It's Sunday afternoon, nearly 6pm and I've been sitting with my laptop since 8.30 this morning. Tomorrow marks the beginning of week four of rehearsals for The Edge. I'm trying to pull a script together: revisiting scenes we've created in the room, throwing things out and writing new episodes. I want to give our cast of two as much as possible so they'll have time to learn the 80 mins of text that could be in the show. We open in just under three weeks. All the time we're sensing our way through the narrative. Much like the characters themselves.
Devising always comes at a cost - it's full of risk. You're always working, in rehearsal, out of rehearsal, even when you're doing something banal like cleaning the bathroom (cleaning is normally work avoidance for me) - the head is processing the material all the time.
Four years ago I started to look at making a piece about interconnectedness. I took two places I loved, the south east coast of England (I was living in Folkestone at the time) and India (I had visited and worked in the country several times since 1992) and started to look for connections. I discussed the project with a good friend and colleague, Vicky Long - we'd met in India on our gap years. She was working for Cape Farewell at the time so started to talk about climate change.
With British Council funding we were lucky to spend a month in Bengal collaborating with Kolkata based theatre company, Ranan. We worked together in a studio and more significantly visited the Sundarbans - the largest single tract of mangrove forest in the world, three hours south of Kolkata. The Sundarbans is on the frontline of sea level rise. There we experienced first hand the impact of climate change on the landscape and the community.
Many of the islands had eroded and in some cases disappeared. There had been significant migration out of the region; in the villages many children had been left without parents and local fishing and agricultural economies were collapsing. Predictions for 2050 put the whole of this region and its five million inhabitants at risk.
On returning to the UK I started to look at sea level predications for England. Talking to coastal management and sea level experts the revelation was that there will come a time where decisions will begin to be made to let communities go. Current coastal management decisions are based on the economic significance of an area. The most impoverished and vulnerable, as in India, may not be protected. There was the connection and the starting point.
Two actors, Tim Lewis plays a climate-induced migrant from the Sundarbans and Balvinder Sopal plays a woman from a coastal community whose house has been vacated and left to the sea, perform The Edge. The piece charts the story of the two from childhood (2015) through to adulthood (2035) culminating in their encounter on a beach in England. It offers two seemingly unrelated lives and highlights the threads between them.
The piece is about our future but most of the events explored are based on things that have already taken place - the decline of UK coastal communities, reports of migrants attempting to swim the English Channel, reconstruction of borders throughout Europe, climate induced migration, demands for climate induced migrants to be given refugee status, increases in cyclonic activity in the Bay or Bengal and weather events in the UK becoming more severe.
We're juggling a lot and the more we look at the problem the more complex the whole appears to be. With a layered performance style supported by a wonderful team of collaborators (composer Raymond Yiu; sound designer Helen Atkinson; designer James button; projection designer Will Duke; lighting designer Matt Haskins; creative associate Vicky Long and dancer Julie Cunningham): there's a lot to navigate. I'm hoping it will be the simplest, purest thing, much like the performance style of traditional story telling we saw in the Sundarbans.
The touchstones of the piece are the current refugee crisis and a question; 'in what way do I want our audiences to feel different after experiencing this?' We want them to look at their environment anew and to take a collective responsibility for the vulnerable that will be displaced by climate change and its affects over the coming decades. Many argue that the catalyst for the Syrian conflict was climate change and we are already seeing the reality of climate induced migration.
The Edge begins its UK Tour at Ipswich New Wolsey Theatre on 8 October, running at various venues across the UK until 14 November. http://www.transport-theatre.eu/theedge