Wales at the Fringe | Volcano

Wales at the Fringe | Volcano

As we continue our spotlight of the Welsh companies taking shows to this year’s Edinburgh Festival, we talk to Claudine Conway, marketing and communications manager at Volcano Theatre Company.

Tell us about your show.

It’s called Seagulls and it is an extremely unusual version of Chekhov’s The Seagull. It’s both pared down (textually and in terms of the performance conventions that tend to accumulate around classic texts) and scaled up (it’s very ambitiously staged – we are creating an enormous real lake in a derelict Victorian-gothic church in Leith). It’s got great design (the original design was by a young Welsh designer called Camilla Clarke, and we’ve adapted it for this new and different setting), a great soundtrack, great choreography, and a fantastic cast – five performers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who climb stuff, get wet, fight, dance and wield axes with extraordinary vigour, humour and skill. We hope that it’s surprising for the audience and something of a visual treat. As we’ve said in the Fringe guide, Russian misery has never been so much fun. The venue, in Leith, is out on a limb in some ways, but we think it can work there if we manage to create something of value to the particular area and its inhabitants as well as something worth traipsing all the way down Leith Walk for.

Tell us about Volcano

We are a restless organisation, and temperamentally attracted to risk. There are a lot of factors making it difficult to create and present ambitious, independent, formally adventurous work – our approach is just to get on with it and forge alliances with like-minded people as we go along. Hence the church, which is not just an interesting backdrop for our show, but which we are transforming into a fully-functioning Fringe venue with a diverse theatre programme, a series of fantastic music events, and a great place to hang out, drink locally-brewed beer or locally-roasted coffee and eat freshly cooked Scottish produce. It’s a Welsh-Scottish partnership project, made possible by the restless energy of a handful of people with crazy ideas and a small team of highly skilled people who can make them happen. Running a Fringe venue seems a lot to take on for a company that historically focused on touring, but our diverse and developing work in Swansea has led us increasingly to interrogate explicitly the conditions that make it possible to create work in a particular place and time – so for us the work itself is not divisible from the conditions which make it possible for an audience to engage with that work. Put more simply, no one in their right mind is going to let you have a massive lake in your Fringe show in their venue, so you have to run your own.

Tell us about your team.

There’s always an element of rush goalie at busy times like this. Artistically, the buck stops at Paul (our Artistic Director, and the director of Seagulls), but he can also be spotted driving the van, making the tea, or cutting up large bits of wood. He’s been at the helm of Volcano (originally with Fern Smith and now as sole AD) for a long time now, and he remains energetically creative and destructive and disinclined to settle into a formula. With Catherine Bennett, who choreographed this and other recent shows, he is increasingly focusing on the next generations of performers – teaching young people to think and move for themselves onstage and make work that comes from somewhere authentic. For a project as big as the Leith Volcano we need some serious practical skills on the ground – Eifion and Sean are building amazing stuff very quickly, and everything is overseen by a venue production team, led by Ben Stimpson, which draws heavily on RWCMD alumni. Kay is our company manager/producer – she puts in a ridiculous amount of time to pull all the strands together and make sure the invisible stuff is taken care of. We have a team of two in marketing, communications and media – we have overlapping skill-sets, but in essence Vic does images and I do words. Sarah is back at Volcano, keeping tabs on the financial implications of all of this and raising the occasional eyebrow.

Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been with Volcano a long time – about 17 years. I took a part-time job with the company whilst teaching at Swansea University and failing to complete a PhD about 18th-century paratext (don’t ask). They were doing a show called Moments of Madness at the time, which was berserk and funny and baffling and not especially popular, but very arresting. I thought they were a bit odd and infuriating, but I liked them and they made a kind of sense to me, so I stuck with it, and don’t regret giving up the academic stuff. I come from a pretty awful bit of suburban England – Michael Gove is the MP there – but I have lived in Swansea for 20 years now. I ride bicycles a lot, and drink beer.

What does the Edinburgh Fringe mean to you?

Exhaustion, mainly. But it’s fun as well, and I even get to ride a bicycle during working hours – partly because it’s far and away the quickest way of getting around Edinburgh, but also because Volcano has an enormous bicycle poster trailer. It’s a solution to the extortionate near-monopoly on poster sites during the Fringe. They will probably introduce a charge to tow a bicycle trailer during the Fringe when they notice this. There are a lot of reasons for us, as a company, to be there, but it’s a very challenging and competitive environment. We are a robust and sometimes joyously combative organisation, but also theatre is about collaboration and co-operation, and we are trying to forge alliances and work with others to carve out space for independent work and innovative forms of production, exchange and juxtaposition. So we’re hosting an amazing electro-musical installation by Cryptic alongside a family show about atoms by Powys Dance. One of our partners at the Leith Volcano is a collective of independent musicians – they commission special-edition beers from a local brewery for their events, and use the profits from the beer to pay artists. This is the sort of stuff that it seems to us a Fringe should be about. It’s great that there is a cohort of Welsh companies working co-operatively at the Fringe, and we’re delighted that Seagulls will be part of this year’s British Council Showcase – presenting our work to international audience remains very important to us, as does the opportunity to see work from all over the world.



Volcano Theatre

Dates: 8-26 August (except Mon)

Time: 18.00 (75mins)

Venue: The Leith Volcano