Today I am seated next to Leah Lawry-Johns and Eduard Lewis, who comprise part of the production team of Caught, the Pleasance Theatre’s latest show. Leah, while also writing the piece, is one of its actors in an all-female cast. Eduard, working entirely behind the scenes, is the play’s director.
What is Caught about?
L: Caught is an all-female crime drama. It is about a detective inspector Acton: she’s come from the Met Police in London to the small town of Canterbury where a young girl has died and it’s basically following her story as she tries to solve the case, interviewing the different suspects, figuring out who it actually was,
Why an all-female cast?
L: I feel that women are very ill-represented in modern theatre and in film as well. I think there’s a real lack of strong roles for women and so it’s one of the reasons I wrote the play. We’ve got 6 very diverse roles: we’ve got the three girls playing six characters/ They’re playing big extremes of each other and it shows what they can do and that actresses can play good roles too.
You talked about the Bechdel test in your press release. Was that a starting point for your writing?
L: It is was more of an interesting fact and it linked to what we were doing, that we were really represented, and it is true that there is shocking numbers of things that fail the Bechdel test quite easily, when it is simply two women having a conversation about something other than a man and so you’d think it was simple but it’s quite shocking how many things fail and we thought that would turn nicely into one of the reasons we did this.
Why women and crime?
E: I think what Leah’s managed to achieve is a piece that is dynamic, interesting and it’s only an hour long: the events of play unfold very quickly and you get sucked into the world of the play really quickly and there’s something that the crime drama genre helps and offers with that sense of diving into a quick world—into a world quickly, even. I don’t think Leah started writing the piece thinking “I want to make a crime drama, I want to just make a play that passes the Bechdel test”, I think it’s more complex than that: you start with an idea of an story you want to tell or some characters that interest you and you go from here. I think—I’m not speaking on behalf of Leah—but I think from the work we’ve done together so far and the workshops we’ve done in developing the piece, those things are in because it’s what Leah believes in and what she’s interested in, rather than necessarily a starting point for making a piece of theatre.
I guess what I’m trying to ask, in terms of the actual starting point, did you want to tell a crime story or have a female cast?
L: The story came first: it stemmed from the fact that I’m very interested it at the moment the successes of Gone Girl and Broadchurch, and it’s exciting: it’s something we can get a real gritty story from and some characters that are well developed and involved and it developed from the story and then the all-female thing sort of came involved and so the two other actors I’ve always wanted to work with were very talented and it just all came together that way.
E: I think there’s also something to be added in the fact that crime drama is something where we’re used to it and we know it but there#s something aside from the fact that it’s just a crime drama, something in the way that Leah writes makes this piece interesting, a good piece of theatre but also very accessible, so you don’t have to be a seasoned theatre goer to get interested in this piece: it’s really, really accessible; it’s got some really great movement; it’s got some really great dialogue and really interesting structure; as the audience you get propelled through the scenes really, really quickly and in a really dynamic way and I think that overall, as a theatre director and for Leah as a writer it’s really important because theatre can seem really inaccessible and really hard to get to grips with and I think this piece, because it touches on things like the genre we’re used to and disposed to things we like, like Broadchurch or Luther and all of these things. It’s about to trying to find a way we can put those things that are interesting and find an interesting way of putting that on stage.
So you mentioned putting it on stage and that you said it’s a good theatre piece and you also mentioned movement, because often, in general, we see crime dramas on TV. Why does putting in the theatre make it special; what is uniquely theatrical about what you’re doing?
E: So there’s space for different forms different forms of expression and different forms of telling story in the theatre. There’s the fact that it’s live and in front of an audience, which you can never get on film and TV; there also the fact that we’re doubling all the characters which is something you don’t get in film and TV. So it’s a really unique experience and there are reasons behind the doubling: Leah’s thought it out quite carefully and the characters sort of mirror each other, so you can see similarities and differences between the characters and they juxtapose each other in a really interesting way and that has really informed a lot of the structure of the whole piece, the whole feel of the piece.
L: It’s heightened emotion: a murder affects so many people and that’s why it really emphasizes the character’s stories—six individual girls—and they’re all going through this traumatic time and it’s how they cope with it: it’s just something different.
In terms of the actual writing, why do you set it in Canterbury as opposed to London maybe, which people would associate as being crime capital of England. Why Canterbury?
L: I took Ed and the actors to see Canterbury so they could experience for it themselves. Basically, there’s something about London that if someone dies hardly anyone is affected. It is another death and you don’t really hear about it whereas with Canterbury, in particular, there hasn’t been a murder for thirty years. And it is such a small town and community that if one person dies, it affects everybody and everyone is affected; it changes them because they knew that person at one time in their life. In London, if they’re not related to them like a family member it doesn’t happen and that’s why it’s more of an effect on these people: it’s someone they knew and in London, you wouldn’t be affected by that in small community. It really shows the heart of the town.
E: I think also in terms of linking back to your previous question as to why theatre, one of the things that we’re aiming to with our production is something you can do really well in theatre: you can create a world and you exist in that world as an audience member and experience the events of the play and one of the things that was really important for Leah and us when we were talking about the piece initially when we were developing it was that the world we walk into is a changed world and is one that has been completely transformed and completed overcast and overshadowed by Emily ‘s death and that’s going to be reflected in the design, the lighting design, set design—all sort of reflect that—so when the audience walk in and start to experience the piece, it’s going to be a really full experience for them that will not just be something you experience orally or visually but it will be a full experience.
Talking about crime drama in general, what inspirations do have from that field?
E: One of things—and this is a crude way of putting it—but one things that we are always talking about:we wanted this be more like an episodes of Luther or Broadchurch than The Bill or anything like that and for us it’s about how we find that, because there’s something about those programmes and that side of crime drama genre that feels real, exciting and feels dramatic and doesn’t feel false and doesn’t feel put on in any way and that’s really what we’re looking to do, to create a dramatic, exciting world for our audience to experience that really keeps them on the edge of their seats and keeps them interested for the hour they’re there.
And who’s in it?
L: So myself, I’m in it and we’ve got Serena Chloe Gardner and Ella Duncan
And, just a general who’s who in terms of character?
L: Serena plays two characters: she pays the detective who is one of our main characters, Detective Acton and she also plays Alison who was Emily’s aunt and then we have Ella duncan who plays Helen Roberts, Emily’s best friend and also Chloe Collings, her younger sister and I play Sinead, the local chav, as you would say, who was an acquaintance of Emily’s.
Caught is on at the Pleasance Theatre Islington from 2nd-5th September with an extra matinee performance on the 5th.