Features Essays Published 19 March 2012

Two plays, one production

Tom Latter is Artistic Director of Sheer Drop Theatre, a new writing company based in London.
Tom Latter

The mixture of new and experienced does not stop at the writers. Our whole production team is made up of people from all stages of life and career: from Robert Gill, a child actor in the 1960s who is now in the fifth decade of his career, to Tia Bannon, a 19-year-old currently applying for drama school. Lighting designer Miles Fisher left school only last year, while in sound (Ed Lewis) and set/costume (Moi Tran), we have two designers who between them have worked in over 50 theatres up and down the country.

Good-natured rivalry. Photo: Francesca Reidy

Bringing all these wonderful people together under one rehearsal roof has been a highlight of the production so far. The two casts shared tea and lunch breaks (not to mention bits of set) and developed a supportive atmosphere with an undercurrent of good-natured rivalry that made our rehearsal space in Hoxton a lively and enjoyable place to work. The biggest challenge has probably been for the stage managers (Hatty Hay and Gillian Tan) and design team. Designer Moi Tran began by considering each play individually, before examining what they had in common, in order to create a skeletal space that works as a canvas on top of which each individual world could be built. “I think what has been the biggest challenge on this project has also become what has been most rewarding. Having the opportunity to able to design set and costume for two very good pieces of new writing in the same space has been a privilege and a great reward for me”, she says. She and her team have certainly done a great job incorporating the ideas of two directors so that two distinctly different plays can share one set.

A Lady of Substance, directed by Sam German, tells the story of a chance meeting between Cassandra (Joyce Greenaway), a grief-stricken performance poet, and Jasmin (Tia Bannon), a teenage runaway wannabe-rapper. The play has a sumptuous lyrical style that grabbed me straight away. Allied with Jon’s innate humour and thoughtfulness, the play is subtle yet powerful, as the best poetry can be. It is this bold use of language that links the two plays and is why presenting them together feels right, even though they were created entirely independently. The Death of Norman Tortilla (which I direct) is full of memorable turns of phrase and quotable, often hilarious lines, which perhaps belie the seriousness of the subject matter and the depth of thought in the play. The eponymous Norman (Robert Gill) is both engaging and difficult company as he tries to persuade his Polish careworker (Nicholas Ruben) and a feisty door-to-door saleswoman (Morag Sims) to record his final testament to the world before a Newsnight-worthy death.

Opening the two plays back-to-back does add an extra thrill to the proceedings this coming week. But the essence of the project is new writing and supporting two writers whose skill and potential makes our work as a theatre company worthwhile. We want to tell stories that boldly aim to tickle the ribs, stimulate the minds and tap at the hearts of our audience. Which wouldn’t make sense without an audience – so come along for the ride!

The Death of Norman Tortilla and A Lady of Substance are playing at Tristan Bates Theatre until April 14th. For further details and tickets, visit the website. Tickets for both shows are available for £20 when booked over the phone on 020 7240 6283.


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