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In-Yer-Face, Philly: Tiny Dynamite’s Emma Gibson discusses The Country

Posted June 13th, 2012

Heavy conversation in The Country.

Playwright and director Martin Crimp has long been a staple of underground UK theater. His career, spanning back over the last three decades, covers over fifteen original plays and more than a handful of highly sought-after modern translations of pivotal writers like Moliere, Ionesco, and Chekhov. He’s known across Europe and has been produced as far away as Sydney, Australia, but he remains relatively unknown to American audiences. This month, Tiny Dynamite’s production of The Country will be his Philadelphia premiere.

Tiny Dynamite, a budding Philly theater company dedicated to bringing forward compelling contemporary British plays, has produced two full-length plays at the Philly Fringe, and their a Play, a Pie and a Pint series has played to sold-out audiences. We caught up with artistic director (and The Country cast member) Emma Gibson to find out more about their upcoming show.

Live Arts: What made you choose The Country as the next script for Tiny Dynamite?

Emma Gibson: I’ve always been a huge fan of Martin Crimp and the school of “in yer face” theater that the Brits are so good at—Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Debbie Tucker Green, etc. When I arrived in the US (from the UK) five years ago I realized that Crimp’s work is seldom produced here. I read The Country and it really excited me. It’s a taught, extremely well-written psychological thriller with fantastic characters. I tried to get the rights a couple of years ago but they were waiting for a New York premiere. In the end they gave it to us and our production will be the Philadelphia premiere of his work.

I also wanted to honor Tiny Dynamite’s mission of producing contemporary, exciting plays and projects from the UK. Crimp has such a fresh voice, such a unique identity that it feels perfect to bring this to a town that loves theater and has a growing audience, thanks to the brilliant Inis Nua Theatre Company amongst others, for British works.

LA: What is it about the The Country that will allow American audiences to be drawn in to contemporary British issues, or will they recognize more relevant American themes?

EG: I think the play has a very British voice—certainly the language is reminiscent of one of the UK’s most acclaimed playwrights, Harold Pinter—but it also smacks of the way the British keep a “stiff upper lip” in moments of crisis and emotions are kept tightly wrapped until they are forced out. Two of the characters in the play are British and one is American, which creates an interesting angle for American audiences. The idea of the repressed, controlled British and the slightly more liberated, defiant American.

I think the themes are universal. The play is both a diatribe on the shallowness of the upper middle classes who swop city life for the country idyll—think up and coming Old City Philly residents who move to Lancaster county homestead in their designer gumboots. It is also a story about three people who find themselves in a terrible situation and how they struggle to get out of it. Crimp constantly engages the audience with cryptic plot clues and moments of pure suspense. The ending is not easy, not easily resolvable. This is what I love about the play, that it makes me feel and think.

Photo by David O'Connor

LA: As an American company, or just as Tiny Dynamite, do you have a particular vision for or take on this work that hasn’t been done before?

EG: The vision for our production of The Country is very much our director, David O’Connor’s. David has worked with us on honoring the text and the characters and letting the suspense and the drama come from a complete understanding of our characters and the situation as opposed to setting out to “direct a thriller.” Crimp gives the actors and directors clues on the page. There are no character names attached to lines. Punctuation is extremely important—ellipses, pauses, etc. He is extremely specific and as we honored this in great detail we found the natural rhythms of the play and clues about where we should be heading. I don’t think this play would work with a pre-imposed vision. Everything is in the writing.

The play is a designers dream—there are great opportunities for the designers to play abstractly with set and sound design. I think this is the area that David has worked on closely to impose his own unique take on the play.

LA: How has it been producing and acting in this show? They are such different hats. Does this change your creative interaction with the director?

EG: It has been busy but it’s an amazing experience producing and acting. I keep looking around the rehearsal room at the amazing actors, dramaturgs, designers, and director working on this complex play and feel so proud that I was able to make this happen in this incredible city. My priority is very much to make this a good and positive experience for one and all and I have been blessed to be surrounded by some wonderful people. David O’Connor is a genius and I have had the opportunity to work with him as a producer on several of the a Play, a Pie and a Pint shows. The way we have worked it, is that at rehearsal I am an actor and the entire focus is on the play and the rehearsal process. The producing is generally done outside of rehearsal where I have some wonderful people giving me support.

LA: Is there anything else that someone must know about this play or production?

EG: Virgil was a Roman Poet

Boots the Chemist is a retail Pharmacy chain.

The Country runs June 20–July 1st
Wednesday–Saturday @ 8pm
Sundays @ 3pm 
Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA
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