Postcards from the edge of sanity

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An offshoot of a long established Lancaster drama group has been established to bring the city’s theatregoers somewhat edgier fare.

The bleak grey-green walls and cavernous echo set the scene perfectly. Young Katurian – a teenage wannabe writer – sits on a bed, cold, alone and frightened.

His older self narrates as gruesome tales of murder and violence unfold, both in his mind and in reality. The stories reflect the tortuous world Katurian inhabits; a police state where he is under interrogation for a crime in which his vengeful brother has implicated him.

In reality, we are inside a unit in the Lune Industrial Estate. This normally acts as storage space for the Lancaster Footlights, but tonight doubles as a rehearsal room for Studio Footlights – an offshoot of the local dramatics group, formed to move away from the mainstream and bring darker, edgier material to Lancaster theatre-goers.

They will make their debut next week with The Pillowman, by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, at the Gregson Centre in Lancaster.

The play won a string of awards when it first appeared in the West End back in 1995. It also had a star-studded cast, including former Doctor Who David Tennant.

Its youthful Lancaster cast, while not as famous, are no less enthusiastic.

“I have to move from playing a little boy to growing up and killing my parents, all in one scene,” says sixth-former Dewey Lord, who plays the young Katurian.

Another cast member, Naomi Jay – who plays Little Jesus – comments on the way such material may be perceived. “People should come and watch this with an open mind,” she says. “It’s actually very funny, but in a dark way.”

The play is directed by Greg Robertson, a teacher and “Footie” member who was keen to work on something a little more thought-provoking than traditional Footlights fare.

“The Pillowman is a contrast to what many people think when they imagine amateur productions,” he says. “It’s an unforgiving piece of writing which, I hope, aims to challenge an audience more than shock them. Amateur theatre should not be afraid to tackle challenging themes and studio productions offer a fantastic opportunity to experiment with material often left to the professionals.”  

For the play’s lead, Kevin Foster, the rehearsals have been quite a challenge. As narrator and protagonist, he is constantly on stage and, on top of the day job and studying for a degree with the OU, it has been a marathon line-learning exercise! Nonetheless, he loves it.

“On the surface, it might appear offensive,” he says. “It’s black and absurd, but it has a lot of heart. Deep down, it’s all about nothing being as it seems.”

There are different challenges for other members of the cast. Lucy Fishwick and John Shea play three different sets of parents, alternating between compassion and downright evil.

“There’s a lot to get your teeth into,” says Lucy. “The language is quite colourful!”

Although it’s certainly not for children or the faint-hearted, the play is not about scaring or offending audiences. It explores some interesting themes such as the nature of storytelling and how we often blur the boundaries of fantasy and reality.

Thankfully, the fantasy being played out in this room is engaging enough to block out the cold reality of the industrial estate. Judging by the rehearsals, it promises to do much the same for any world-weary audience members when it transfers to the Gregson Centre next week.

The Pillowman will be performed at 7.30pm on May 14-16 at the Gregson Centre, Moor Lane, Lancaster.

All tickets are £5 – call The Grand Theatre box office on 01524 64695, or go to the website www.lancastergrand.co.uk.

You can also check out the Studio Footlights facebook page for more details: www.facebook.com/studiofootlights.