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On the brink: Sam Jackson's Nick in Brad Birch's dark comedy
On the brink: Sam Jackson's Nick in Brad Birch's dark comedy

NEWLY formed York company Foxglove Theatre aim to "fill the blind spot" of York's theatre scene by producing thought-provoking, dark and contemporary work.

First up after an initial February staging circa St Valentine's Day at University of York DramaSoc will be their debut at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from June 30 to July 2 with Welsh writer Brad Birch's The Brink: a comedy replete with blood, murder and death, sexual imagery and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to post-pubescent adolescents and older teenagers, aged 15 to 19).

Formed by producers Ione Vaughan, 21, and Ivy Magee, 20, and director Nathan Butler, 21, Foxglove's vision is to create and promote thrilling theatre that encourages audiences to engage with live performance as naturally and readily as with their favourite television and streaming platforms.

"Amazing effects and chilling performances are not bound solely to our screens but can be enjoyed to the fullest live on stage as well," reasons production manager and lighting designer Ivy.

"Our company believes in preserving theatre in an age of multi-media, not by binding ourselves to tradition but through adapting the stage alongside the screen."

Cue The Brink, suitably provocative, dark and contemporary, with unsettling time shifts to boot, premiered at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, in June 2016.

History teacher Nick is a normal person, working a normal job, who lives a normal life, but he is stuck in an everlasting cycle of stasis at 27. Caught up in a downward spiral fuelled by dreams and whispers of a bomb buried under the school, he begins to lose control in a play with survival at its heart.

"The Brink is a psychological thriller and dark comedy that's impossible to summarise in just one word," says Ivy. "But if I had to: explosive!"

Why stage The Brink, Nathan? "Thrilling, turbulent, unconventional, it encapsulates everything we want to bring to the York theatre scene," he says. "It's an unwavering dive into dark and prominent subject matter, alien to the established York stage.

"So, if you're a Black Mirror, Love, Death And Robots or simply a psychological thriller fan, this is certainly the play for you. By utilising technology and special effects as additional storytellers, we invite you to celebrate the unique capabilities of contemporary theatre."

You might expect the burgeoning talents of Foxglove Theatre to want to head to this summer's Edinburgh Fringe, but Nathan says: "In my mind, I'd rather do it here York has a good theatre scene rather than taking the 50,000 steps needed to go to the Edinburgh Fringe. Let's take one step: let's play York and our Crowd Funding goals have been reached and exceeded already."

Nathan admires the work of Brad Birch, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter with plays such as Missing People, Black Mountain, Gardening For The Unfulfilled and Alienated, as well as The Brink, to his name.

"I saw The Brink when it premiered at the Orange Tree, when I was part of National Theatre Connections, and I fell in love with it. Then I acted in it in 2018 for the In Yer Face Company, when we took it to Leatherhead Festival, and it was my favourite thing I did with them.

"There's just something about it: it starts off so accessible, you feel you could be watching a TV show or a film - but on stage - where you're in that comfortable space, feeling like you could be having popcorn!

"But then there are these little hints that something isn't right and you start feeling differently about what's going on as Nick's mental health deteriorates. You're thrust into this visceral world where you see someone's descent in front of you."

Nathan is using a cast of four featuring Sam Jackson, 21, as Nick; Zoe Freeman, 21, as girlfriend Chloe/Jessica; Harshavardhini Pareek, 20, as co-worker Jo, and Abel Kent, 22, as head teacher Mr Boyd/Martin.

"There's so much competition for Sam; everyone wants him for DramaSoc shows," says Nathan, "We thought, 'we're not going to get him', but thankfully he said yes. The reason he's so amazing is that my vision for Nick is that 'this could go anywhere', and from the very beginning Sam's portrayal was amazing."

Birch's play will be performed on an end-on set designed by Lily Ball, 21, with costume designs by Emily Youngson, 21, sound design by Kai Tangaki, 22, and stage management by Charlotte Powell, 21.

The running time will be two hours without an interval. No interval, Nathan? "It's a play that gets faster and faster as it goes on. It's very accessible, as I say, and by the end you'll be clinging to your seat, I promise."

Given the amateur status of the company, no-one is being paid, but the Crowd Funding campaign has covered the production costs. "Our long-term goal is that if this goes well, it will only be the start for Foxglove Theatre and I just love York!" says Nathan.

Foxglove Theatre in The Brink, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, June 30 to July 2, 7.30pm. Tickets: £8, general admission; students, £6; Crowd Funding donators, £5. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

By Charles Hutchinson

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