Snowangel: A Manchester Theatre Interview

Fresh Loaf is a name well known by a select group of Manchester’s dramatic in-crowd, once described as ‘the Stone Roses of the Manchester theatre scene’. Or so Ollie Kerswell says, Fresh Loaf member and co-director of their latest play Snowangel. Their debut film Coastal Shelf premiered at the prestigious Cornerhouse theatre, short film ‘Ashes’ came third in The Guardian’s short fllm competition and 2013’s ‘Breathing Corpses’ played a sold-out five day run at the Victoria Baths. Original play Snowangel is their latest project, a fraught, time-travelling journey into love, relationships and one man’s psyche starring Keeley Fitzgerald and Charlie Ryan as Mia and Daniel. I caught up with Ollie, as well as writer Joe McKie and we chatted theatre, Snowangel, and life outside it.

So, play, when’s it running?

14th, 15th and 16th of August

And it’s at the King’s Arms in Salford, have you been there before?

Ollie: yes, many a time, it’s really good actually they’ve just refurbished it and they have three spaces now; the newly opened basement space, a studio space and the main space which is a 60 seater venue, really well kitted out, with wings. We’ll have a full lighting rig.

Joe: The coolest thing is the actual building, it’s a beautiful old pub with stained glass windows, and the guy that owns it is Paul Heaton, you know from the Housemartins. It’s probably the biggest space we’ve performed in?

O: I think so, in terms of theatre, we had a film play at The Cornerhouse, and ‘Ashes’ came second in that Guardian competition

J: Third…

That minute-long Guardian film showed the entire arc of a relationship through snapshots. I see definite parallels between that and your new project; what’s Snowangel all about?

J: Yeah, I do really like being able to get a feel for someone’s whole life and relationship. It’s about a guy who breaks up with his long term girlfriend who he’s known since school, and he’s so devastated by the breakup that he either begins to time travel, or he thinks he can. It’s as a way of him trying to figure out what went wrong and the play is him asking the audience for help in figuring that out.

The script reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Is Vonnegut an influence?

J: Slaughterhouse Five is one of my favourite novels, I really like magical realism, and the supernatural or sci-fi, fantasy elements combined with the everyday. I love the way he writes, it’s really fluid.

And time travel is a great tool, giving a feel for the relationship as a whole. How is that going to work on stage?

O: We want to keep it open; we don’t want the audience to go away knowing he can time travel for certain. It’s not as clear cut as stepping into a Tardis and ending up in whatever year, but equally we don’t want it to seem as though he’s definitely mad.

Is it a struggle for you as a director?

O: We’re going to play around with the lighting, and we’re also thinking of using a leitmotif, a bit of music played whenever time travel occurs, but hopefully it’s going to be clear in the acting. We’ve tried to make sure that they make it very clear when their objectives change, and of course their objectives change significantly when they’re either in another time or thinking about another time.

J: In practical terms, they’re both constantly on stage; when one is talking the other is partially lit, but it’s going to be quite fluid. There are only three or four occasions when they actually interact.

O: We’ll keep it as natural as possible during the dialogue as it’s the only time the audience gets to see an unadulterated version of events, not through the eyes of either Daniel or Mia, or visiting a time in the past.

J: Sound and lighting will definitely play a part, but it’s not going to be cheesy, it’s not going to be a Tardis.

O: It may be a Tardis.

If I turn up and there’s no Tardis I’ll be deeply disappointed. What about the title, Snowangel?

J: The first time they meet they make Snowangels, it’s quite an innocent image and from then on it’s about a loss of innocence; it all goes wrong, and there’s a lot at stake. It’s also the point at which we first see him in the play, either he’s travelled back or it’s in his head, but if he can time travel he’s returning to a safe place after all the shit that he’s been through.

Snowangel is his point of reference…

O: If the whole point of the play is him going back to see why it all went wrong; if it’s all about destruction of innocence then this is him asking to wipe the slate clean and go back to that point.

The play is structured around the relationship between Mia and Dan, but what does the play say about love?

J: Daniel is always questioning ‘am I in control’, of Mia, of the relationship, and even of his own actions. He wants to know if he had a choice in the matter or if it was all predetermined.

I got that, he almost seems carried along by the relationship, often unwillingly.

J: He has an unhealthy attitude toward women in general and there are elements of blame culture…

O: It’s about dependency as well; love is a crutch for both of them. For Daniel it’s a means of maintaining control, because neither of them is happy, but neither one knows what they would do without the other. Daniel needs Mia there in so many ways, he needs to be in control and will do horrible things to maintain that control. By that same token Mia isn’t happy but she needs him despite knowing she would be better off without him.

You mentioned blame culture…

J: there’s no actual rape, but it’s indicative of Daniel’s attitude towards women, he desires Miss Chadwick in particular and he seems to think his desire is courted because of the way she dresses.

O: That’s one of the major themes of the play, when did that attitude to women begin? It started off so innocently, with the snowangels; how did it get to the point at the end of the play? I won’t spoil it…

J: Again it’s a loss of innocence, and his grappling between free will and determinism; was it always going to be this way? He looks over the points in his life in search of some agency, and to a lesser degree it’s about the dangers of that kind of escapism.

We get another pint, and chat a little more about theatre in general, especially whether theatre can be populist. This is something they are both passionate about, and the boys sincerely hope that they can attract a few unfamiliar faces to the Kings Arms next week; although they would never be force people to watch theatre in the name of culture. ‘I’m never going to tell anyone to turn off The X-Factor and go to see a play’ Ollie assures me, but what they are doing is putting on an affordable, quality production in an informal space in the hope this will encourage as many people as possible to come down and check it out. As Joe puts it: ‘It’s not all silence and no sweets… The Kings Arms, and a lot of similar venues, you pay £5, get yourself a pint, and sit upstairs watching some good theatre. It’s a great evening’.

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