This Restless State builds on the success of Jesse Fox’s recent shows with his company Engineer Theatre Collective, which have seen his work nominated for various Off West End Awards and featured in The New Yorker. He is collaborating with Danielle Pearson, Playwright in Residence at the Watermill Theatre and the winner of the EU Collective Plays! Competition.
We caught up with writer, Danielle Pearson to find out more.
What can you tell us about This Restless State?
This Restless State is a one-man show which explores ideas of identity, home and nationhood. It’s about how our lives are defined by the era we’re born into, and how urgent contemporary issues might look through a longer historical lens. It’s a lot to do with generations as well, how generations have their specific problems/world views, and also the things that repeat for everyone – and of course how different generations communicate with one another. We’re also building on Jesse’s brilliant work with his company Engineer to play with form, language and soundscape, so it should hopefully be a really dynamic, surprising piece of storytelling.
Where did you get the idea to set it in 3 different eras?
We began work on this piece in the run-up to Brexit, and as 90s children we were talking a lot about how every generation has their defining challenge – wondering if this was ours, comparing that to our grandparents reckoning with the war, or the experience of our baby boomer parents. From there, the idea quite naturally evolved that the play would be set in three eras – 1989 Berlin, 2018 London and 2052 Rome. We liked the idea that someone searching for answers in the present would be reaching into the past and the future. It was also a brilliant challenge as a writer, since the piece is very narrative-driven – almost novelistic – and I was able to play with genre elements from historical fiction to sci-fi.
Is it easier to write about the past than it is to imagine the future?
Definitely! For the sections set in 1989 Berlin, I was able to go to the city for research, stand in the actual places my characters would have lived and worked. But this was the first time I’ve tried to write about the future, and we had many many conversations starting out about what it might feasibly look like. In earlier drafts, that section borrowed much more explicitly from sci-fi tropes – but as we’ve developed the script, we’ve boiled it down to the human dilemma faced by the characters, which ultimately feels more interesting.
What made you decide to write it as a one-person piece?
We knew early on that Jesse would be our sole performer, but having made that decision, we talked a lot about the gesture of a one-person show – what does it mean for one person to get up and talk to an audience quite honestly about these themes in a personal way? And the thing that really appealed to me was the idea of looking at one body on stage, and thinking about how many lives had gone before to bring that person into existence, and how many future lives might come of that person. We also use sound, voice and various European languages throughout the piece, so although there’s only one performer onstage, we actually have a large and exciting cast of voice actors behind the scenes!
How has winning the EU Collective Plays Competition helped you?
I feel incredibly lucky to be part of such a unique scheme. The prize for the competition was a residency at Italy’s Teatro Stalle, where I got the chance to collaborate with other young writers from across Europe to co-write a piece together. It was a fantastic experience which really fed into my work on This Restless State, given that many of the people involved were some of Europe’s finest theatre-makers and offered fascinating insights into all of our themes. The piece is going to be staged in Viterbo and Rome this year, which will be my first time performed outside of the U.K., so I’m really excited for that.
What are you looking forward to most about seeing it go out on tour?
Although it’s not a Brexit response piece per se, This Restless State is definitely wrestling with a lot of the key themes in our national debate at the minute – what do we mean when we talk about Britain, Europe, home, family? Where is the current refugee crisis, or our apathy towards climate change, going to lead us? What does the gesture of a referendum do to a nation? It feels really important to talk about these things, but it’s one thing to present that in London, and quite another to take that to different audiences around the country. I’m excited (and nervous) to see the response we get.
This Restless State is at Ovalhouse 14th – 24th March 2018, and then on tour until 20th April.