce a truly collaborative and inspiring working environment: business, dance, advertising, child care, social media, education.
What is coming up in the pipeline for Black Sheep?
Madeleine: We are looking into developing a contemporary season inspired by the merging of classical texts and generating a social commentary on relevant, current issues.
Madison: We’re also working on some short film scripts and will be casting for those at the end of the year. We have big ambitions for the company and are looking to branch out into workshops, classes and education over the next few years to continue empowering those who need it the most.
If you could play another figure in Greek mythology, who would it be and why?
Madeleine: That’s a tough one… if I was to choose just one it would be Antigone – she’s pretty badass.
Lucy: For me it would have to be Cassandra. She is so tragic and so feral it would be amazing to get my teeth into that one.
Laura: It would have to be Andromache – another strong woman who goes through so much tragedy yet still remains tall and fearless.
Niamh: Other obviously than Bacchus the God of Wine, it would have to be Atalanta, she was a damn cool mortal. Abandoned by a sexist father and raised to be a huntress by a bear, she swore never to marry, fights the Calydonian Boar, ends up losing a race and marrying Hippomenes. What an incredible role model, an awesome story and an unbelievable woman.
What about if you could only perform one more character for the rest of your acting career?
Lucy: I know i’s’ a bit of a cliché but it would have to be Lady Macbeth. I adore everything about that play and to explore the dynamic of a woman who aims to ‘remove my womanhood’ to make me able to commit such a monstrous act would be incredible.
Laura: Perhaps a bit old for me, casting wise, right now, but I would love to play Hedda Gabler – another psychological minefield who is strong and weak all at once.
Who is your inspiration/ rolemodel as an actor?
Laura: For me personally it would be Meryl Streep. She always plays a completely different character, never just a take on herself. She gets to play with accents, which is my favourite thing to do. I think she is truthful and fantastically adaptable as an actor.
Full Circle plays Theatre N16 as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe on 9 – 11 and 21 – 24 May. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.