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Litmus Fest at the Pleasance Theatre

21 September 2017 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Litmus Fest is the second annual work-in-progress theatre festival at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington. Six companies present six brand new shows over six days. London Calling talked to producer Heather Rose about why it is so vital to give theatre companies the time and space to experiment, discover, make mistakes and create thrilling new work that encourage audience feedback as part of each show’s developmental process.

London Calling: You’ve​ ​just​ ​come​ ​back​ ​from​ ​an​ ​action​ ​packed​ ​Edinburgh, and​ now​ ​you’re producing​ ​Litmus​ ​Fest.​ ​What​’s​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​behind​ ​this​ ​research​ ​and development​ ​festival?
 
Heather Rose: When The Pleasance is up in Edinburgh running venues at the Fringe Festival, our London venue is largely empty. We want to make the most of that space and time by offering the space out to artists for the development of new work. We offer these artists two weeks of rehearsal space, two days of technical experimentation and two work-in-progress performances – as well as marketing, producing and technical support.
 
LC: This is one of ​the​ ​only​ ​festivals​ in London ​that​ ​gives​ ​a​ ​public​ ​platform​ ​to productions​ ​that​ ​are​ ​still​ ​undergoing​ ​research​ ​and​ ​development.​ ​Why​ ​are these​ ​early​ ​showings​ essential​ ​for​ ​artists​ ​and​ ​audiences​ ​alike?
 
HR: Shows don’t always develop smoothly. Ideas need testing and trying out.
Sometimes ideas that seem great in your head or on the page don’t quite translate onto the stage. From an audience perspective, many people find it interesting to see the seeds of a show from the beginning, and to be involved in the artistic process.


Ad Libido at Litmus Fest, The Pleasance
 
LC: How​ ​important​ ​is​ ​public​ ​feedback​ ​for​ ​theatre​makers​ ​when​ ​they​ ​are​ ​still developing​ ​a​ ​show?
 
HR: As important as they want it to be! It depends on the type of work being made, and of course not all theatre is going to please everyone. However, feedback can be invaluable in gauging the clarity of the storytelling, characterisation and, of course, the audience’s response to the work.
 
LC: You​ ​have​ ​six​ ​companies​ ​performing​ ​six​ ​shows​ ​during​ ​the festival.​ ​Can​ ​you give​ ​us​ ​a​ ​sneak​ ​peek ​as to​ ​what​ ​audiences​ ​will​ ​see?
 
HR: The Rain God tells the improbable true story of Charles Mallory Hatfield, a man who says he can control the weather. With a live-produced futuristic soundtrack, and science-inspired visuals, the show explores truth and deception, humility and humidity.
 
More More More is our Michael Barrymore musical. It has already been described as ‘sick and depraved’ in the Daily Mail, so that’s a real achievement! The show starts with the famous TV entertainer entering rehab for the eighth time, tying to get sober after a man is found dead in his swimming pool. It uses a mix of original tunes and new versions of hit songs from Barrymore’s heyday. The whole thing is based on real events but feels totally bonkers.
 
Close Up is a new multi-media play about censorship in the post-truth era, presented through the gaze of a 1960s Polari comedian and the 80-year-old protagonist of a factual documentary about sex. The initial staging uses live cinematic techniques.


Close Up at Litmus Fest, The Pleasance

I Remember is a heartfelt performance exploring the unseen reality of life with autism. Following resilient and extraordinary moments in one person’s journey to accept their condition, it fuses fierce spoken word poetry and haunting live sound to reveal the overwhelming beauty that accompanies the difficulties experienced by those with autism.
 
Big Cat is about the 2,000 people who annually report seeing panthers, pumas, leopards and lynxes prowling in the UK countryside. The show scratches away at the world of enthusiasts, hoaxers, lion tamers, and ‘experts’ in a piece purring with intrigue, illusion and suspicious droppings. 

In Ad Libido Fran wants to want sex, but no matter how much Barry White, oysters and '50 Wild Uses for Your Loofah' she consumes, she doesn't feel like her fire's been lit. It’s a hilarious quest in pursuit of a normal sex life.
 
LC: Litmus​ ​Fest​ ​comes​ ​under​ ​the​ ​umbrella​ ​of​ ​Pleasance​ ​Futures.​ ​Can you tell us what Pleasance​ ​Futures​ ​is all about?
 
HR: Pleasance Futures is the development arm of the Pleasance Theatre, or what we like to call the ‘engine room’ of the organisation: it’s what powers us! In more practical terms, it’s the programmes and events we offer to support developing artists and companies – including scratch nights, awards to bring shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, our youth company the Young Pleasance and Litmus Fest!


I Remember at Litmus Fest, The Pleasance
 
LC: Through​ ​Pleasance​ ​Futures​ ​you​ ​provide​ ​creative​ ​opportunities​ ​both​ ​on​ ​and off​ ​stage.​ ​How​ ​can​ ​people​ ​get​ ​involved?
 
HR: Most of our opportunities are open access, which means anyone can get involved. Applications are usually online, and the best way to find out about what’s coming up is to follow @PleasanceFuture on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list.
 
LC: What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​strangest​ ​thing​ ​you​ ​have​ ​ever​ ​experienced​ ​at​ ​an​ ​R&D​ ​showing?
 
HR: I saw a performer set fire to her own hair once. It was not intentional.
 
Litmus Fest commences at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington, from 26 September to 1 October. You can buy tickets to any 2 performances for £10 or for all 6 performances for £24.
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