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They say that truth is stranger than fiction, which surely means that the Deptford Lounge will be getting some odd looks this month – and for a fair few more after that as well. You see, at the beginning of every four weeks in the Lewisham community hub, right up until September 2015, Ampersand Media will be putting on Storylines – a play devised entirely from that day’s newspaper stories. Whether it’s “Cameron Self Combusts From Own Hot Air” or “Russia Elects Cobweb” – whatever the news, the cast will be there to interpret and perform it – with a little help from newspaper readers and Twitter followers from around the world, too.
For this isn’t just about devising a fresh, constantly evolving theatre production – for Artistic Director Mark Stevenson – it’s also about creating a genuine interaction with the production’s audience, almost so that performer and theatre goer are one and the same. As well as a bimonthly newspaper discussion group at the Lounge where ideas are developed, everyone on Twitter is encouraged to tweet @Ampersandmedia with their ideas. In other words, suggestions from far flung places in the world could end up being performed in a space in Deptford.
“An online viewer in America wrote a scene about something and then five minutes later that scene was up on YouTube – he was amazed by the fact that his ideas were being put on on a stage in London,” explains Stevenson. And whilst Storylines started out as a format as far back as 2004 at BAC and The Deptford Albany, it’s today’s technology that means the production can fully realise its aim of being a truly “social” play.
This also means that, just like in the news, no topic is out of bounds when it comes to devising what that month’s production will cover. Because of this, each play’s form and style is also always completely different. From female sterilisation to cats in bins, Jeremy Clarkson to Nigella Lawson, anything and everything could be on show.
“The previous month in Deptford we ended up doing a play about TV-inspired killings – which wouldn’t have been our first choice!” says Stevenson. “There was a woman who got obsessed with Breaking Bad and ordered ricin to kill her Mum, but as the story developed it turned out her Mum had kept her locked in her room for ages. So we started experimenting with video and Skype formats for that play, because she was trying to reach out from her room and connect to the world. In the middle of the show a member of the audience would be handed a phone, and the actress would be in a cupboard somewhere calling them and asking for their help to rescue her…Whatever subject matter we get we interrogate, so it’s never just a straight up word for word performance of the headlines.”
So whilst getting interactive is a key part of Storylines it’s also strangely about reflection, even if it’s in an immediate way. “If you look at the story about Charles Saatchi seemingly strangling Nigella Lawson, two days after that story broke it had gone out of the news cycle, but that was still happening in the world and in their lives,” Stevenson explains. “It was still something that needed to be thought about in society – and I believe that theatre is an excellent collective means of doing that.”
Much more than just a play for newshounds and Question Time fans then, Storylines seeks to reach a community – whether a global social media crowd or an intimate theatre audience – and create an ongoing dialogue about the real stories and news affecting us all right there and then. In other words, as Stevenson puts it, they hope to “think out loud – but think out loud together” – so prepare for some truly thought-provoking performances coming to Deptford for every first week of the month.