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SAP at The North Wall Oxford

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“The ideas Sap explores are universal – deception, sexuality, consent. ”
The North Wall e9spjk

Drawing inspiration from the myth of Daphne and Apollo, Sap by Rafaella Marcus, is a contemporary, fast-paced thriller about passion, power, and photosynthesis.

Atticist Theatre Company and Ellie Keel Productions have joined forces to bring to the stage this queer urban fable about bisexuality and what we allow people to believe. We invited Producer Ellie Keel and Director, Jessica Lazar, to tell us more.

Ellie Keel (Producer): It’s fun to think back to when we first encountered Sap – in mid-2019, I think. Jessica and I had been working together for a few years as a producer/director team, and we were looking for the next project to collaborate on. We wanted it to be a special piece of new writing for the stage that we could get really excited about. Jessica suggested that an open call-out for scripts would be a good idea…

Jessica Lazar (Director): Sap emerged as the frontrunner from the scripts we received, so we met the writer, Rafaella Marcus, and found we had immediate complicité – a feeling of understanding that indicates potential for collaboration. Raf had brought us something wonderful, but the script was at an early stage. We knew we could help them finish their first play, and stage it with unapologetic power.

Ellie: That’s something I love about working with Jessica (and lots of other women) – the instinct to collaborate. Obviously, the writer’s voice is the most significant, but in a project like this one, I think the best results are achieved by incorporating many different forms of creative expertise – director, designer, movement director, composer, actors’ views and so on. Jessica is so good at creating an environment in which everybody can be heard from the very beginning, so the team truly works together towards a common goal: to make the production as vibrant and memorable as possible.

Jessica: As a text, Sap is thematically rich and also exciting, so we wanted the production to be the same. Sometimes when a play is dense with ideas, or is poetic in the way Sap sometimes is, it can be challenging to make it gripping and nimble to watch. Rafaella kept the plot moving on paper in a masterful way, so a priority in the rehearsals was to make sure the production didn’t slow it down.

Ellie: I’ve produced lots of new plays but this is the only one whose twist has made the audience literally gasp! Hearing that collective intake of breath for the first time (at VAULT Festival in early 2020) was a fantastic moment in the journey of producing this play – when I heard it, I thought wow, I want every play I produce from now on to make the audience gasp.

Jessica: There are lots of moments in Sap that are genuinely shocking. In essence, the play is about a woman who tells a lie that gets out of control. Along the way it explores coercive control, consent, bisexuality, trauma… nothing is dealt with superficially; Rafaella has thought carefully and researched everything they’ve written about. It is hard-hitting, but it is done deftly and with great sensitivity.

Ellie: I’m proud that we’ve made a play that tackles such important themes while still being very entertaining. I think that’s one of the best things about Rafaella’s play. It’s all about the audiences – a play can be as topical and worthwhile as you like, but people have to want to come and see it. And that means the characters have to be deeply interesting; things have to keep happening (ie the play can’t just be a ‘study’ on something); it has to hold our attention. This is the case more than ever now, post-pandemic, when people have been watching a lot of TV and are used to short episodes with lots of cliffhangers that they can binge-watch in bed. Theatre has to be extra good to compete with that.

Jessica: We wanted our production values to be exceptional. We worked with highly skilled creatives in their respective departments: Tom Foskett-Barnes as sound designer and composer; David Doyle as lighting designer; Rūta Irbīte as set and costume designer; Jennifer Fletcher as movement director and Charlotte Vickers as associate director. We shared a desire to make the production dynamic and arresting in its staging and design, while never pulling focus from the writing or performances (by the award-winning Jessica Clark and Rebecca Banatvala). Everything had to work together to illuminate the whole.

Ellie: Our venue in Edinburgh was Paines Plough’s Roundabout, at Summerhall. It is what it sounds like: round. The shape makes it a very intimate, engrossing experience for the audience. They can see each other as well as the actors, whose relationship with the audience is much closer and more dynamic than in traditional end-on spaces. For me, this configuration is key to making Sap as engaging as it is. It means that as an audience member you almost feel like a participant in the story – which lends itself well to a tale which is based on a Greek myth and has a degree of universality to it.

Jessica: Yes, the play is a very loose adaptation of the myth of the nymph Daphne and the sun god Apollo, retold most famously in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. But you don’t need to know the myth to enjoy or understand the play, though it adds an extra dimension and a few jokes if you do. It’s sobering to think that this myth, thousands of years old, transforms so easily into something that seems believable in a contemporary urban setting (albeit a magical one). The theme of violence against women by men is unfortunately timeless.

Ellie: It’s the truth. The other ideas Sap explores are universal too – deception, sexuality, consent. They wouldn’t have been presented so explicitly in Ovid’s time but they were certainly latent themes in a lot of texts. Rafaella has written a contemporary play with ancient resonance, and it is incredibly special to be able to share something so unique and compelling with audiences across the UK.

Following a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the award-winning SAP returns for an extensive UK Tour, including runs at London’s Soho Theatre, The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, Birmingham Rep and The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, with further venues to be announced.

SAP tours to The North Wall in Oxford from Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 March. Book tickets at thenorthwall.com

Image credit: David Monteith-Hodge

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