Minotaur Theatre Company (MTC) has brought their new show Loyalty to the Fringe this year, a play that wrestles with morality and allegiance in Stalin’s Russia. The Student got to chat with writer/director Isabel Morgan, production manager Rosie Flood, technical director Marguerite Vernet, and lead actress Jess Lester to discuss the inspiration behind Loyalty, and what the future holds for MTC.
How long has Minotaur Theatre Company been performing?
Rosie: Minotaur Theatre Company was started by University of East Anglia (UEA) students in 1979, so has been active for almost 40 years now. It’s exciting being part of a company that’s had so many talented students as members throughout the years.
What drew you to stage a historical drama, much less one set in Stalin’s Russia?
Isabel: Stalin’s Russia leads itself so well to drama. A postwar police state drenched in corruption and secrets creates such an interesting setting for a play. It was an environment of hostility and suspicion, which made emotions run high. It’s an intriguing place to set a play in, since it allows you to explore people’s behaviour and relationships when stakes are running so high.
Loyalty is run entirely by first-year students, which is spectacular. What does this bring to the production, why is this important to MTC?
Rosie: Having a cast and crew made up of first years has made the experience both challenging and exciting. As soon as we came to university we were encouraged to get involved with Minotaur, and first years are immediately active in the company even within the first day of arriving. This is a really positive thing for both us and the company because it means that Minotaur is constantly gaining people with new skills and ideas, and also allows new students to learn on their feet. Hopefully as first years we can bring both our enthusiasm, and everything that we’ve learned this year, to life on stage. We’ve already learnt so much so far from preparing to bring the show up to Edinburgh.
What was the hardest aspect in staging a work like this? Any memorable moments?
Isabel: When writing the play, it was a challenge to make sure that the intense emotions and tension were prolonged for a long period of time without losing momentum. It can be difficult to make sure that the audience is gripped throughout the whole performance, and also that the energy levels of the cast don’t drop.
A memorable moment would definitely be the snow shoot. We shot some of our original publicity photos in the woods in the snow, with the cast in black t-shirts. It was below 0 degrees—but hey, the photos look like Russia, so I think it was worth it…not sure the cast thinks that though.
You’ve been a consistent presence at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for seven years now. What keeps you coming back?
Rosie: I think every year the cast and crew come back from Edinburgh exhausted – but always having had an incredible experience, and with a rejuvenated passion for creating theatre. The excitement and buzz of the Fringe is really unique, and it’s such an exciting place to be, especially as students being able to debut our own work to such diverse audiences.
Is it true that Matt Smith (of The Crown and Doctor Who fame) is an alumnus of MTC?
Jess: Yes! Hopefully we have some more budding actors in the company who can follow in his footsteps. Maybe someone in the Loyalty crew is a future Doctor Who? Who knows.
MTC has numerous charitable endeavours, including Cabaret Charity and Fem Fest. How has this helped, and how can others get involved?
Marguerite: It’s a hugely important part of Minotaur’s ethos that we aim to give something back to the community. It’s our way to raise money and awareness for important issues in today’s society. For example, we’ve raised money for Breast Cancer Research, Assisting Cambodian Orphans and the Disabled Organisation, MIND and much more. Thanks to the hard work and dedication that many students put in, we create an absolutely amazing night at the musicals!
Every year Minotaur also celebrates women within and outside the company. This year we had a week-long festival with a number of activities such as workshops and performances. It’s a way to celebrate women; feminism using theatre and other art forms. These two programs not only raise awareness and give a platform to people who want to express themselves, [but] it also builds our sense of community. By working together, we create something beautiful and are able to give back.
In terms of getting involved, students can of course be part of the shows on stage, contribute ‘backstage’ for example the technical side, stage management and be on the production team. Or else, you can always come to the show and donate! Every little helps!
Jess: I have the fortune to also be a part of MTC’s latest project taking place later this year. We’re very excited to be putting on Tristan Bernay’s Boudica back home at the University of East Anglia, the very county where the queen reigned over a thousand years ago. It looks set to be a thrilling, bloody and (hopefully) moving show, and we can’t wait to get started on it. Also watch out for Minotaur next year in Edinburgh- the company will be back again in 2019, debuting more student writing! (If we aren’t still too tired from this year’s Fringe…).
In three words, how would you NOT describe Loyalty?
Isabel: Obvious, emotionless, outdated.
theSpace on North Bridge – Fife Theatre (Venue 36)
13-18, 20-25 August
Image: Minotaur Theatre Company