Interview: Emma Geraghty

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On Friday Week 1 Emma Geraghty, in collaboration with Lancaster University Theatre Group, brought her show Cracking to the Nuffield Theatre, which also acted as a launch for the book from which the show’ story derives. I caught up with her a week before the show to talk about her work.

Emma graduated from Lancaster University two years ago, and since then has been doing freelance stage manager, and design, as well as working on her writing and music. While at Lancaster, theatre became Emma’s life as a result of her theatre degree, and also being heavily involved in stage management of a series of LUTG show. With Cracking Emma returned to the Nuffield theatre, a favourite venue for the stage manager while she was still at Lancaster, enjoying the opportunity to “mess around” in there.

Cracking, which was written and is being co-directed by Emma, tells the story of someone who leaves home, and joins a travelling circus. It’s a storytelling piece, brought to life through narrators, and the words of the characters rather than the action on stage. Emma describes the show as classical, natural, and lyrical storytelling, harking back to the idea of telling stories around a camp fire. The show was brought to life with a cast of 7, who Emma was pleasantly surprised to find were brilliant. Three members of the travelling show, played by Jack Maidment , Holly Gardner, Josh Utting also serve as narrators for other stories.

The novel is written in the 2nd person, and in translating this for stage, Liam Wells took on the role of ‘You’. This device is designed to put the audience, and reader within the perspective of the main character. In fact this device was ultimately simpler in the show, as within the book Emma went to great lengths to hide any details about the main character. Tinker, a tiger tamer, played by Luke McDonnell, the dancer Hattie, played by Jess Turton, and Wolfie played by Anna West brought together the rest of the cast who received high praise from Emma.

In the initial conceptions of the characters, Emma saw herself within each of them. However, as the rehearsals went on, she began to see each character more and more as the actors playing them. With the rehearsals nearly complete she most identified, in the end, with Wolfie – the stage manager of the show who “has to always know what’s going”. Inspirations for these characters came from her own experiences, and she expresses a hope that no one sees themselves in any of the characters.

Inspiration for the show came from, as alluded to above, Geraghty’s novel of the same name, a book she’s been working on since her first year at Lancaster University. The book, which expands on the story in the show, stemmed from Emma’s own experiments with writing on her own blog, which she was inspired to take further after performing some of her work at a theatre open mic night. The idea itself stemmed from Emma’s own fascination with the circus, and the idea of never settling down in one place, ideas that were further enflamed when a lecturer gifted Emma free tickets to see a circus during her first year at university.

Emma considers one of the themes of the narrative; a sense of “returning to nature” – the travelling show depending on themselves rather than on any technology allowing them to move around forever. One of the other central themes of both the show and the book is that of finding a home, whether that is within four walls, or a travelling circus. The circus itself, within the story, becomes a “place for people without places” for people who don’t fit in anywhere else. Considering Emma wrote this story while at university and heavily involved with LUTG, and it is easy to see the analogy between the travelling show. As Emma herself asserts: “one of the amazing things about theatre group, is that you feel at home straight away”.

One day, while talking about the book with one of her friends that remain within LUTG, the idea of adapting the book for the stage was formed. The translation from novel to script was difficult, Emma confesses, due to the short 3 week turn around between deciding to put on the show, and presenting the idea to LUTG, during which 10,000 words were cut from the book. However, the issue was eased Emma’s own love of writing dialogue meant that the dialogue within the book was already in an almost script like format for the story. After a wonderful response from the theatre group, within a couple of days the cast and crew were formed.

The floods inevitably played a role in the build up to the show. The rehearsals planned for Week 10 ended up taking place in someone’s house as campus remained closed, and the cast and crew once again demonstrated their dedication to the piece in the 40-hour rehearsal week they took part in, in the week before the start of this term. Emma confessed that this was very intense, and that they’d all “become a bit sick of each other by Friday night”, but the hard work certainly paid off.

Emma once again expresses gratitude and praise for her cast for their willingness to independently develop their own characters and probe her about the characters within in the story, which in turn have gone on to influence Emma’s book. The differences between the two mediums remain however, with the book considerably more fragmented, jumping rapidly between the different back-stories. There are plans to develop the show even further; Emma expressed a desire to take the show to festivals, and most importantly to her home town of Manchester.

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