Features Q&A and Interviews Published 23 May 2011

Adam Brace and Sebastian Armesto

Adam Brace is a playwright whose works include the widely acclaimed play, Stovepipe. Sebastian Armesto is an actor, writer, director and the co-founder of simple8. Their current production, The Four Stages of Cruelty, based on a series of Hogarth engravings, opens at the Arcola this month.
Natasha Tripney

Brace has worked in tandem with simple8 to develop the piece; the process has been “very collaborative.”  “At the risk of sounding sickeningly on message,” he says wryly, “it’s worked very well.  I don’t feel that much like a playwright on this project. I feel like I’m part of a group of people who’ve decided to come up with a show. simple8 [works] like that. There’s no artistic director of simple8 – it’s not a socialist dream and I’m not going to call it a collective.” He pauses. “I’m not sure what I would call it?” Armesto chips in: “Barely controlled chaos?”

Armesto, whose screen credits include Little Dorrit and The Tudors, is clear about the appeal of working collaboratively. “You want to be engaged in the whole process of putting something together. I think it’s much more interesting and exciting and probably better for the work that you’re making.” Brace agrees that “the actors in this company are great at this. They can take stuff and run with it. I suspect people say this all the time of their companies and I suspect it’s a trope, but nevertheless it’s true of this group of people.” Though he adds that, “in terms of actually really envisioning the play, I think Seb’s the one who’s got the vision in his head.”

Before this particular production came about, Brace and simple8 had been working on a production of Moby Dick, but this clashed with another production of Herman Melville’s novel by SpyMonkey, and so Brace returned to his idea about making something based on The Four Stages. He was particularly keen to develop it with simple8.  Founded in 2004, the company had already staged two previous shows at the Arcola, Les Enfants du Paradis and wrote The Living Unknown Soldier and, Brace says, “they had a style that’s very close to a style I have a kind of passion for. It’s not a set style, but there’s obviously a simplicity there: ensemble playing with not much to create quite a lot.”

Armesto puts it more succinctly: “something done with nothing. I don’t like waste.” As a company, simple8 have, if not an agenda, then clear ideas about the need for sustainability. The Living Unknown Soldier was “London’s first ecologically sustainable theatre production,” something Armesto and simple8’s Dudley Hinton expanded on in a recent piece for The Guardian but, to Armesto in particular, it’s more about the artistic principles involved. “The tenets of sustainability are essentially: reuse, recycle and don’t waste. This is not just for costumes, props, lighting and water usage but artistically; those are tenants I sign up to wholeheartedly. That said company members are very scrupulous about sustainability and encouraging other people to do it. We believe that both aesthetically and on a social level it’s a good thing to do.”

The Four Stages of Cruelty is at the Arcola Theatre from 24th May until 24th June 2011. For tickets and further information, visit: Arcola Theatre


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Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

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