Thursday, 28 January 2016

INTERVIEW - Alex Wright talks about Fable, now on at the Vault Festival Waterloo

A WRITER'S chance encounter with a small but close knit community in the Scottish Highlands was the inspiration for a play about what we believe in, what we stand for and what we can change.
Fable tells the tale of what happens when Blair, a man in his late 30s, meets J, a woman in her mid 20s on the end of a pier.
The pier is at the end of the road in a tiny village called Ardfern, which just happens to be the same village which inspired the play in the first place.
The pair talk and get to know each other and end up changing each other and their lives forever.
Written by Alex Wright, for his theatre company The Flanagan Collective, and co-produced by Greenwich Theatre, it was first staged in 2014 and has since been shown in venues around the UK including in Ardfern.
It can now be seen at the Vault Festival in the Leake Street tunnels in Waterloo before it heads to Adelaide, Australia and then to Greenwich Theatre at the end of April.
“It was serendipitous in the way it happened,” Alex tells me during a break from rehearsals. “We were in Ardfern, a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands, with another show we were touring.
“We went to the pub after the show and during the evening, a man called Blair came in. He came up to the bar, introduced himself and began quoting Rabbie Burns at me.
“It turned out he was the local tree surgeon and a poet, originally from Glasgow who wanted to build log cabins.
“He was a wonderful man, talked for much of the rest of the night and it was fascinating, very entertaining – not least hearing about how he was about to go to the Arctic to build these log cabins because he couldn’t do it in Scotland.
“When I got back to my digs in the small hours, I decided to write down what he’d said. I then realised it could form the basis of a play.”
Combining storytelling, music and performance, Fable is about our childhood dreams and what, here and now, we are left with.
A two-hander, one of the characters, is based on Blair, the other, J, is entirely fictitious. J is a woman from Birmingham who has always wanted to be an astronaut but because of a defect in the wall of her heart she can’t fulfil her dream.
So she becomes a physics teacher and imparts her enthusiasm for the solar system and space to her students.
However, one day she decides to take control of her life and answers an ad on a dating site. She finds herself on the end of the pier with Blair, a man who makes log cabins.
Although very different characters, their meeting and subsequent discussion changes both of them profoundly.
“It’s storytelling at its most beautiful and with a wonderful score,” says Alex.
“It is about the push and pull between the necessity of the modern world and how we find our own place in it, what we are in control of and how we manage to take stock of where we are and what we do about changing things.
“It’s also about how obsessed we are about how busy we are all the time and how we try and out-do each other by saying how busy we are.
“There was a wonderful moment in the pub when Blair said to me ‘I wish everyone would put that internet down’. It’s brilliant. And that’s the thing - we should all put our phones down and sit and look at the sea for a bit or talk to people a bit more.
“Both the characters in the play help the other to shake off the shackles."
Since the show was first made the company has been back to Ardfern to show the locals - including Blair - the play.
“I was really worried about him seeing it but it was great,” says Alex. “What was amazing was that in the play the Blair character tells J how he went to Canada, saw bears and swam in the sea to impress the girls.
"When we went back to Ardfern and met Blair again, he told us that’s exactly what he had done on a recent trip to Canada which was really weird!
“I think we owe him quite a lot. In fact we feel quite connected to the village – it’s a lovely community.
“This is the third incarnation of the show we made originally and it’s really nice to go back to it and make it again,” he adds.
“We are still enjoying discovering stuff about it.
“It is the most traditional show we have ever made so it will suit Greenwich and we are really excited to be performing it there, not least because it's a theatre that has helped us so much with it.
"But it also fits the Vaults too because it’s very site specific. The Vaults is quite a stark but beautiful space and is the kind of stage we are used to rather than a traditional theatre setting.
"It's really exciting to be here.
"Ultimately it’s a very simple but magical story that leads the audience on a journey that the characters go on," he adds.
“It’s nice to make a piece of work about who and how we are. And what’s great is that the story is still starting interesting conversations amongst the audiences who see it.
“We are so excited to see where it leads us next.”

Fable runs at the Vault Festival, The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo, until February 7. Tickets cost £12. Visit or call 020 7401 9603 for listings.

It is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill between April 26 and 30. Visit for tickets.

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