After a site-specific lockdown run at south London’s tiny Calder Bookshop, Feathers, Gutter Street’s new play about war, patriotism and propaganda, transfers to north London’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre from 21 to 25 September 2021. We caught up with writer/director Leo Flanagan about the play and Gutter Street’s unique approach to creating characters and making theatre.
Leo is also an actor, known for his roles in Waterloo Road, Doctor Who and Irvine Welsh’s 2021 biopic Creation Stories, in which he played the music mogul Alan McGee. In 2018, Leo co-founded Gutter Street. The company creates stories that are all set in an interconnected theatrical world. It also produces Camden’s monthly new writing show, Gutter Street Nights.
What exactly is Gutter Street?
We like to call ourselves a theatre company and artist collective. We try to create our plays with the community of creatives we meet through our new writing evening, Gutter Street Nights. All our plays take place in the same fictional gritty little world, and by setting our stories there, it gives us a freedom to create our own myths that build that world.
The idea really came from the rehearsal process of our first play Nowhere Orange. That play was set in a pub at the end of a road at the end of the world, and we felt that’s as good a starting-off place as any to build a world from!
Tell us about some of the previous exploits of the Gutter Street residents.
We had Renford, Berniston and Sam in Nowhere Orange. Writers trapped in a pub at the end of the world, desperately trying to find a pen. We also followed Tudor in our play The Long Now, a clockmaker who was trying to fix a 10,000-year-old clock with pieces of junk. The Rockstar from High Riser, trying to piece his life together through the pages of his ghost-written biography. And now we find ourselves back with Kaleb, Cecily and Haines and their story with Feathers.
What was the inspiration for Feathers specifically?
A few years ago, I was spending a lot of time visiting the Imperial War Museum and reading up on the wars at the start of the century. I suppose the play started to form then. I wanted to see what the Gutter Street world’s propaganda would look like, what would they be fighting for and what conspiracy theories would be floating around.
How difficult was it putting together the show’s first run during lockdown?
It was tricky. Our first readthrough was in March 2020, about two weeks before the first lockdown, which then set the tone for the rest of the process! We pushed back our dates a few times with The Calder Bookshop, we had a couple of Zoom meet-ups, but when the theatres could open for a very slim period of time in August/September last year, we wanted to make a go of it.
NEW TRAILER ALERT
Check out our new trailer for our play Feathers!
When two siblings are drafted into a war they don’t believe in they must choose to fight for a possibly fictitious cause or go on the run from the all seeing state.
— Gutter Street (@GutterStreet) September 7, 2021
I think we could only have around 12 people in the audience each night so they could socially distance. The rehearsals were lovely, but we all also had a feeling that the whole thing could be pulled last-minute. It was different, and you kind of felt like you were walking in the dark. But it’s an experience that, looking back at it now, we all really treasure.
What were the highlights from those bookshop dates?
The shows themselves were lovely slices of time. The whole of The Cut was dark – the only light spilling out was from the little Calder Bookshop. Our audiences came in one by one through the bookshop to the hidden theatre in the back, and it felt in keeping with the play itself. It felt like we’d achieved one small win.
Having staged Feathers in a bookshop, why did you want to bring it to a more traditional theatrical venue now?
We wanted to give the play and the cast the opportunity to perform to a slightly bigger audience. It was something we kept saying throughout the last rehearsal process that, at some point, we’d be back. And when we pitched the show to David Brady at the Lion and Unicorn, he very kindly offered us space in his beautiful venue.
You both write and direct. Any difficult swapping hats? Were you tempted to act in the show as well?
I feel quite comfortable letting go of the writing once we’re in the room. If something’s not working and it’s down to the writing, I’m very happy to change it, cut it, throw something new in there. Like I said before, we like to create the plays with our community, it’s the actors’ play as much as it’s mine. I had no temptation to jump in and act myself, I really like keeping my acting career separate and use Gutter Street to hone my writing.
What would you like audiences to take away from the experience?
I would really like audiences to leave the venue with different opinions as to what’s going on in Feathers. The world that Kaleb, Cecily and Haines live in is even more divided than ours is!
We all have our allegiances and will be more inclined to favour one side. Hopefully, they walk away with a slightly different view on the character they sided with at the start. But it’s not all big questions! There are a lot of jokes thrown in and there are some very good comedic performances from the actors so they should have a laugh as well!
What are your future plans for Gutter Street?
We’re back up and running with our monthly new writing night of music, monologues and spoken word at Green Note in Camden. So we’re going to be working on them each month to see the year out. We have three plays in development, written by three members of our Gutter Street community, which will be the first time we fully hand the stories over to them. That is very exciting.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If people have liked what they’ve read here, then come and say hello! Either at the Lion and Unicorn for Feathers or at Green Note every month. We always love meeting new creatives and welcoming them into the Gutter Street community!
Feathers runs from 21 to 25 September 2021 at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, 44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, London NW5 2ED, with performances (75 minutes) Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £13 (£11 concessions).