Interview: Claire Crawford, Director
by Polly Hember
If 4.8 million pieces of Lego washed up on your shore, what would you do? Not all things that sink stay buried…
INKBLOC presented Lego® Beach as part of Bristol Old Vic’s Studio Walkabout season last year. Taking inspiration from a happening in 1997 where a freak storm caught a containership out at sea, sending nearly five million pieces of Lego into the depths of the oceans and carried away on rip tides. Inspired by this sad and whimsical truth, It is now enjoying runs in Bath, Salisbury and Corsham before returning to Bristol again in April 2018. Director Claire Crawford talks about all things lego with On the Beat.
Could you tell us a little bit about the real-life story that inspired Lego Beach?
On 13th Feb 1997 a Cargo ship called the Tokio Express was hit by a wave described by its Captain as a “once in a 100-year phenomenon”, tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back. As a result of this, 62 containers - bound for New York - were lost overboard around 20 miles off Land’s End. One of these lost containers was filled with 4.8 million pieces of Lego, and shortly after this, some of those Lego pieces began washing up in both the North and South coasts of Cornwall... and they’re still coming in today. Our story starts in the aftermath of this 'Lego-spill', focusing on the fictional town of Bevill, and exploring the repercussions these tiny pieces of plastic have on the very foundations of the community which resides there.
What made INKBLOC want to explore this whimsical tale?
We love telling stories, and when we stumbled upon this one we were instantly excited about it. We were drawn to the crash of natural and non natural at the heart of this story, and were interested in how the two sit together at the start of this story, quickly mixing into one another with the ship spilling its cargo into the ocean. From that point onwards our tale is truly fictional, and we've loved building it together. Using Lego as a stimulus in all areas of the production was a very interesting starting point, and has inspired our design, costume, and our characters too!
What themes do you address in the production?
Economical deprivation is a well known factor on our coastlines around the UK, with local populations relying heavily on tourism and the summer season to support themselves and their businesses. We were interested in what happens when visitor numbers decline, and how this puts strain and pressure on the residents of our shorelines. We explore a community desperate and hell bent on the chance at success... but when it materialises, it is like nothing they could have expected or imagined. We also wanted to explore the natural vs. non natural phenomenon of the Lego spill, thinking about the ecological impact of a disaster of this scale has on our habitats - both on land and at sea. We worked closely with Litterarti, a Bristol based litter-art-charity who create fantastic structures made entirely from litter, to create puppets made from rubbish and discarded plastic - expect to see some of these creations in the show!
Could you tell us a little bit about INKBLOC and how the theatre company first started?
INKBLOC ensemble first met at Bristol Old Vic in 2016 on the Made in Bristol scheme for emerging 18-25 year old theatre makers. The course encourages members to expand their theatre skills and create work with a brand new group of people, all whilst receiving mentorship from Bristol Old Vic's engagement department and a range of talented practitioners in the building. We started the year long course as a group of 12 strangers, but fast forward over a year later and we have become a tightly knit group with a uniquely developed ensemble style of making and creating new work.
How has this production developed from the run of Lego Beach last July?
We've felt very lucky to be able to redevelop the show - for those that saw its previous incarnation, we promise you should expect some rather drastic changes this time around (!) - whilst still retaining the style and overall feel of the piece. We've been able to explore some of the themes a little further and really get our teeth stuck into the story a little more. We've been granted the time to play and explore further, reworking and adapting what we had and letting it grow into a clearer narrative.
How has it been coming back to the play?
It's been a fantastic experience to be able to build upon the strong foundations we created back in July. For us it felt like we were able to really peel back the skin of the story and look at the bones of it. Dramaturgy in a show like this, which is totally devised, is such an important factor - and having a redevelopment period like this has allowed us to asses which parts of our story needed to rise to the forefront, and which could be culled in order for the story to thrive!
What has been your favourite aspect of directing Lego Beach?
I've loved the feeling in the devising process when a moment really 'comes together' as it were; when a company member finds a solution or comes up with something purely brilliant, it's a fantastic feeling, and I feel very privileged to be able to facilitate those moments. With INKBLOC, creating Lego Beach has been a true team effort - the clue's in our name - we're an ensemble. As a director I've felt hugely supported by each member of the group - and I have them to thank for always being willing to say yes and to try things out. Some of our funniest moments in the show have stemmed from happy accidents in the rehearsal room, and I think the support we all feel for one another really does translate onto stage.
Without giving too much away, do you have a favourite scene in the play?
There are so many favourite moments of mine, so it's hard to choose! I hope the show is both funny and thought provoking to watch - so I'd say my favourite element of the show is that 'tickle, punch' we hope we have sewn throughout the storyline for our audiences; where you are constantly keeping an audience on its toes with moments of peaks and troughs of emotional resonance.
Original music plays such an integral part in Lego Beach. What has it been like working with musical director Alison Cowling on this production?
As a whole ensemble we are very musically minded, and from from the outset of the conception of this piece we knew we wanted to create a beautiful soundscore of vocals and instrumentation - using our coastal setting for the show as inspiration. Utilising live voices and gathering inspiration from sea shanties, Alison has brilliantly crafted moments of tenderness and joy, heightening and expanding scenes and moments to let them achieve their potential. Music plays a big part of our process as a whole - and it was important to us that it played a role from the start. Alison developed several motifs for the show which we revisit throughout, and formed the basis for the music language of the show. All of the music and sound you hear, whether recorded or live has been developed specifically for this show and is totally original.
Can you tell us anything about what INKBLOC are working on after this run of Lego Beach at Bath, Salisbury and Corsham?
After this leg of our South West tour, Lego Beach will also be performed at The Wardrobe theatre in Bristol in April on 5,6,7 April. We'll then be heading back out on the road over the summer, visiting some local festivals with the show. And after that.. who knows! Ideas are bubbling away for our next show, so keep your eyes and ears peeled until then.
Photo courtesy of wwworks | Flickr