Q&A with Little Bulb Theatre

Written for What’s On Stage

Soho Theatre kicks off its spring season with last summer’s Edinburgh hit, Operation Greenfield, from the award-winning Little Bulb Theatre – a tale of sexual awakening, Christian folk rock and forest fruit squash.

Formed by graduates from the University of Kent – Alexander ScottClare BeresfordShamira Turner and Dominic Conway, Little Bulb Theatre combine innovative character work, beautiful imagery and exciting homemade music to create performances with humour and sadness that will touch, startle and entertain.

Operation Greenfield – a touching, funny, bizarre and visually fantastical exploration of faith and friendship – captures the confusing, awkward and beautifully naïve time of adolescence. We spoke to the company about their upcoming Soho Theatre run, which opens on 19 May (previews from 17 May) and continues until 4 June 2011.

You use a lot of original music within your shows and you’ve said Operation Greenfield is your most ambitious mixture of theatre and music so far. Why is this such an important part of your process?

We feel that music can evoke something different than what watching a play does, and find the result of combining them yields such exciting results. Developing characters is a big part of what we do, but also we often find it easier sometimes to express ourselves through music. Many early performances of Operation Greenfield were as a music gig, and some people thought we were actually teenagers as we looked even more awkward outside of a theatrical context.

Talk us through a typical day of rehearsal for you.

Well, as we’ve been living on the road for so long now, on rehearsal days we tend to wake up wherever we are together, have breakfast together and set out to the space wherever that may be – we try to make a temporary home for ourselves wherever we are, and that includes in the rehearsal space, so when we walk in of a morning, we’re also walking into the world of the show and all the feelings that go with that. As a company we’re fascinated by process, and we try and find fresh approaches to our rehearsals depending on the show, an entire day could be spent writing, improvising, moving, composing songs, or obsessively discussing the intonation of a specific line. Collectively we tend to be night birds as when we come home, we’ll spend a long time cooking, making plans for the next day and playing music, so because of that rehearsals tend to begin around 10ish or just after but go ’til about seven or a bit later, depending on when it feels like its good place to call it a day.

You are becoming known for quirky stories which delight in eccentricity and feel truly original. Where do you get your stories from?

All our stories come from many hours of being in a room in character and building their world through lots and lots of improvisations. Our director, Alex, is extraordinary at creating exercises that will bring out some texture that until that moment you hadn’t realised was there. After hours and hours of inhabiting someone else’s physicality and thoughts, the stories tend to write themselves – we don’t know what the end will be when we start, and we often don’t know what it will be until the very end.

Operation Greenfield deals with growing up – a topic also covered with immense imagination in Crocosmia, as a young company do you feel this is a topic close to your heart?

Yes, I suppose it is close to our hearts, maybe its because we, as a company are growing up, and when we were very young and naive we made Crocosmia, and at the time when we made Operation Greenfield it really reflected our adolescent phase as a collective. On the one hand we were still very much newcomers trying to find a sense of identity, but on the other hand, we had a very clear sense of who we were and the work we wanted to make, all the while feeling the pressure of living up to expectations. Also, we personally have been both ages, and all have very strong memories of what it is like to be at that age, so we can use those memories and experiences to develop characters and make them more truthful.

What excites you about theatre at the moment and who or what has influenced you in the past?

There are loads of inspiring companies making work at the moment, and it would be impossible to list them all, but in the past we have been inspired by the likes of Improbable, The TEAM, The Shunt Collective, and more recently we very much enjoyed seeing Kneehigh’s revival of their Red Shoes, but we often find inspiration in other mediums as well as theatre; books, poetry, people and in particular music all have a great affect on the work we create – last night we saw Sufjan Stevens at the Southbank – what an incredible man, his music is just beautiful and the show itself is a real spectacle, we were all blown away, in fact, we’re going back again tonight!

After Soho what’s next?

Well, we will be rehearsing for a new project for just under a month, and then we will be hitting the festivals and performing there in various guises (Lounge on the Farm, Latitude, Secret Garden Party) etc, then we will be going up to Edinburgh and playing music every night as part of the BAC at Summerhall venue in the last week of the festival, and then finally we will be taking Operation Greenfield on a national tour, dates of which will be available on our website very soon.

Operation Greenfield opens at the Soho Theatre on 19 May (previews 17 May) where it runs until 4 June 2011.


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