Citizen George is concealing his true identity: he is Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a remarkable 18th-century figure. The son of a slave of African descent, he became a colonel in the army, an expert swordsman, composer and musician. Brass Works’ play is a fictional account of his arrest during the revolution.
Here’s Brass Works’ artistic director Adrian Harris to tell us more.
Tell us the background behind Brass Works’ latest.
Citizen George was one of several scripts I had been considering for development at Brass Works. Leah Holmes, a young director I had been mentoring through her final year at the University of the West of England, had graduated with a first in Drama and I wanted to give her the opportunity to develop a piece. Leah liked the Citizen George script, so we both sat down with the writer and discussed ways we could develop it for Brass Works. And it’s Leah who is undertaking directing duties, with me at her side as dramaturg and producer.
Why did Joseph’s story seem so apt for a piece of theatre?
Brian Weaving, the scriptwriter, had brought his story of Joseph Bologne to meetings of Southwest Scriptwriters throughout its initial development. I looked into it myself and just loved the way themes of prejudice were tackled in the piece – not to mention the captivating drama created by having these characters locked in a cell under the shadow of the guillotine.
You’ve gone for an all-female cast. Tell us about that decision.
The characters in the piece are all male, a popular situation in a lot of drama and a problem I feel is necessary to tackle. I looked at the play and discussed with Brian what could be said by having a female cast. With the play being about misconceptions and prejudice I thought we could add another level of debate by having a strong female cast playing these historical male figures. No reference is made to the fact that women are playing these roles: in fact as soon as the piece starts you forget that a gender swap has taken place with the casting as these actors totally pull you into the drama. I don’t feel that we’re trying to labour a point, and nothing is meant to detract from the entertaining drama, it’s just an additional question the audience or the industry may wish to ask themselves – or not.
Tell us about Brian’s script and what made it come alive for you – great set pieces, beautiful language, humanity, etc?
I guess what I look for in a play is a sense of drama. I get sent a lot of scripts where the piece has a lot of potentially interesting characters who walk on stage and just talk to each other. I also like the idea that something else is being asked of the audience, especially when it’s done in a subtle, understated way. Saying that, it also has some great set pieces, a couple of sword fights and a nice twist.
What might audiences come away from this play thinking about?
They might start with the question, ‘how have we never heard of this character who was a colonel in the army, great swordsman, musician and celebrated composer?’
How is Brass Works’ general state of health?
It’s tough running a theatre, whether you’re a large established venue or a small fringe space. We have been fortunate enough to continue to produce work to a high standard with paid professional artists and techs, while building the theatre from the ground up. In three years we’ve gone from a cold empty white room using hired lighting to a blacked-out space, with our own sound and lights, a 44-square metre wooden thrust stage, a new dressing room, 3-phase power and heaters for the audience. All this with an unsalaried artistic director and volunteer management committee. We’ve also managed to welcome three visiting companies producing excellent work including Shakespeare, comedy and an Edinburgh festival preview show. I do need a holiday though.
This play and Brass Works’ previous show Deep Pit both draw on history – and centre on characters who are sidelined or treated unfairly. Are these the types of stories you’re most interested in?
I’m interested in an entertaining variety of plays that will engage our growing audience. Our audiences have told us they like to see plays with several characters, clever writing and strong stories, whether modern or historical. Of our 10 productions to date, two have been period pieces with a local flavour but motivated by modern political themes; three have been contemporary pieces; three have been adaptations of classic works and family-friendly shows; and two have been collections of short pieces by local writers. Our next production, in January, will be an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. Something to engage a younger audience, without alienating our core older patrons.
Citizen George is at Brass Works Theatre, Kingswood from Monday, October 12 to Saturday, October 24. For more info and to book tickets, visit http://www.brassworkstheatre.com