Assistant Director Ruby Thompson on her research for Removal Men

“At times I’ve felt like an investigative journalist, and at other times as though I was embarking on a weird journey of personal enlightenment…”

Removal Men is my first show as an assistant director and already has been filled with plenty of brand new experiences. In researching some of the themes and content for this show at times I’ve felt like an investigative journalist, and at other times as though I was embarking on a weird journey of personal enlightenment…

The research for this play began years ago by writer Mike, director Jay, and the rest of the creative team. When I came on board in June this year, my job was to create research packs for the actors ahead of rehearsals. The play is set in a fictional Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), and so the focus of my research has been into the UK’s detention estate. Until I got involved in the show, I had no idea the tools used for ‘immigration control’. People can be legally held for an unlimited amount of time in an IRC and people can also be detained whilst their claim for asylum is processed. I’ve told pretty much everyone I know since.

I looked into some of the global private companies who manage IRCs, through decade long contracts outsourced by the Home Office. Looking into their annual accounts, business models and finding job adverts for vacancies within the IRCs made me feel a little bit like a detective or an investigative journalist!

I also researched the basics of Non-Violent Communication (NVC). A big theme in the play is therapy. Mike questions why does it seem easier to go to a therapist than a protest nowadays. The show explores the American-born model of NVC and uses it to question if it’s possible for individuals to try and operate with freedom within such a strict system, like working as a Detention Custody Officer in an Immigration Removal Centre.

A further extension of these therapeutic practices I’ve researched, was dance therapy and meditation to explore trance-like states. Jay and Mike were interested in the possibility of the actors performing elements of the show in a ‘trance’ state, and I was tasked to explore practises that might be useful in rehearsals. I experienced meditation, chanting and being told to breathe through my sex organs for the first time in a Kundalini Yoga class, and found myself at 5 Rhythms in a beautiful church in North London, dancing non-stop for 2 hours with 40 strangers. I’ve never meditated before and am a bit of a cynic if I’m honest. I kept picturing that Rainbow Rhythms scene in Peep Show. (There was actually a man in the class in a suit who gave it a crack but left half way through. Think he was there by accident.) Despite my cynicism, it was actually pretty great. There were moments of complete release where I was moving without any awareness of my limbs and I forgot about any shit I had to do that week, even the purpose of my being there, to be honest!

I was chatting about some of the things I’d been looking into at the pub a friend said “It’s amazing that you’re juggling three shows”,  I was like – no no, they’re all for the same play!” The uniqueness this mix gives a bit of an insight into the uniqueness of the beast of a show Mike and Jay have created with Removal Men.

Removal Men: 8 Nov- 10 Dec

Tickets from £10

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Amanda tells how the Pilgrims characters battle for their version of the story

Amanda talks of how our experiences affect our stories

So, we are in our third week at the Yard Theatre, and having a brilliant time! We rehearsed at Theatr Clywd, opened at Hightide Festival in Aldeburgh, and in a couple weeks we head back to Theatr Clwyd to end the run.

I’ve found it quite a different process to other plays I’ve been in. For starters, in rehearsals we had our beautiful set in the room which was really handy, especially considering the edges felt a little hazardous to begin with! Also, a decision was made quite early on by Tamara Harvey that none of the blocking would be set. And the stage directions could be said by any of us. These things combined keep the play very sharp and focussed, and can also result in moments becoming wildly different!

At the heart of the play Elinor Cook asks who has ownership of stories, and who gets to be the protagonist. We inherit the way we are expected to behave and interact with one another through history, through stories, and our view of the world. And that looks very different for each of us, because of gender, class, race and when we were raised, etc. In pilgrims we see three bright and experience hungry characters battle for their version of this story. And it’s set within that period of early adulthood, when life seems quite beautifully up for grabs. But as in life, our version of events can become muddled. And we have to learn whether we need to compromise our goals if we fall in love. Can’t we have have both? And is it possible for both of us together? And if not, who traditionally is expected to stop and act as a support?

It’s been interesting listening to people’s comments afterwards – it normally evokes quite a strong personal reaction. Audiences at the Yard have been great. I love playing this space, and it feels awesome being so close to everyone in the room.

Pilgrims is on until 15 Oct

Tickets from £12.50

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Steffan Donnelly on fitting Everest into The Yard

Steffan, one third of the Pilgrims cast, talks space 

We premiered Pilgrims in a Church Hall at HighTide Festival, in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. An audience member came up to us after seeing the show and said “I didn’t know you could do that with a Church Hall!” That was our challenge from day one – how do you time travel (the play oscillates between different years of the characters relationships) and how do you fit Everest into a small space with a stripped back set?

The designer, James Perkins, has created a square metal base a metre off the floor and laid Dutch tiles on some of the metal. The battle between this safe recognisable surface and the perilous open spaces next to them neatly reflects the play’s discussion of domesticity vs adventure. The set offers many possibilities for how and where we move – you can clamber underneath, balance on top of the metal, use the tiles, use the space around the platform – and it was valuable to have it in the rehearsal room to get confident and experimental on day one (well, experimental by about day 6).

None of the movement is set. We to try to respond to the words as if it’s the first time they’re uttered, so we try to do the same with how we move. This frees us up to knock each other off-balance, surprise one another, stops a show from repeatedly having lowest common denominator choices – basically stops it feeling routine for us and uninteresting for an audience.

Our lighting designer, Nic Holdridge, had his work cut out in reframing a lot of the lighting for this new, wider space – especially without being able to preempt where we’ll be moving to!

Where in HighTide the audience were in traverse, here at The Yard they are end on. It took some time to adjust to it, especially since the set has been angled into a diagonal position here (giving us a wider floor space), and it juts right into the audience. When we finish the run at Theatr Clwyd in a few weeks, it’s going to be angled differently again and we’ll be performing in the round, in a larger studio.

So – catch the show to see how we fit Everest into a warehouse in Hackney.

Pilgrims is on until 15 Oct

Tickets from £12.50