Fresh off the back of her final performance of Transporter in Kolkata, a one-woman play about a 13 year-old girl Maya, Catherine Dyson grabs a quick chat with our editor, Gary Raymond. They discuss the inspiration behind the play, the role of identity and Newport.
Catherine Dyson: Good, this is only the third time I’ve performed the finished piece. I did it once in London, and then the two performances here in India, and then it will tour in Wales in the spring.
So it’s a very young piece to bring over here to such different circumstances and different environments, that must be quite exciting. Has it given you any ideas for the evolution of the piece, as you go along?
I think the piece is finished, because it has been through a really long process in the writing, there has been several big editing jobs on it and the sound track is complete. I feel it’s complete. But, what’s interesting is how it takes on different resonances in different places; here, in a different country on a different continent, but also whether I’m performing it for a class of school children, or here in this colonial building in front of an audience, who I don’t know where they’re from.
We should say you’ve just performed in one of the outdoor areas of the Victoria memorial in Kolkata. I’m astonished that it’s the third performance and you find yourself here.
Yes, it wasn’t planned, it was the way the India opportunity came up, it’s been really exciting to test it out here and then be bringing it back to Wales.
It’s a story about a 13 year old girl called Maya who is a kind of ‘every’ girl in many ways. She is an ordinary girl, who could be any school girl. It’s located in (although I never name Newport, but those of us from Wales will know the reference to the Transporter bridge).
So she has just arrived in what is the city of Newport and starts telling the story of her life and then it unfolds into a magic realist story, and we set up at the beginning that she is eternally 13 and as she tells her story, it opens out across decades and continents. The main thread being that she is someone who is always on the move with her mother. The piece is about migration to a certain extent, although I never set out to write a piece about refugees or migration, I wanted to write about being 13 and being not in control of your life, and to write about safety and family and home and what that means when you’re 13, I suppose.
So, when you first came up with the idea for devising the narrative, you didn’t know you’d be performing it in India, so it must be quite a thing to come to a place where the literature has such a connection to magic realism and find that that’s the direction you went in. Has there been any resonance or feedback, or comeback or any moments when you thought ‘this is really connecting in a way I didn’t expect’?
I’m not sure, I think the company Think Arts who wanted to bring the piece over, read the script and they obviously felt there was a resonance with it, even though, in a way, there are specifics in it that are quite western and quite located to where we live, that there was a resonance for a young audience here or an older audience as well. It’s hard to say.
Maybe it’s something that will, on reflection after time, things will come back to you?
I suppose. It makes me think about the things I’ve written in a different way and because there are so many stories within this main story of her being on the move, all those stories are based on real things that I read about and things that I suddenly thought; being here, this will mean something different.
So you find the cross cultural references, that you may think ‘well some of these things might not land or be understood’, but some of them may be even more resonant over here…
Or take on a different meaning, so that’s been quite exciting to have that opportunity to take it someplace else and feel that.
So why Newport, why the Transporter Bridge?
I was part of an artist development programme that Theatr Iolo ran called Platfform, which is encouraging artists who haven’t made work for young people before, to make work for young people. My brief was to develop a piece of writing for age 13 and up and I was placed in a venue; the Riverfront in Newport, so I spent a lot of time in Newport, sitting in a room in the Riverfront, which as you know is right by the River Usk, and I spoke to groups of young people in Newport, community groups and I had some very vague ideas of what I might write about that was to do with identity. In those conversations with young people, some of whom were quite disadvantaged, what struck me was they were quite outward looking in their interests and concerns about the world and about politics. And it kind of came out of that, that I wanted to write something that was located in a place that we know but that acknowledged a young person as a citizen of the world. The Transporter Bridge was just a fantastic metaphor, so that was how that came about.
There are some fantastic characters in the piece, and of course you do all this yourself. You’re on stage, you tell the story, you embody these characters. How easy is it to create characters? Do you create characters that are natural for you to fit into their behaviours or personas or did you find characters coming to you that you though, ‘how am I going to pull this guy off?!’
I certainly didn’t create from the perspective of, ‘Oh I’m going to be able to represent that.’ They did just come to me really. I guess it’s a particular style of performance in that I never really act in a real way, I don’t pretend to be a 13 year-old girl, I just say I’m going to be her and the same applies to the other characters in the play, although inevitably as a performer, you do.
Well it’s very subtle, you’re not aping or mimicking a 13 year-old, but you do take that on, it is subtle but very noticeable.
Well that’s good, I’m glad you said that! But yes, the characters just came out of the stories really.
So what next for this?
This will tour Wales this spring into summer to venues and schools in Wales and then we aren’t sure beyond that. We are hoping it will go further around the UK.
And I assume you’ll be in Newport, so I know you started in London, but to do the second and third performances in Kolkata and then to take it home, rather than starting it there, should be exciting!
Yes it will be great, I’m looking forward to going back to Newport with it.
Written and performed by Catherine Dyson, in collaboration with Andy Smith and Lewis Gibson. Funny, fearless and frightening, Transporter explores themes of identity, difference, conflict, and what it means to come or not come from somewhere.
Transporter is part of Wales in Kolkata, a season of Welsh arts activity and collaboration taking place in Kolkata this January. Supported by Wales Arts International and the British Council, Wales in Kolkata is a result of the relationships and networks formed by the 2017/18 #IndiaWales season, a major programme of artistic collaboration between Wales and India.