Edward is on the Makers programme which focuses on directing, design and technical theatre. He started out as an actor and is really getting into the other aspects of theatre. Vareen is one of our Young Writers and is starting to find her identity as a Kurdish writer as well as her artistic voice. Josie, also a Young Company Writer, was new to writing before starting the course, but is starting to gain confidence and is also a Rep for the group.
They took part in a workshop with Tim Foley, the award-winning writer of Electric Rosary, and listened to the motivations and process of his creative journey, and had a go at creating some sci-fi job roles – from Intergalactic Chef to Moon Cleaner… They then watched the show and had some reflections they wanted to share.
As a Young Company member I was very excited when the Royal Exchange invited us all to see their new production of ‘Electric Rosary’ alongside a creative writing workshop with author, Tim Foley. After a hectic journey into Manchester, I found myself in a workshop with this wonderfully creative playwright who started the workshop by explaining his love of Sci-fi, especially Doctor Who. Foley then went on to explain different types of world building, comparing the approaches of huge science fiction novels like ‘Dune’, to the techniques used in plays, as well as his own. He made me realise that in a play, unlike some novels, you have to focus on the characters before anything else. Then once you have clear and defined characters you can expand the world around them.
We then got to see ‘Electric Rosary’. The play takes place at St Grace’s Convent somewhere in the next 50 years. This small convent of 4 nuns have recently lost their Mother Superior. The play explores Constance and Elizabeth’s disagreement on who should take over the role of ‘Mother Superior’, while the nuns get ready for a pilgrimage to Ecuador. However, the rift between the nuns expands when a robot (which is indistinguishable from a Human) is introduced to help with cleaning and general maintenance. I really enjoyed this play, and to explore these characters and the themes they bring with them in such a humorous way was refreshing. One thing I have learnt at Young Maker’s sessions is how important it is for each creative to work together to construct a grounded and real world. This was a perfect example of how to do that. Everything, from the mundane tea cups to the fantastical glowing orbs, felt like they could come from the same world. This freed the actors and director to be playful and explore the themes of Foley’s award-winning play. Overall I’m very thankful for the Royal Exchange staff who set up this fantastic day, and for Tim Foley who took time out of his day to pass on his knowledge as a Playwright. This thought-provoking comedy will disappoint no-one… one… one… zero… one… 00101101 00100000 01000101 01100100 01100100
Electric Rosary’s three hour runtime and receiving the Judges’ Award at The Burntwood Prize for Playwriting might give the mistaken impression that it is pretentious, but the heart of Tim Foley’s play is focused on sisterhood that exists between the all female cast. This Science Fiction comedy drama centres on a group of nuns living in a covenant isolated from the outside world. The play deals with themes of identity, the worrying impact of technological advancement, and what it means to be human. St. Grace’s Covenant is in severe decline with the outside world being portrayed as dark, almost apocalyptic , with mentions of food shortages , widespread joblessness , severe weather conditions , and robot workers known as Reapers spread throughout the play. The play opens with the funeral of the previous Mother Superior and we learn that there are insufficient funds for the remaining nuns to take a planned spiritual pilgrimage to Ecuador. The acting Mother Elizabeth (Jo Mousley) accepts a robot named Mary (Breffni Holahan) for the bursary to help fund the pilgrimage and to help with chores around the decrepit covenant. This decision proves controversial and causes conflict between the nuns. The staunchly technophobe Sister Constance (Olwen May) makes her disapproval known saying that Mary is ‘’bound by science’’ and can therefore never be equal to humans. Sister Phillipa (Suzzette Llewellyn) at first likes having Mary to help around the Covenant but Mary’s superior cleaning abilities leave her without any work making her feel inadequate and fearful of Mary. The fear of technology replacing humans making us obsolete is a concern that many people have today and is echoed throughout the play with rioters chanting ‘burn the robot’ casting ominous shadow over the humorous interactions- such as Mary attaching three broomsticks in each hand to clean more efficiently. When Mary begins to receive divine visions things start to escalate and character arcs will surprise you. The cast is excellent and their passion for the project seeps through their performance. Saroja-Lily Ratnavel's hilarious performance as Sister Theresa provides levity in the moments when the play gets darker and her heart-warming friendship with Mary is delightful. She is the only one who sees Mary’s humanity from the beginning even when Mary refers to herself as ‘no-one’. Breffni Holahan’s performance as the eerily human robot Mary is outstanding with her mannerisms - artificially cheerful voice, arms swirling when rebooting, and adopting speech patterns of people around her highlighting the thin boundary between humans and machines. Olwen May’s portrayal of Sister Constance and her dark wit is thoroughly enjoyable and by the end of the play she was the character I felt for the most. In keeping with the play's themes of technology Jaz Woodcock-Stewart directs a low tech production with the not so special effects of Mary’s divine vision achieved by an actor blasting an extremely visible leaf blower. In the Second Act the audience is greeted with chains attached to the corners of the stage which will leave audience members puzzling. The low tech-specific effects served to heighten my enjoyment of the play and served to emphasise the human relationships between the characters.
I find it fitting that Electric Rosary’s first run is at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Manchester is the home of the Industrial Revolution and the birthplace of the modern computer at the University of Manchester. Alan Turing also joined the Victoria University Of Manchester’s computer laboratories working on the Manchester Computers as well as developing theoretical computer science and providing concepts for algorithms. Alan Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. The industrial past of the Royal Exchange is still visible with the last corn exchange immortalised on the walls of the theatre. The tension between humans and automation is well known in Manchester which is why this play is such a hit.
It was really great getting to have the workshop with Tim before we saw the show because we could see so much of his process and way of writing that he explained to us and get to hear the audiences’ reactions (which was definitely a lot of laughs) in real time. Even though I hadn’t had much experience of writing or watching sci-fi before, it was really cool to get an insight into his mind and see how even if a story is taking place in a world completely different to our own, it can still be made really compelling by being grounded in real characters and stories. We talked a lot about world building and the different approaches you can take to this, especially when it can seem daunting sometimes to make the audience really believe in your world without spending half the play explaining how everything works. Bit of a mouthful. He led us through an exercise where we took specific phrases from our own jobs or processes which might sound like complete nonsense and made each other guess what job we were talking about. We then took this a step further and starting thinking of jobs we had no experience with and then potential sci-fi jobs in a made up world. We then tried to figure out how some of these characters would interact with each other and he really made us think about what the world around them looked like, exactly what was happening to them and this helped us come up with some really unusual and hilarious situations.
It was also really interesting listening to him talk about the process of actually making the play and how him being very involved throughout rehearsals affected the outcome. He talked about how putting on a play is inevitably a very long but very rewarding process and how when the script leaves the writer, it’s all the other brilliant parts of the process which build up the world and story in unexpected ways.
I’m really glad we got to speak to Tim and hear his wise words before we saw the play in the afternoon, and it was brilliant to see everything he had been talking about come to life! Straight away, it was absolutely hilarious and I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve heard that many people laughing together in a room, which was really cool. There were also so many really touching moments and it felt like more and more was revealed to the audience throughout the play which meant we had a lot more theories than we had time to discuss in the interval. It was amazing seeing how the space was transformed into something which felt so futuristic and out of this world but still felt very real even with all the fantastic robot-nun drama. After watching it we all had loads more theories to discuss and questions we wanted to ask Tim. It was honestly all brilliant and I’m so glad we got to have a little insight into Tim’s genius mind.