Features Q&A and Interviews Published 23 March 2013

You Need Me

On making storytelling theatre with an international flavour.

Lauren Mooney

You Need Me is an international company, with Basque, Catalan and British members, who make evocative, emotionally layered storytelling theatre. In 2008, their first show, How It Ended – a love story set in the years after World War II – sold out its Edinburgh Fringe run and was nominated for awards from both Total Theatre and The Stage. In 2009 they made Certain Dark Things, inspired by Franco’s attempt to suppress the Basque culture. Their third show, Death Song, was set in the 1980s and told the story of a Mexican man on death row. Certain Dark Things is about to receive its London premiere at the New Diorama.

The company met at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA), which company director Emily Watson Howes describes as “a sort of wonderful, mad place run by Thomas Prattki who used to run the Lecoq school in Paris. It’s a very international physical theatre training, with artists from all over the world who want to write and create their own work. When I first encountered the school I thought it would be very pretentious – It’s actually totally down to earth and one of the warmest, most exciting places I’ve been lucky enough to come across.”

“I had no real intention of forming a company when I left, but we developed the very beginnings of our first show, How It Ended, when we left, as a graduation project. Slowly, with everyone working for free one or two days a week, we developed it into a proper show, and the company ended up being formed backwards, without a real plan of action, mostly as a response to the fact that everyone loved the show so much.”

The play was based on the life of Emily Watson Howes’ grandmother. “I actually knew very little about it as my mother had always kept some of it hidden from me. I have always known she was adopted because of the failed marriage, and wanted to explore the idea of how a wartime romance could exist, or stop existing, once war itself ended. But I didn’t know how the story ended – and didn’t find out until my mother came to watch the ironically titled How It Ended on the first run it ever had. I didn’t realise we’d come very close to the truth without realising it – Lillian ended up in a mental hospital for the rest of her life, as no one knew how to treat her postnatal depression and it spiralled out of control. It was an amazing moment to finally hear the whole truth after the strangely emotional experience of my mother watching the show. I wasn’t sure how she’d react but she was very supportive and I think quite moved.

How, and why, did you decide you wanted to tell this story on stage?

A lot of the LISPA training is about the simplicity of creating theatre – it really is about locating what you want to say, not necessarily intellectually, but finding the stories you’re connected with on an emotional, instinctive level. So I think it was inevitable I might start to explore it.

What impact do you think that personal connection had on the development of the company?

It did affect the forming of the company to have worked on such emotional subject matter. We have always had a very intense relationship as a company partly because of having worked together to create something really personal.

Certain Dark Things is a story that is very close to the hearts of our Basque and Catalan actors, tying in with personal family history, experiences and memories, and it felt right as a second piece to explore those deep seated stories next. We all went to the Basque country to develop the piece, and it was that visit that gave me the idea for the second half – a colder, rainier, bleaker story where the effects of dictatorship have hardened into scars.

How do you incorporate music into your work?

The live music in our shows is always created at the same time as the story. Sometimes, at a very early moment, a particular instrument actually defines the whole quality of the show we are making. The musician/s are always in the rehearsal room from the earliest point, creating the story with us, and giving their own opinion on character development – it’s a really joint process with everyone in the room part of the discussion on every creative element in the show. I really love working like that – we don’t even divide the rehearsal schedule into particular scenes at particular times. We’re all in it together owning and creating all of it. It’s intense but great!

Certain Dark Things. Photo: Pete Le May

Certain Dark Things. Photo: Pete Le May

The title for Certain Dark Things comes from a Pablo Neruda poem, which made me want to ask about the other influences on your work 

Influences on the company probably differ quite a lot depending on who you ask, as we’re a very diverse bunch with backgrounds in everything from circus to veterinary medicine! Personally a massive turning point for me theatrically was watching New International Encounter’s Past Half Remembered at Edinburgh. Everything just suddenly made sense – it was warm, witty, beautiful theatre with life at its centre, never boring and always playful. I knew straight away the sort of work I wanted to make. I think in terms of non-theatrical influences, I have worked a lot in comedy and am married to a comedian, so the directness of comedy was quite interesting – no messing about, just getting up on stage and allowing the audience experience to dictate what you offer. There’s an immediacy that’s exciting – no intellectualism for its own sake. Apart from that, we hopefully find influences anywhere and everywhere.

What are you currently working on?

I am at Salisbury Playhouse for a year on the RTYDS directors’ bursary, which has meant a brief hiatus in the company in terms of creating new shows. I finish in October, and so we are just beginning conversations about how and what to create next. There are a few ideas rolling around, and several very cool theatres are interested in supporting them, so it feels potentially very exciting for the company. It does feel like things go in threes, so I don’t know what sort of piece we’d be making next – it might be something completely different, but for me it will always be hard to leave behind the intense stories I love uncovering with the company and the power of total simplicity in telling them.

Certain Dark Things is at the New Diorama from 26th -30th March 2013. For tickets visit the venue website.

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Lauren Mooney

Lauren Mooney is a writer, producer and arts administrator based in London. As well as writing for Exeunt and The Stage, Lauren works at Clean Break and is the writer-producer for Kandinsky.