Peter Arnott presents new play this week

23 September 2013 ← return to listing

Peter Arnott presents new play this week

One of Scotland's most cherished playwrights, Peter Arnott, has been working at Edinburgh University, developing a play for the Traverse throughout 2012. On Thursday, he will present the culmination of his year's work with his rehearsed reading Group Portrait in a Landscape (Et In Arcadia).

We caught up with Peter to hear more about the residency, and the play itself.

You've been Playwright in Residence with the ESRC Genomics Forum at the University of Edinburgh - what does the department do, and what was your role?

The Forum brought together social scientists and artists to look at the intellectual, cultural, legal and economic (as well as scientific) ramifications of the sequencing of the Human Genome in 2001.  

Basically, the whole of Life Science is undergoing a revolution, and reaching in all kinds of directions. Not just in medicine, but in the environment and the history of life on earth. And, I guess, to the meaning of life... really big, fundamental stuff about... well... "meaning" and "life". Just for a start!

And how has your play taken shape from the Forum's studies?

What I'm trying to do in the play is look at what the new knowledge we have about "how" life works, in order to consider the more traditional playwright's territory of "why"? There is a really urgent question for me, which I think feeds into absolutely everything we ever talk about in the theatre and in new writing: 

"How do we value human life now that we understand how it connects to a universe where nothing has any more value than anything else?"

If we're not created, we are accidents, and need to find a new reason to care.

So I'm looking at a family whose life is, well, perfect. They're comfortable, civilised, well intentioned (or pretty much).  The drama comes from biology...the unnegotiatable facts of life and death.

The play is about what happened to us when we're suddenly smacked in the face by something that forces us to recognise ourselves for what we are... with the "new" knowledge. And to wonder how it changes us.

We've already seen glimpses of Group Portrait in a Landscape, in the form of rehearsed readings (then called Talent Night in the Fly Room) last year. Could you tell us a little bit about how the play has changed since then, and it's current journey.

Last year we read the first half of what is being read on Thursday, the climax of which is like a rock being thrown into the pond. The second half the play is kind of the splash, or immediate aftermath.

Oddly too, I've only found it possible to write the second half the play in the context of what I might call "the ripples from the rock in the pond". That is, having now written ANOTHER play with the same group of characters but set fifteen years later (not to worry, were only reading part 1!).

So what we have now, in Group Portrait in a Landscape does work as a self-contained piece. Or, rather, that's what we're going to find out, by working with a really strong company of actors and a very experienced, talented director in Tony Cownie. And of course, most importantly of all, with an audience of live committed people who can tell us whether we're onto something, or whether we're just travelling in ever expanding/diminishing circles...

Be good to see you there.


The rehearsed reading  Group Portrait in a Landscape is in Traverse 2 on Thursday at 7.30pm

Tickets £6/£4


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