ENGLISH & AMERICANS TEAM UP FOR REVOLUTIONARY WAR PLAY
New play debuts at The Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham
“Rebels! Turn out your dead!”
During the American Revolutionary War, the British set up prison ships in various harbors along the East Coast. Conditions were grave and a sentence to the ship was, in reality, a sentence to death. Each day began with the call from English soldiers for the rebels imprisoned down below, to locate and pass their dead to the deck of the ship.
This is the setting for the new play by American playwright, Lisa Sillaway, which debuts at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham, 8-12 November. The play, Unanchored, takes place in a cell on one of these prison ships.
“It was horrific,” says playwright Sillaway, “illness, small pox, and madness rampaged on these ships. But the premise that hope, friendship, loyalty and even love could flourish in such a setting – well, it was just too tempting for me as a writer.”
And a prison cell is small, just like a stage at one of London’s iconic pub theatres – a type of venue that Sillaway, inspired by work seen at the Finborough Theatre, had dreamed of early in her playwriting career. It was an ideal space and Sillaway, who had a rehearsed reading in Camden at Hen & Chickens Theatre last summer, had some of those English actors already serving as her muses from a distance. Soon, a script was complete and the venue secured. Now, both American and English actors and theatremakers have come together to tell a story from when our nations were at war.
During the American Revolutionary War, average citizens passed gossip, listened for rumors and essentially became spies in George Washington’s massive intelligence network. One woman found her own unique circumstances allowed her to do even more than eavesdrop on British soldiers who invaded her hometown. After all, being a young woman suffering from leprosy had the unexpected benefit of making her both untouchable and invisible – and able to cross enemy lines with relative ease. Until she got caught, that is, and promptly placed in one of the notorious English prison ships in Charleston Harbor. There, she is guarded by a pacifist nobleman’s son who has been banished from the battlefield and tended by an outspoken slave and nurse who tries to ease her leprosy. The tiny, damp cells were generally reserved for those destined to die a miserable death – but she instead finds herself in a tempting conundrum presented by her two keepers. Her option: die or agree to betray the land of her birth and turn spy on Washington and his men.
The script, completed late this summer, is already beginning to gain some notice. It was selected as a finalist for the 2016 Fall Edition of the Stage It Live! ATL Playwright’s Audience Choice Competition at Mark SQuared Studios Orange Box Theater just last month.
And they aren’t the only ones who love this new drama. Katherine Rodden, Oxford School of Drama graduate and popular London actress, was thrilled to discover that Sillaway had writte the leading role of Leper specifically for her.
“I was drawn to the play entirely based on Lisa’s previous work. Having worked with her on a rehearsed reading of her incredible play blank last year, I said very openly that if she should ever want to work with me again – I would be there in a flash,” said Rodden. “Having read the play, I’m incredibly pleased to be involved. It’s a beautifully told story with some simply stunning pieces of dialogue. The character I will be playing is written very clearly, flawed, kind and caustic.”
Another character in Unanchored, the Captain, was inspired by David Mattless. Mattless also participated in the London reading of blank in 2015, when the muscular, 6-foot, 5-inch actor, convincingly read the role of a traumatised, teen-aged boy. Mattless was a member of the theatrical cult ‘80s band, Blakk Dahlia and honed his acting skills at the London Centre for Theatre Studies and Identity Drama School. He has recently appeared in the BBC police drama Walter. Audiences will most likely recognize his voice from Radio One, or as the popular character `Dave the Cabby` from the Vernon Kay Show.
Mattless said he was deeply moved by Unanchored., saying of the American playwright “I know her writing to be pure gold.”
Aside from the American playwright, the properties master Louise Brinegar is making the trip across the pond to help out with the production. And American actress, Deidre Garcia, who currently lives and works in London, is on-board to take on the role of Nurse. A solicitor, Garcia also honed her craft at the Identity School of Acting in London and now appears in theatre, short films, and also does voiceover work for American corporate clients. And Brit Lisa Morgan, who works at the BBC alongside Mattless, is helping out as production manager.
Another member of the American team is musician, Emily Strom, whose modern musical prelude sets the mood for the historical show. Classically trained as a young child, the former Miss Kansas and Miss America contestant switched over to jazz upon entering college. The music and lyrics are timeless and therefore a lovely addition to the production, said Sillaway.
The Guinea Pig Lab is a small group dedicated to Kansas writers, located in the state’s largest metro area, Wichita. Focused on new work, the theatre company strives to find, produce and promote Kansas-based playwrights with readings and full productions in the state and by taking shows outside the state lines. Dan Bacalzo, PhD serves as dramaturg for the group which was founded by Sillaway, who also serves as managing director. Since its founding in November 2014, the theatre has held three contests, hosted a Playwrights Day, held rehearsed readings for a half-dozen playwrights and staged one full production – which earned the theatre a Mary Jane Teall Award for Wichita theatre excellence.
The play runs at 7.30 pm nightly, Tuesday 8th to Saturday 12th November at the Bread & Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor St, London SW4 6DZ. Tickets are available at the theatre box office or via breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/unanchored.