This week we met up with theatre maker, Nastazja Somers, one half of No Offence Theatre. She and co-artistic director BJ McNeill are taking their debut show ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’ to this year’s Brighton Fringe. Having previewed at Theatre N16 last year, what better place to catch up than in the Bedford pub in Balham, home to N16.
Ginger Wig: Hello Nastazja. Thank you so much for talking to us.
Nastazja: Thank you Ginger Wig for talking to me.
GW: So BJ and you founded No Offence Theatre in London?
N: Where else would you expect an Australian and a Pole to start a theatre company together? BJ is into physical theatre, I prefer the classics like Ibsen, but we complement each other nicely, which is important. We take care of different aspects of our theatre company. He is very good with people, which is why he directs.
GW: Why did you start No Offence?
N: I think the reason why we started it is because we have a similar view of theatre. We go to the theatre with exactly the same expectations. Theatre isn’t there to entertain you, its there to make you think something and feel something.
GW: So when did you start ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’?
N: It started three years ago when BJ and I were at drama school. We were in a restaurant and I was taking about my life. I told him about my mum who left Poland in the early 80’s and went to Germany and met a Canadian soldier. Back then Poland was a communist country and it was very insular. I guess she wanted to taste the West but eventually she had to leave. So BJ and I had this conversation, what if she didn’t have to leave? Maybe he was the love of her life? Sometimes there are these outside factors that make decisions for us. We think we are in control of our life but we are not. That’s when BJ started writing.
GW: What was your first performance like?
N: I remember having this moment just before going on stage thinking; it’s on us now. There is no drama school or director to blame, we are the company. I think that helps establish how important your art is to you. You have to take responsibility for it no matter what. You need to do that.
GW: So tell us about the play.
N: It is a feminist piece of writing that talks about universal themes. I hope it will start a conversation and make people think about things they have done. The character I am playing is the most unapologetic woman I’ve ever played. She taught me that it’s ok to be loud and outspoken and get your way. She showed me I don’t have to be polite.
GW: So you haven’t picked up any British politeness living here?
N: No I keep fighting it. People keep trying to anglicise me and I’m like NO! I’m not going to start saying sorry for everything (she laughs).
GW: What are you trying to convey in this play?
N: We try to put a mirror up to the audience and make them see love differently. Nothing is black and white. We live in a world that idealises everything. We idealise love, we idealise how our lives should be because of what people tell us.
GW: And does it show all aspects of a relationship?
N: There is some sex in it. But it’s very real. Sex is awkward sometimes, we’ve all been there. I think it’s very important that you take control of your sexuality. When you do that, you say this is who I am, I am not hiding from anyone.
GW: What has the process been like?
N: The beauty of this project is that is has grown with us. When BJ was writing it, we were workshopping it. It’s changed so much, because BJ is a very open minded free director who works in a very collaborative way. If a line didn’t feel right to someone, he would change it. Everything is organic and open to experimentation.
GW: Why do you think there is a lack of strong female characters in the arts?
N: Because there is a lack of good female roles. It’s lucky we have BJ because he writes parts for women so well. We all want to see multi-dimensional characters, like Halvard in ‘Master Builder’. There is so much complexity in that character. What was interesting about the recent Old Vic production was that the female character was played as a strong young woman who knew what she wanted. Critics didn’t like that. We are used to seeing a complex man on stage and a weak, lost female. You can tell that there is a problem with the lack of female roles because we are still talking about it. I have stopped calling myself an actress and started calling myself a theatre maker, because there are so many negative connotations to that word.
GW: Do you think things are changing?
N: I think things are slowly changing. Emma Rice has just started her tenure as artistic director at the Globe. Although recently the Telegraph said she was not suited to the role because she changes Shakespeare too much and sexes it up. Theatre purists who want to see theatre in one way will never allow certain changes to happen.
GW: So tell us about the Brighton Fringe?
N: We are really looking forward to it.
GW: Are there any things you are looking forward to seeing at the Fringe?
N: Yes I am going to see ‘Five Guys Chilling’. It’s a really urgent piece about the chemsex situation right now. Theatre should always be thought provoking and current. I want to make theatre for everyone. We are not rich kids, we went to some random little drama school. I think that message is important. Everything that we do is on our own back.
GW: What is coming up in the future?
N: ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’ is transferring back to Theatre N16 from 12 to 29 September and BJ is writing his second play called ‘Cornflake Girl’ about women suffering with mental health issues.
GW: What has been your favourite recent London stage production?
N: ‘A View from the Bridge’ at the Young Vic. I saw it three times in the theatre and three times in the cinema. It’s great because Ivo von Hove as the director doesn’t project his own judgment onto the characters, you see Eddie committing horrible acts but you end up feeling sorry for him.
GW: And what’s going to be the next random story from your life that BJ is going to take inspiration from?
N: (She laughs) My mother’s story was just something that triggered something in him. When he feels passionate about something he writes about it.
GW: Do you have any personal projects of your own at the moment?
N: I am currently writing about abortion. I’ve seen a lot of plays about abortion but none of them seemed real. Gloria Steinem changed our thoughts on abortion. She took control of her life. I feel very passionate about how society perceives women. We live under this pretence that we are equal when we are not. I feel women hit a time in their lives when people expect a lot of things from them like having a family, having a proper job and not just dressing up in blue.
Coming from Poland has strongly influenced me. I am a liberal and a socialist, Poland is a very far right country. The freedom to have an abortion is under threat, they are trying to ban it, even in cases of rape or when pregnancy is a risk to the women or child’s life. Currently under our constitution those are the only circumstances when you can legally have an abortion.
GW: Well, it’s a very catholic country.
N: Yes. Religion! That is another big problem. I would love to write a play about religion some day.
GW: Well we look forward to seeing that one two. As for now, break a leg with ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’. Thank you so much for talking to us and all the best at the Brighton Fringe!
N: Thank you Ginger Wig! See you there.