From System to Stage – The Panopticon
There is a moment in rehearsals where the actors become wild things. They gnash their terrible teeth. Pound their feet. The Panopticon company is pushing itself as hard as it can — toward a point of no return. The actress playing the lead role of Anais (Anna Russell-Martin) shoves a circle of actors surrounding her — back out of her way. In a second she has cleared a space for herself. She drops to the floor in tears — fierce and sudden. Standing up to take a few steps away — she makes a sound that could be wolfish, it holds rage, strength, frustration. I know that sound. Debbie Hannan (Director) quietly tells me that this is a great thing, it can take actors weeks to get to this point. They have worked together before. Debbie trusts Anna in this moment. She is confident in this process, respectful that each actor has to come to the role truthfully. We are all pushing through something. The Panopticon has an ability to do that. Individually and collectively this is not the kind of journey that leaves you unchanged. The Panopticon is becoming a living, pulsating, world. It is under our finger nails. It trails home after us. It sits by the canal smoking each morning eyeing us all up as we go into work. I know how affecting this world can be. It is a story I never wanted to tell about a system I did not choose to be raised in.
Even now it still gets to me.
I wrote the novel of The Panopticon around ten years ago when I was living in Peckham. I wrote for twelve hours per day, seven days a week. I rarely left the world of The Panopticon until it was done. In the process of passing it over to this company I sit for days on end answering questions about the care system, there are so many nuances particular to my own very extreme upbringing. Many of these are things I never discuss. I push hard so they can too. I offer my soul so they will be better able to bring their own. The actors are unsure if they can own this material. I tell them they have to do so. Finding the root of what ties them to their character will help to humanise a demographic that is always discussed as a collective. Children from care are individuals. Just kids. Each brings their own unique self. I have got used to the process in stages. National Theatre of Scotland is made up of extraordinarily talented people. They are a joy to work with. Theatre itself is a medium that can make real, raw human experience stark as it can be. It also holds magic — even on an empty set. I love that. The challenges are many, not least emotionally. I met with Debbie Hannan many times before we got to the point of rehearsals. We spent a long evening having dinner at my flat. I talked a lot. Much of it was about music, counter culture, art, structuralism, poverty, abuse, neglect, youth offending, terminology, othering, policy, government, resilience, hope, tenacity, morality, surrealism, consciousness, fashion, literature. I told her about my own upbringing and why I have rarely spoken about it directly. We were able to meet each other as artists and women — people first, storytellers second. It was important. Once we had the measure of what The Panopticon meant to each other — a foundation of trust was ready to build on.