If you want an alternative to panto yet want to avoid deadly serious theatre then All Through The House might be for you. Yet look underneath the surface and you’ll find a more complex structure and meaning, a trademark of Tinderbox’s work (Lally the Scut being a great recent example). Contemporary Northern Ireland and clashes of culture aplenty.
“I hope that people recognise that a truthfulness about their own awkward family scenarios in it. This family are a blended family. The heart of the family are a divorced couple called Arthur and Carol Moore. They’ve decided to come together for Christmas dinner – the first time they’ve seen each other in five years – for the sake of their slightly neurotic adult daughter Ruth.
“Arthur is going to bring his new partner, the woman he left his wife for, and she’s going to bring her daughter who used to be their daughter’s best friend. So already you’ve got quite a tangled web. And then into that scenarios comes Carol’s drop dead gorgeous work colleague and all hell slightly breaks loose.”
Judith has “always wanted to write” and has previous started to compose film scripts. But she admits finding theatre “way more fun”. Neither Tinderbox nor Judith set out to write a Christmas show. “No one was more surprised than me ending up writing a Christmas play. It wasn’t really my intention” she says.
Swing State Cabaret, an evening of new satirical material by Tinderbox young writers, about and on the eve of the US Presidential election. What started our as an awkward dinner developed into the idea of a Christmas with “two very different families with two very different ways of celebrating Christmas coming together in a car crash situation … too juicy material to let go of”.
Hanna Slattne is the dramaturg at Tinderbox and first worked with Judith in their Young Writers programme back in 2009.
“Then she came through our Graduate Scheme in 2012 where we looked at satire – which is where this comedy’s satire flame was lit. And then out of that she got an opportunity to commission and started to develop this play with us and then after the successful Pick’n’Mix reading of the first half as a work in progress we commissioned her to finish this. So it’s been a long but a very brilliant journey to see someone grow … she’s worked really hard and this is a very, very good script. I’m so proud of it.”
A dramaturg acts as a coach in their ongoing relationship with the writer. Hanna explains:
“I know about theatre. I’m not the writer and I’m not a writer. But I do know how theatre works and functions and I also know what support writers coming to this challenge for the first time might need. It’s about having an ongoing artistic discussion all the way through.”
Judith acknowledges that “over the course of writing this I’ve gone wildly off piste in certain drafts”. But Hanna asks the right questions and brings it back into shape.
In a recent blog post, director Patrick J O’Reilly says:
“All Through The House beautifully captures the complex grey area between love and hate in couples and family life and that has been my prime source of inspiration throughout the rehearsal process. By removing clichés and stripping bare the emotional core so brilliantly crafted in Judith’s play we are making a visceral piece of work that is proving to be both humorous as it is touching, which in my opinion is the very best kind of theatre we can make.”
“I think the way Patrick and the cast are working has been so enjoyable to watch. They’ve been up there, scripts down, and bringing so much humour to it. So it’s been really interesting to see how they’re lifting the script from what’s on the page.”
Does watching the rehearsal process change how she sees her play?
“Not as much as you would think. This is the first time I’ve done this but it was slightly like watching someone else’s play, in a good way. I was able to sit back … I don’t feel married to it being one particular way. And [the casts’] instincts are all really good. So even if it’s different from how I imagined it, it’s usually better, so I’m grateful to them!”
All Through The House opens in the Crescent Arts Centre on Friday 4 December and runs through until Saturday 19 December. Suitable for ages 14+. Tickets priced at £14 (£10 concession).