'Rust' is an award-winning original musical coming to the ADC Theatre after its critically-acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We woke to the show's writer, HELENA FOX, and director, IZZY COLLIE-COUSINS, about their production.
What is the effect of creating a musical based on realistic subject matter?
Helena: Chiefly, I think it demonstrates the range of the genre. ‘Musical theatre’ often makes people think of grandeur, big dance numbers, and sometimes more frivolous subject matter. Crafting a musical on a naturalistic and realistic basis strips the genre back to showing what music can add to narrative. I have felt that writing from personal experience adds to the authenticity and directness of the narrative; certainly, this was the reaction we received from audience members in Edinburgh.
Being able to tell this story as a musical has meant we’ve focused on making sure Rust works dramatically and visually, too, rather than ending up like a diary read aloud. This mixing of real life and ‘theatrical’ elements has, I think, let us present this challenging subject matter in the most accessibly way possible. Theatre is an undeniably effective way to engage people, which is why it’s ideal for a narrative that aims to be thought-provoking.
As a company, we’ve also discussed a lot how things are often more tangible or it’s easier to self-reflect when something is presented to you at a slight distance, and so a theatre piece has the potential to encourage introspection where something like, say, a speech, might struggle to do so, hence making realistic subject matter and musical theatre a powerful combination.
What conversations about mental health and rehabilitation does your show hope to inspire?
Helena: Rust really seeks to expose the humans – and the relationships between them – behind mental illnesses. There’s a principle in Twelve Step Fellowships (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc.) that talks about ‘looking for the similarities, not the differences’ between yourself and others, and I think this really comes across in the show in terms of the shared experiences characters have had despite being unwell with different things in conventional terms.
As well as this, I want to de-Americanise the view of rehab that has grown up from films and TV shows which have formed part of the British cultural narrative. With Rust, I hope that people will leave with a different view of rehab and perhaps approach depictions of it with a critical mind (I’m thinking, for instance, of the media storm surrounding Ant McPartlin and his time in rehab).
Finally, I sincerely hope that people coming to see the show can leave feeling hopeful. The show does not shy away from the harsh realities of mental illnesses, but ultimately it is also evidential of the tangible possibility of recovery; indeed, I find the last two songs in Rust almost anthemic of this concept.
How do you expect the home run in Cambridge to be different to the performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Izzy: We're lucky to have our original cast and much of our original band and production team joining us in the Cambridge run! However, there will be necessary differences. Most obviously, we're transferring from thrust staging (audience on three sides) to proscenium arch (audience on one side). Not only does this necessitate shifting some of the staging around, it entirely changes the audience's physical relationship with the characters. The audience are likely to feel less physically involved in scenes, particularly the therapy circles, as previously they would be able to see other audience members as well as seeing the characters. Thus, the liminal space between stage and seating was blurred. I'm intrigued to find out whether proscenium arch fosters more of a sense of community within the audience itself as they face onto the action on stage.
I think performing to a student audience will change the atmosphere in the auditorium; I'm excited to see who people relate to most, and which parts of the script get laughs. In some ways the Edinburgh venues feel very anonymous, as if we're spreading this message out amongst strangers in the hopes that this show will resonate with them in ways we couldn't even anticipate. At home - for me at least - it becomes much more personal. I find that amongst friends and peers I'm thinking about which lines I want them most to appreciate, which methods of recovery, which relationships. We've taken on a lot of responsibility by being a late-night show: we're the last thing our audience are going to think about before they go to bed that night. For this reason, it's more important than ever to emphasise that this is a show about recovery: this is a show about pulling yourself up from rock bottom, and that's something everyone can do and can get help to do.
RUST is performing at the ADC Theatre between Wednesday 13th and Saturday 16th November at 11pm.