‘Everyone’s going through something’: Interview with Paper Creatures about new play Section 2

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Last year, Paper Creatures made their debut at Camden Fringe with Tom Hartwell’s Flood, garnering a host of four- and five-star reviews. They are making their return as part of The Bunker Theatre’s Breaking Out season this summer, bringing new drama Section 2 to the stage.

Cam is the Golden-Boy. He likes fruit, rugby, and dogs.
He’s also just been sectioned. And no-one knows why.

Many deem the thought of losing our minds unfathomable, but what happens when it strikes close to home? At its heart, this is a play that shines a light on the desperate and determined measures taken to reconnect with someone on the road to recovery.

I met with Jon Tozzi (Paper Creatures Theatre co-founder) and Peter Imms (Section 2 playwright) to see how things have been going since last summer.

JT: I think I speak on behalf of me and Nathan [Coenen, Paper Creatures co-founder] when I say it was the most incredible experience and we definitely caught the bug. We got a sell-out run, really lovely reviews; there’s life in this beast. And we were just very keen to get on with the next one. We’ve learnt so much which we’re now putting into place for this one, which is lovely. It was an incredible experience – the stress was all worth it! It was a stressful thing; you worry (especially with fringe theatre): are you going to put bums on seats? Is it going to be able to portray the message you want? Will the audience get much out of it? And it proved that it did, so it went very well!

PI: The bums on seats thing is a scary one, because it’s so competitive, especially with fringe – so you did so well.

JT: Especially because there’s so many companies out there. Nathan and I always say, there’s never too many stories, there’s never too many voices, there’s always a story that needs to be told. And that is a daunting prospect. But we had a lot of support – and, being our first show, yes we had a lot of friends and family in, but also now we’re hoping as we grow we’ll get new audiences. I was in a beer garden in Shoreditch one evening, and this guy just came up to me and went, “Were you in Flood? I came to see your show, it was amazing.” So then I asked, “So who do you know in the company?” And he said, “No, just a friend of mine saw it and they said it looked pretty cool, so we thought we’d come along.” And I thought, “OK, so our job is done.” That means we at least had two people throughout that run that didn’t know us before, but know us now. Onwards and upwards!

Photo credit: Headshot Toby

So since then you’ve been doing a lot of R&D for the next production – what did you get up to?

PI: It’s been great. From the off, how Paper Creatures work, it’s very collaborative. They don’t just put on a script that you send them, you will develop it together. So I sent Jon & Nathan 10 pages and then an idea, or a synopsis of an idea. From that, since September, we’ve been working collaboratively with Georgie (Staight, director), who was on board from very early on, and it’s just been gaining and gaining team members over the months, really.

JT: We were very keen on getting Georgie back on board because we just thought, with the sensitivity of this matter and having worked with her before, and knowing how beautifully she works in the rehearsal room, and having experienced our process as a company, we’d like to have her back again. She said yes, which was fantastic. And we are over the moon to have her again.

PI: So it initially started off with just a meeting of us in the trusty Chandos! You saying, “So what is it?” And me not really knowing, and saying, “Well, I think it’s probably this…” I went away and did a first draft, then the read came, and then it completely changed!

JT: So yeah, I must point out how gutsy this writer is. We did a first ever read of it: four actors, Peter and Georgie, and there was a part of the script that was like a big plot twist that was fantastic to read, and it made you gasp, and that was fantastic… But it didn’t feel like it served the play. So we talked about that at the end. Two weeks later, he just writes a whole new thing!

PI: I didn’t realise it at the time, but I did rewrite the whole thing! Looking back now, it’s been quite a journey so far, before it’s even been in rehearsals. But the best thing about it has been the collaboration, because you’ve all got your individual things, but everyone is working together so passionately. Everyone’s a soundboard. And the R&D, as you mentioned, was one of the best things, full stop.

JT: We went away to Wittering, which was lovely, by the seaside, and it was a nice way to just clear our heads and go for little beach walks and then come back and do some work, or some movement. We’ve got a movement director on board so it’s going to have some really lovely movement pieces to it. Yeah, it was a great… If I could get paid to do R&Ds for the rest of my life, I think that would be the dream!

Peter Imms
Photo credit: Paper Creatures

Can you tell me a little bit about the play?

PI: I’ll try and keep it spoiler-free! It’s a real-time play, and it follows Cam, who has been sectioned, and it takes place on the actual ward. And it explores, firstly in a kind of educational sense, what that actually means ‘to be sectioned’, because I think to many people, myself included, it was kind of an alien subject. But also it examines how it affects everybody, and the coping mechanisms they put into place when something that drastic happens. So it’s a very intimate and intense look at mental health. But specifically being sectioned, and the sort of unknown element that can come with that. In the play it isn’t known why he’s been sectioned, and so that’s something that is explored.

JT: And what’s great is you have the other characters. Obviously you have Cam, who’s been sectioned, but you have three other characters in the play who have all come in at different points of this experience of his. It’s a decisive day; this is the day that they decide whether he stays on, or whether he can go back home. And you have a friend who comes in on that final day, who’s not experienced his 28 days prior, his girlfriend who’s been there for 28 days, then you’ve got a key worker who’s been working with him just for these 28 days and hasn’t known him prior to this. So everyone’s got their own really defined journeys throughout the play, and their own personal experiences to Cam. Pete’s really great at writing just raw humanity; I think that’s one thing you’re great at as a writer, is that it’s just a really raw play. And it comes from the gut and it comes from somewhere very much at the core, and that’s what, as a cast, we’re really excited about cracking on with. And through rehearsals and R&Ds we’ve really found that.

PI: It’s a play about the desperate measures that people find themselves taking, as well, when they find themselves catapulted into such an unknown and drastic situation. I mean, when you’re forced to cope with something so bad, it’s one of those things that you’ll always think it’ll never happen to you, and when it does, you’re forced to cope with it. And I think all of the characters are in exactly the same position in the play, because they’re all forced to deal with this, and it’s about how different people from different walks and with different contexts behind them carry out that coping.

Photo credit: Headshot Toby

JT: It’s very different to Flood! That’s something we’re always very keen to do as well is that no project’s going to be the same for us, it’s always going to be always very different. And that’s what really stood out to us, was that this had come from a place of an experience that you’d encountered, and that’s where some of the best writing comes from. Write what you know, isn’t it? Write what you know and write what you’ve experienced. I think the audience will feel like flies on the wall. That’s what it should feel like.

PI: I do feel like it is very intimate, and The Bunker especially lends to that very well. A very intimate feel, very voyeuristic…

JT: You’re on top of them in The Bunker, it’s almost like a pit, isn’t it? The stage is down there and the audience are kind of encroaching, which is really exciting for this piece. Really exciting. And this play’s very important, I think. Everyone’s going through something. And especially in London, I mean, that’s another thing. City life is so draining; it’s hard living in London. Wouldn’t change it for the world, because it’s the most amazing city, but everyone’s going to face their hurdles and their obstacles. But that’s what this play hopefully will do. Just give more of an understanding as to what it’s like, and hopefully audiences will be able to empathise, sympathise with it, and connect in some way. The amount of people, when we said we were doing this play, who have said they know someone who’s been sectioned is overwhelming. They don’t talk about it. We’ve given them, almost, permission by saying we’re doing this play that they can start having that dialogue. But it happens to so many people; it’s risen by 2% since last year – that’s an extra 45,000 cases, so it’s on the rise, and so that’s why we need to talk.

PI: And we are as well, there’s going to be post-show talks.

JT: Yeah, that was one thing we were very keen about doing, is that we can’t let this show just finish. So we’ve got two post-show talks that are happening throughout the run, and they’ll be confirmed at a later date, but we’ve got people involved to be a part of those. You can’t not have an outreach element to this; it’s such an important talking point and important theme – we’re very keen to do that. And that’s why, hopefully, the play will have longer life. We’re looking forward to you seeing it, actually. It’s going to be a good one.

And I’m looking forward to seeing it!

JT: Like I say, it’s very different to our last piece. We have our millennial thing; we want to break those stereotypes. We millennials do feel, and we have more depth to us than just sitting on our iPhone scrolling through Snapchat and Facebook, or whatever. So I think this play definitely does that.

Section 2 is at The Bunker Theatre from 11 June-7 July 2018 (Tuesdays and Fridays @ 8.30pm). Tickets are available online or from the box office. The Creature Quiz fundraiser is this Sunday (15 April) at 3.30pm.


Tags:BREAKING OUT, Flood, Georgie Staight, interview, Jon Tozzi, London, Off West End, Paper Creatures, Peter Imms, preview, Section 2, The Bunker, The Bunker Theatre, The Creature Quiz, theatre, Tom HartwellCategories:all posts, interview, preview, theatre

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Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on RssDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

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