Flat 73 is the debut play from new company Human Story Theatre. The script was written by Gaye Poole, whose last piece Connie’s Colander sold out at the Old Fire Station in 2015 – we catch up with playwright Gaye and actress Amy Enticknap for a few questions about the show.
Tell us about Human Story Theatre.
Run by actor/writer Gaye Poole and actor/producer Amy Enticknap, Human Story Theatre focuses on plays with a health and social care issue at heart. Through research and dialogue we explore and write new material that reflect our communities’ needs and experiences. Our aim is to be accessible to all: we ‘pop up’ in any designated space, with minimal set, which means we can tour easily to any venue. We also operate a ‘pay what you can’ policy where possible.
What’s the basic premise of Flat 73?
That loneliness is all too common. Approx 66,000 people in Oxfordshire lead lonely and isolated lives. It can become a vicious cycle; when individuals become isolated they lose their confidence and so withdraw even further and our communities can overlook these people and so become poorer without their inclusion. Flat 73 aims to highlight this problem and the post show discussions aim to help local communities by recruiting volunteers to tackle this problem.
Why do you think it is important to bring the theme of isolation to the fore in your show?
Research shows that loneliness is more detrimental to our health than obesity and as bad as smoking. Lonely people have an increased chance of developing dementia, becoming depressed and of committing suicide, so it was an easy decision to show characters in danger of compromising their health and happiness in this way. The four characters in the play and the musician are at very different stages of life and have very different causes of their loneliness so it has been a ripe source of theatrical exploration.
Why is the post-show discussion important?
Human Story Theatre have embedded the Q&A into their format for an important reason: the issues from the play can be further aired and discussed, but most importantly experts in the pertinent issue can be on hand to offer advice and signpost to relevant services. In Flat 73 volunteers can also be recruited from audience members moved to offer their services in some way.
How have rehearsals been going?
We’re only three days in (it’s quite intense as we just have ten days to rehearse) but it’s going well so far. We spent the first two days with Emma Webb, Movement Director, helping us with character physicality and the opening sequence of the play, which took some choreography! It’s great working with Kevin because he brings his physical expertise to the production, so there are some interesting stylised and ensemble moments emerging…
This morning we were battling with assembling door frames, still tacky with yesterdays paint. But it makes a difference having them to rehearse with in order to aid our miming skills. Today we learned popping, releasing, holding. Not as Abi (who plays Chelsea) suggested, anything to do with flatulence!
What’s it like directing Flat 73?
Kevin Tomlinson: It’s an immense pleasure actually, because Gaye’s writing is full of humour and humanity. I think it would be a big mistake for a writer to tackle loneliness and make it quite ‘heavy’, but she brings a lot of lightness to it. The play’s main strengths are its humour and humanity which makes it palatable, enjoyable, watchable. And because the humour is there, when the humanity comes along it is even more effective because you are taken on a roller coaster ride so it doesn’t hit you with a sledge hammer! She tickles you and then starts playing the violins, but very subtly.
The cast is great – all the actors are really bringing their roles to life in rehearsals. In the space of 55 minutes you see these four fully rounded characters appear on stage and you feel emotionally attached to them quite early on. I’d highly recommend people come and watch it – it’s a quality piece of theatre!
Flat 73 is at the Old Fire Station on Tuesday 4 October at 7.30pm, and Saturday 8 October at 12.30pm. Book a free ticket, then pay what you can. www.oldfirestation.org.uk or 01865 263990.