Interview with Barrie Rutter, Founder and Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides
With Northern Broadsides current touring production of Deborah McAndrew's new play – An August Bank Holiday Lark mid tour I was offered the opportunity to interview their artistic director and performer Barrie Rutter.
I asked Barrie to talk around the various Morris dances that appear in the show and are in integral element of being part of the story not just as an entertainment. He said that the casting was the most important part of the show and that they had to cast feet as well as talent. “Everyone had to look as if they would get the dance within the parameters of the rehearsal period and I saw a lot of actors and as soon as they started to dance it looked as if it had been poured out of a bucket!”
He also confirmed that the ladies in the cast had to play instruments but not just any instrument because it is folk and the company wanted violins, squeeze boxes, the piccolo, big and small drums. Barrie continued; “You cut your cloth accordingly so if you need sixteen men over six foot that's what you go out to get, don't you? I mean with something like dance and music it's not that obvious but that was the form of the rehearsal period.”
I said that from my reading of various sources including an excellent downloadable Learning Pack from Northern Broadsides that I recalled that the show features five or six different styles of Morris dance and one that develops a much more pronounced military tone.
“Yes, it's a segue and it's all seamless. It's when the chaps go to war which happens like half way through part two. I didn't want it to come too early in terms of going to the trenches. Actually we don't do that in the play. We show the how the world war events are affecting the village. The main characters only have an hour to get married and then he gets the train back to the base camp and they celebrate that with a dance and that segues into him returning back to barracks.”
On one of your short videos promoting the rehearsal of the play I noticed that there were quite a lot of older folk watching from the seating. I was curious as to who they were and wondered if the public are allowed into your space to watch a rehearsal?
“We always have an open day, with our friends of Northern Broadsides. We always organise a friends day where they come to a rehearsal where we entertain them and show them stuff that we have done and discuss it with them. We don't like it it to be too far down the rehearsal period so that see warts and all and they see problems and they see how we get round them. A craftsman never cuts a corner, he gets round it.”
I asked if that was a long established tradition with Northern Broadsides.
“Yeah, yeah. Ourfriends pay £25 a year and we try to give them as much as possible.”
I explained that I was once a performance arts student in the late 1980s and we had the chance to go to Halifax and Dean Clough to see a land artist exhibition by Richard Long and that one of the former cotton mill spaces was filled with local slate and it was very atmospheric and imposing. From his response Barrie seemed very aware of this piece. I went on to ask about the rushes that are used within the play as a decoration on the rush carts and how long they would have to last during the tour from February to June 2014.
“Well, we took them down off the Sowerby Bridge rush cart last autumn, when they stripped it and kept them in the theatre in Stoke hoping they would be useful and indeed they are and they've got to last another five weeks. Plus we've got the jockey who rides the wooden saddle on top but that doesn't do any damage. In fact it's a very canny piece of construction that the designer, Liz Evans has made for us and because we can't park it anywhere we build it (the cart) in front of the audience and we take it down as part of the interval. Lots of people stay behind and watch it being dismantled.”
Barrie spoke more about the audience saying that the quality of the 'house' is remarkable because the effect of the play on audiences has been the same since day one. “It is a very big effect that of joy and of theatricality. Terribly moving as well. And it beautifully written and conceived by Deborah and she has written over six plays for Northern Broadside.”
I thanked Barrie for his time and said how much I looked forward to seeing the show at Derby Theatre on 20th May.