You’d be forgiven for thinking there were a whole cluster of Stephanie Kempsons working and creating in Bristol. Stephanie appears in various guises as if by magic at Bristol Old Vic, The Wardrobe, all over Mayfest and beyond. We met officially after a series of bumping into each other in various theatres.
For this interview we met to discuss the process of directing Score recently at The Wardrobe. The show is heading down to London on Friday get tickets while you still can. Score – written by Lucy Bell, is a bravely authentic ‘in your face’ piece of theatre, inspired by real-life accounts of parents using Bournemouth’s drug treatment service. Lucy, Stephanie and the actresses (Lara and Kathleen) were brought together by Bristol Old Vic and worked together as a team to develop the script.
Photo credit – Photo from Score by Kitty Wheeler Shaw
The team originally worked together on a project for the ‘Open Sessions’ at Bristol Old Vic. Sharon Clarke brought them together to work on Lucy’s script ‘The Full Term’ and they discovered magic in their relationship. The perfect mix of love and tension that produces real gems.
As part of the process for gathering material for Score the company went to meet women who had real life experiences of drug and alcohol addiction. They were inspired by the resilience of the amazing women they met. The women were talented, courageous and hidden in a system that was failing to meet their needs. Lucy Bell came away from the experience and wrote three plays, she went on to invite Stephanie to choose one of them to direct and the beginning of Score was born. As a director Stephanie told me, ‘The points of the play that were most exciting to work on were the transitions between time and characters. Indeed those points were skilfully handled in the stage show.
Developing Score has been an ongoing process, it kept changing right up until October and started touring in Jan 16. It was performed to social workers at conferences and for a lot of people with lived experience. There was so much amazing feedback from the early performances – the company were able to gain confidence in their decisions and know that audiences genuinely connected to the show. Throughout the early performances character development and improvisation techniques fed into back story and the script. Lucy kept a tight hold on the script overall but there was an open dialogue between director and performers about what needed to be developed and changed. Everyone felt they had shared ownership of the piece.’
Stephanie is well versed in the process of writing and devising and is ‘used to that kind of process. I would find it hard to simply work on a finished script where there was no room for play or development.’
Look out for Stephanie’s latest projects – in true spirit, reflecting her passion, drive and lust for life – she is in multiple places at once! Her writing is featured as part of the Mayfest radio programme, Sharp Teeth stories at The Wardrobe theatre and of course the truly impressive Score heading down to London this week.
Score is a bravely authentic ‘in your face’ piece of theatre, inspired by real-life accounts of parents using Bournemouth’s drug treatment service.
Photo credit – Photo from Score by Kitty Wheeler Shaw
When entering The Wardrobe Theatre, the stage was littered with the paraphernalia of children’s play – dusted with the ambience of dirty chaos. In the centre of the stage the two performers sat, seemingly nervous and mistrustful of the audience as they filled up the seats. Yet as soon as the play began the characters Hannah (Kathleen Fitzpatrick Milton) and Kirsty (Lara Simpson) commanded the theatre revealing the masters that they are.
Score is a beautifully poignant illustration of enduring friendship, trudging through self-destruction and back to recovery repeatedly.
Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride. One minute I was giggling to myself at the childhood rapture of a fantasy world, the next I was literally crossing my legs as we were taken on a journey of seamless transition from child, to mother in labour in a heartbeat. Kathleen’s emotional shifts while singing ‘Never Ever’ by the All Saints, through gritted teeth as her baby was being born was truly genius. I challenge any woman who has given birth not to clench their thighs together through that performance.
The stage is cleverly planted with a few well-placed props that enable Hannah and Kirsty to change scenes and characters effortlessly. All that’s needed to take the story to starkly different time and place are minimal sound effects and light changes.
Every Time Kathleen and Kirsty sang acapella, goose bumps scattered over my skin and the blood in my veins raced a little faster. Their voices infiltrated every tiny particle of the theatre and permeated the pores of each and every audience member. Each word of Lucy Bell’s script carries weight, no time is wasted in this hour long performance. The juxtaposition of comedy and gut wrenching sadness keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s rare to witness such finely crafted theatre, both the writing and performances were a masterpiece in craft.
Go and see it at the Wardrobe before it’s gone.
Score runs at The Wardrobe Theatre until 23rd April
Dismaland has created a media tornado travelling across the UK, sucking up all in it’s path and delivering them far from home, to a land of make believe. Except it’s not, not really. The media hype surrounding Dismaland has sucked me in and created a desire for a ticket but it has not delivered me far from home – not at all. Do I want to go and witness the art works that have actualised some of the great truths, hidden behind the lies of our media machine? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to go enough to queue for hours on end, to feast my greedy eyes on the real life reflected back at me, in a twisted truth called reality? Let me think… The part of the exhibit that has made the biggest impression is the boats with refuges inside. Yes I know there are refuges in Calais, hundreds of them, with not enough clothes, food or dignity to go around yes I realise most of these people will wait days, months, sometimes years to get to a place where they can start to re-build their lives. Do I want to go and spent a pound to drive an artists impression of these people around back and forth across a small dirty pond? Or should I donate that money to the people who don’t actually have enough food tonight?
The Dismaland staff who quite rightly look dismal, don’t make me smile or applaud the satire streaked over their attire. It makes me want to march for minimum wage to rise now, not in six years time.
Pixelated princess does please me, to see distortion in the packaged beauty pumped out from Disney – a glitch in the mask of perfection – allows me to breathe a little more freely.
Don’t get me wrong, Dismaland is genius, choosing to bring Weston Super Mare a much needed tourism boost is a gift. Choosing to deposit real life un-censored real life observations in a theme park setting – spot on. As the rise in ‘haves’ spending money on escapism, while the ‘have not’s’ desperately try to dig their way out – it’s reassuring to me that truth is represented through art. In some small way the world is unfolding as it must and in times of great need artists become vital and socially essential, to document what is happening and stop our history from disappearing. To witness the thoughts on our streets, directly below the media out-pourings – there are getting fewer places to hide.
As I walk though Bristol City centre to work there are more people sleeping rough, more people hungry. Last week I caught myself hurrying by a woman, as she lay on the pavement, red-eyed, wild haired, colouring the air blue with her abuse aimed towards the world. I picked out the words ‘give some bread, just give me some bread’ as she threw a can of opened cider down the road. A small place inside my body, must have been my heart opened up , as I saw beneath her mask of anger to her hungry despair. I shared my lunch with her, wasn’t much but she thanked me, until I was out of site. I hurried on my way to work, having passed by the man who snored loudly in the Bear Pit, face pressed against concrete on the floor in the tunnel; the woman I mistook for a pile of rubbish, until I saw her move; the man who had just left hospital, tubes still in his hand, wanting money for dinner; the man who.. and the woman that… and the child that had nothing…. and I thought…
I thought, yes I would love to go and feast my hungry eyes, fill my belly with voyeuristic plenty, by immersing myself in the genius inspiration of Dismaland. However if I do make it there and even if I don’t I will offset my time by immersing myself in the real life of my home town – Bansky’s home town and make the time to share more than just my lunch, as I hurry on by to my way to work.
I’ve just joined Acorn communities, to volunteer my time and skills. They have been invited by Banksy to spread the word about building community and ‘doing something about it’. Join in!
I go to a gym, nothing wrong with that right? I have got to that age where frankly if I don’t exercise the many years of drinking and body abuse I have indulged in, starts to show. There were many obstacles for me to overcome before I could go regularly to a gym, the obvious being body image. I never, NEVER, expected that I would voluntarily go to a place to exercise.
Home is a place where I navigate un-chartered territory, hiding from my darkest dusty corners and celebrating my sparkliest eye catching glitters. It’s the place where I can safely go into my chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly, before sharing that self with the rest of the world. My home is an ocean that creates its own storms, and provides me with the calmest waters, from which to drink deep. All this is contained between my four walls, a seemingly ordinary place, in an unremarkable street. If you zoomed out on Google earth, my home is lost on the second click, gobbled up by bigger spaces or taller buildings. Just gone.