By the time I sit down with some of the production team of ‘A Planet in the Desert’, they are 4 hours into their weekend of intensive rehearsals. It’s set to be one of Theatre With Teeth’s biggest projects yet: spanning over two terms, with a cast of 18 and a crew of 8, the show is the second piece of original writing for TWT from Alex Benjamin. Today I’m talking to Director/Playwright Alex Benjamin, Assistant Director Siobhan McAuley, Choreographer Lara Lawman, and Designers Josie Lovick and Annie Tricks about how they’ve found staging such a large-scale production.
Firstly, would you mind giving us a summary of the show?
AB: The show roughly follows a group of young people who are investigating a series of cryptic radio broadcasts, which come from the desert.
SM: Yeah, it follows a disaster that happens with a project set off by this company ‘Star Solutions’, of putting a rocket in the sky. I’d say that’s the main, overhanging story, but it covers so many different underlying themes as well.
AB: It sounds like a Sci-Fi thing, but it’s very psychological.
It’s being facilitated by Theatre with Teeth, and we know that they endorse new and innovative theatre. What makes ‘A Planet in the Desert’ fit with TWT?
AB: A lot of the time, I think people are afraid to push themselves to make things that are really bold and don’t compromise, and there really is no compromise. There’s a desire to show what we’re capable of doing.
SM: I think it falls under the Teeth ethos because it’s a brand new piece of writing. Building something from scratch is very Teeth, I’d say.
So has everyone helped to create their own characters?
SM: I think we give people the freedom to put their own stamp on the character, so it’s just lush when someone does this really wacky, out-there thing, and it really works!
Lara, you’re choreographer. How have you incorporated movement into the show without isolating it into being a ‘dance’ piece?
LL: Character is central to the movement sections- that’s why we have an ensemble of actors as opposed to a dance troop. A movement piece often is a way to show what’s really going on in the character’s head. The play has so many layers, so it’s been a challenge, but hopefully the movement sections will add colour to the craziness that is ‘A Planet in the Desert’!
You have a huge cast- how have you found working with such a large group of people?
SM: It’s been really difficult to schedule rehearsals but everyone gets on so well and everyone’s so lovely that it really works when they’re together.
Alex, you’ve written and directed the show. How have you found the process, and have your ideas developed?
AB: I knew from the start I wanted make it come alive visually. It’s about bringing in these incredibly talented people, who contribute really exciting moments.
Have you been collaborating with the design teams, as well as the creative team and cast?
SM: Yeah, so I’m really excited to see what they spill out. In our first production team meeting we were like, ‘Okay can we have sand everywhere? We want a climbable radio tower’. There was a moment of silence then, ‘Okay! Let’s do it!’.
AB: There’s no shying away from the challenge. Once the design team have physically built these ridiculous structures it’s not going to be the Lemmy.
Josie and Annie: How did you approach designing these ‘ridiculous structures’?
JL: Having such a large cast meant that the atmosphere has to be created without too much of a busy set. It’s been a challenge, but I hope that our combination of natural materials and some fancy wallpaper will achieve the look of a barren desert!
AT: Working collaboratively with the crew has been a challenge but well worth it. The characters are relatable so in terms of costume we wanted something realistic that can also portray their characteristics. The aesthetics had to connect with the themes of the desert especially.
there is no shying away from the challenge
Finally, what makes ‘A Planet in the Desert’ different from other Term 3 shows, and why should our readers come to see it?
AB: There’s so much ambition to what we’re trying to pull off . I would hope, in that most egotistical way, that people would see this and realise that the artists of Exeter are capable of doing stuff like this.
SM: It’s Teeth’s first show that spans across multiple terms, so it’s not a work-in-progress: It is finished, and ambitious, and I’d really love for us to have an audience that walk away and are happy with what they’ve seen.
‘A Planet in the Desert’ opens in the Lemon Grove at 7:30pm on the 4th, and then has a matinee and an evening performance on the 5th, at 2pm and 7.30pm respectively.