Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016, Pharmacy Theatre present the London transfer of their debut show – a highly-acclaimed adaptation of death penalty investigator Rene Denfeld’s award-winning novel. The Enchanted highlights issues around capital punishment, child abuse, and the self-perpetuating cycle of violence corrupting the US penitentiary. We spoke to director Connie Treves who tells us about what UK audiences can take from this play.
You’re directing The Enchanted at The Bunker, what can you tell us about the show?
The Enchanted is a story which finds hope in the most desperate circumstances. Adapted from the novel by Rene Denfeld, it uncovers beauty in the most unexpected of places – a death row prison in America.
What first attracted you to The Enchanted?
It was my mum! My mum heard Rene Denfeld speak on the radio a few years ago and was immediately struck by the segment of text she read out. She proceeded to buy the book and as soon as she finished it she sent it to me and urged me to read it, saying she thought firstly it was the most incredible novel, and also that it would work so well on the stage. After first reading the novel, I was so much in awe of it that I insisted there was absolutely no way I would be able to take on such a great book and translate it onto the stage. Rene’s support throughout gave me and the team the courage to pursue the project and I hope we have done her book justice.
Why do you think Rene Denfeld’s novel adapts so well to the stage?
The novel is very theatrical in many ways. For me, the crux of the novel is the universal human need to be witnessed. No matter what you have done, no matter what your history, everybody needs to feel they have been seen. The stage is thus an interesting space to address this theme, in which the audience’s very act of watching the show is especially charged.
Did you have much knowledge of the US penal system before working on The Enchanted or did you have to do a lot of research?
My knowledge of the US penal system was indeed pretty slim before starting this project so it has required a lot of research. The novel is very accessible and although it deals with the penal system it does not require huge amounts of knowledge for it to have a profound effect on you. On first reading, a lot of the content actually resonated with the social care systems in the UK. Although, we don’t have the death penalty here it does not mean our system’s failures are miles away from that of the US. That is not to say that I and the whole team have not undertaken a lot of research! I have tried to make the research as broad as possible and I strongly believe it is really important for the cast to understand the content fully as well. We have been really lucky to have some incredibly knowledgeable people coming to talk to us directly, from death row lawyers to child development and health specialists. I think all of us have learnt a lot and there is still so much more to get to grips with.
Do you think UK Audiences will be able to relate to the US based story?
As I mentioned earlier I think The Enchanted resonates beyond its US setting. It is a story which not only addresses the death penalty but also child poverty, cycles of abuse, disability support, social responsibility and corruption. Although we do not have the death penalty in this country we still have disproportionately high numbers of under 25s in prison who are care leavers. Child poverty in this country as at a high with studies out recently showing that the UK has slipped in the ranks of children’s rights from 11th place to 156th. Last Christmas, 120,000 British children were homeless. Similarly, disability cuts have systematically decimated disability support other the last few years with many people now unable to attain the support they need. If anything, The Enchanted challenges a UK audience to come face to face with the desperately sad outcomes of a society which does not support its most vulnerable.
How have the cast developed since the Edinburgh production last year?
We now have almost an entirely new cast! When we decided to pursue bringing the show to London, we had had some time to digest out experiences in Edinburgh and all knew that we wanted to work on the show further before opening to a London audience. For me, the process of making a show is almost always never finished and we had learnt a lot from Edinburgh and wanted to take what we had learned back into the rehearsal room. Working with a new cast has breathed new life into the production and given us all lots of new ideas.
The Enchanted is at The Bunker Theatre Tuesday 6th – Saturday 17th June 2017.