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Features Published 7 August 2017

Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here

A performative preview: the members of Barrel Organ explore debt, friendship and grief ahead of their new Edinburgh Fringe show.
Dan Hutton
Barrel Organ perform 'Anyone's Guess How We Got Here'

Barrel Organ perform ‘Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here’. Photo: Joe Twigg

A writer enters the stage, and talks directly to us.

I wanted to write a show about debt. Owing money, getting by on credit. How debt puts a limit on potential, and orders our time. About the experience of debt. How we can share a street or a postcode, but live in entirely different worlds.

That’s where it started. With those ideas, those feelings.

Two women are driving to a funeral. They pass through the town one of them grew up in. They make a detour to visit her childhood home. She goes inside, to deal with her past. Inside the house, setting and character become muddled. Modes of performance rub into each other. Until she, we, make our way out the other side. Back into the car. And drive on.

Debt isn’t finished when it’s paid off, it carries on affecting us long after it’s been cleared.

A director enters the stage. Maybe the director has two heads.

The decision to make this show occurred on 24th June 2016. We’d spent two weeks playing with ideas, creating education packs, and generally doing some thinking about the company, all to the backdrop of the upcoming EU referendum. I remember sitting around a table in Slung Low’s HUB as that BREAKING POINT poster was unveiled, and having lunch at Leeds market as news of Jo Cox’s murder broke. During that fortnight, we did the dance to Revolting Children from Matilda, tried to do an unrehearsed production of Troilus and Cressida and made a long list of ideas for imagined durational performances.

Travelling into work on the morning of the 24th was weird. It was a beautiful day but we found it hard talk to each other. We then spent the whole morning scrolling through Twitter, dazed, confused, deflated. We looked through some fragments of text and scratch-performances we’d done in the last year, including a short piece Jack had written involving a nightmare with a cast of melting Wonga puppets. On that day, the themes of debt, and what we owe to others, suddenly leapt out at us. It felt like we could tap into something which spoke to now without being too direct.

Anyone's Guess How We Got Here by Barrel Organ

Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here by Barrel Organ

Two performers enter. They play themselves, or versions of themselves.

Rosie: We laugh a lot together in rehearsals. There was one day when we couldn’t get through a scene without laughing. Joe and Dan had the patience of saints – they’ve been a dream team. Our clown uncle and theatre dad (they can decide who’s who)

Bry: hahaha. They really have. And yeah there has been a lot of corpsing… and inevitably will be lots of corpsing throughout the run.

Rosie: There is something about pretending to be in a high stakes situation with a mate which can make me laugh so much. I think laughter is a very important part of the process though, particularly if you’re dealing with heavy material.

Bry: Yeah, so much of the show is tuning in with each other, so if one of us is sad it probably makes the other sad, and if one of us laughs we both piss ourselves. That tuning-in feels important when you’re showing an experience of grief, as the grieving person and as someone who loves a grieving person.

Rosie: yeah, we discovered that a central theme of the show is friendship – emotional indebtedness to one another, as well as financial debt

Bry: Yeah. We want to allow people access to bigger themes through two characters. and hopefully see a truthful friendship playout.

Rosie: but i hate u though?

Bry: #banter. (we’re as hilarious as this on stage)

Rosie: (come and see the show for more jokes). We did a showing quite early on in the process and it was very dry.

Bry: Because the spontaneity, or the liveness wasn’t there at all. It felt a bit stale.

Rosie: to help us free things up we did these things called jams where we have to run the show from start to finish. There’s an amp, a microphone and a laptop for music. And challenges stuck up on the wall on post it notes. E.g. When I had to go buy you something from the shop and incorporate it into the next scene (it was a 2L bottle of Irn Bru). Jams really helped to recapture that sense of spontaneity.

Bry: Yeah just being like, let’s go for it, and FEEL the text and allow things to happen, you can find magic when there’s no pressure of being good or ‘right’ all the time.

Rosie: 100 percent. Not being precious.

Bry: And we want the show to work, not just our performances. Every time we chat to each other it’s about hyping each other up, and being generous with each other and the audience, and remembering that we have a beautiful script

my head is feeling a bit mushy

Rosie: me too

i dont know why

Bry: when you’re half way through a sentence and you’re like wtf am i talking about

oh i’m so excited for you to be here

Rosie: I can’t wait. I’m getting really hyped now

I’m really excited to do the show with you and just go for it

also we are going fuckin OUTTTTTTT

Bry: SAME

like fucking smash it

Rosie: See you in Edin mate xx

'Anyone's Guess How We Got Here' by Barrel Organ

‘Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here’ by Barrel Organ.

The performers leave. The director(s) turn back to us.

In the last couple of months, as we’ve been rehearsing the show, and as the ten-year anniversary of the credit crunch comes around, more stories about debt have been in the news: the growth of personal debt in this country, the total lack of willingness on the part of government to act, after lecturing us for years about the national debt, using it as an excuse to impose austerity.

According to debt charity StepChange there was record demand for debt advice in 2016. 599,026 people contacted them for help during the year. The average UK household debt, including mortgages, was £56,731 in May 2017. Per adult that’s an average of £29,698, which is around 113.2% of average household earnings. 14 properties are repossessed each day.

The systems in place to provide the lending of money are designed to further indebt the ‘user’ of them. Wonga loans are charged with interest rates of over 1000%. The borrower is often forced to take out another loan to pay off their existing one. The cycle continues, spirals, and devours.

This is the context in which we made our show. We didn’t want to make it about the statistics, but what’s behind them. To look at how it stalks and humiliates. How, once you are in the cycle, it’s hard to get out.

The directors leave. The writer is left alone.

It began with debt. And then grief entered the play. Then friendship and care; relationships that are anchors pulling us under, or support ropes that catch us when we fall. It’s performed by two people. They share the responsibility of making the performance happen, and the burden of it.

It’s full of ghosts, weird happenings. Holes through which things, and people, come tumbling out. The Cash Converters buy-back scheme, a family, Robin Hood, an unpaid mortgage, the puppets off the Wonga adverts, an eviction. It’s a form to reflect the lived experience of debt. When memory and nightmare become indistinguishable. The route through  Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here is an emotional one. It’s personal. It’s what feels most apt to tell this story. We hope it’s fun, frightening, tense, sad, challenging, and angry.

The writer leaves.

Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here is on at ZOO Venues from 13th-28th August. Book tickets here.

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Dan Hutton

Dan is a freelance critic and theatre-maker. He won the Howard Hobson Award for Theatre Criticism at NSDF in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 was the runner-up for the Edinburgh Fringe Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism. Dan is also a director and co-runs Barrel Organ Theatre.

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