Born Mad: Interview with director Rebecca Hanbury

Born Mad is a collective of theatre makers, creating boldly unconventional works of music theatre. The artists – which include director Rebecca Hanbury and composer Alex Groves – have been working together for over a year, but the company’s official launch will take place this month at Tête à Tête Opera Festival. The team will be performing MIX – a selection of extracts from their previous shows, Psyche and Hunger, as well as extracts from a brand new piece called Sister. Here, Francesca Wickers talks to Rebecca Hanbury about this new work, which has sprung from a series of interviews with women.

R&D 3

Can you tell me a bit about your new work, Sister?

Sister is an exploration of sisterhood.  It came from our desire to create opera with strong female protagonists. We are interested in the bond that sisters have with each other, and the impact this bond has on their lives. We wanted to make work that is honest, that our audiences can relate to, and that gives a voice to real people, so we’ve made the piece from real life interviews – speaking to women and girls from all walks of life about their sisters, and turning it into a show.

Who are the verbatim interviews with? 

We found our interviewees from all over the place. We started with friends, but soon realised we needed to branch out. We then did some call-outs online and were overwhelmed with responses. Dozens of women and girls eager to tell us their stories and speak about their sisters. It seemed we had hit a nerve.  We’d found something that women really wanted to talk about, so we started to interview.

What have you found out from these interviews that interests you? 

The interviews themselves varied massively. Many were beautifully nostalgic, others funny, others serendipitous and strange. We also heard many stories of pain, of feuds which last a lifetime and unreconcilable fights. I was humbled by the generous honesty and openness of the people we spoke to, many of whom were strangers. We came out of it with a rich and varied tapestry of stories.

How have you devised the work? 

The next task was to turn all these hours of interviews into a show. We drew out interesting moments and universal themes, then put them in front of our ensemble, and started to play. Guided by myself and composer Alex Groves, we developed music, staging and dance from the interviews, weaving together sound and visual worlds. We have spent the last couple of years developing our unique devising method where our ensemble develops all elements of the show collaboratively to create a unified whole.

Have you turned interview quotation into a libretto? 

All the words in the show have been taken directly from the interviews. Some are sung, some spoken and some are played in their original form. The women we interviewed are our librettists. We are just telling their stories.

Is the piece an opera, or something else (or perhaps it’s hard to define – why? Is there singing?) 

We aren’t really sure if it is opera or not! Audiences have a wide-ranging view of what opera is. If you think opera is theatre with beautiful contemporary music and classical singing, then yes – it is opera.  However, the singing occurs over electronic scores with no live instrumentalists, which for some means it can’t be opera. We are also a bit allergic to the pomp and ceremony which many associate with opera. It is important that we aren’t restrained by genre, so tend to describe our work as music theatre. We’d be interested to hear what our audiences think about this. We make work that we want to see – it is up to our audiences to define it.

What will the experience be like for the audience? 

MIX will be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to be honest! There are some funny extracts, some politically driven scenes, and some heartbreaking moments. We hope you enjoy it!

MIX will be performed at 6.50pm on Thursday 6 & Friday 7 August, 2015, at Kings Place Hall 2, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG. For more information and to book, click here.

R&D 1

Born Mad performers, Emily Phillips and Chiara Vinci, devising the company’s latest show: ‘Sister’