The All-Female Company Making Fringe Theatre Something You Should Care About

This week marks the opening of a new play that tackles the theme of loneliness in the city – specifically, loneliness experienced by anyone and everyone who takes public transport. Set on the London underground, ‘Sardines’ is written by up-and-coming playwright Jenna Kamal and produced and directed by her colleagues Alice Wordsworth and Erin Blackmore at Rumble, an all-female theatre company. We caught up with Erin and Alice to chat about their process, ‘Sardines’ and what inspired them to make fringe theatre that stands out…

What prompted you to set up Rumble?

Rumble very much started as a personal endeavor, rather than a business idea. It was a way for two university friends to make work and find our feet as directors. Our first show ‘Nomad’ was in many ways our most experimental in that it was an adaptation of three famous adventure stories that we made an outdoor, immersive piece of theatre; our audience adding logs to the campfire to keep the tales burning. Looking back at that show, in the beginning stages of Rumble, it was such a special time for trial and error with very little jeopardy (as well as an excuse to rehearse outside in a buttercup field in Exeter!)

What distinguishes Rumble from other fringe theatre companies?

From a company perspective, we’re an all-female-trio, which is something we’ve found to be quite rare in the industry. From a theatrical perspective, we all bring a really unique set of influences and ways of working to the table. Despite all studying at Exeter, we specialised in very different topics, and I think that brings something quite fresh to the rehearsal space. As a team, we’re on a mission to create work that not only reminds an audience what it means to be human, but work that actually makes them fall in love with being human. We’re also really committed to making sure everyone gets a fair cut of profits – we’re actively trying to fight the unpaid actor mentality.

What stories interest you the most?

Stories about people – always. Jenna often writes about relationships – either between families or partners – as she finds the forces at work around love really interesting. As a company, we’re fascinated by stories about artists and their work, so we’re big fans of The Writer and Red. I think on an everyday level, stories about finding peace or joy or strength during times of struggle have so much truth and hope to them that they naturally make good stories.

Where did the name Rumble come from?

No one talks about how difficult it is coming up with a company name. You find yourself desperately looking round the room for inspiration until you realise that ‘candlestick’ is never going to be an appropriate option! When reflecting on other iconic theatre companies of our era, such as Frantic Assembly and Punchdrunk, you realise that they’re strong, onomatopoeic names. From this, we struck on Rumble, drawing on the notion that an idea starts as something small, a low murmur which then reverberates and builds into something bigger.

What’s been the hardest thing about setting up your own theatre company?

The setting-up stage of a company is often gleaned over – once people are successful no one really talks about how they got there. So having to do everything yourself to begin with and learn on the job was certainly a challenge. Once we’d found our feet, it’s really crucial to find collaborators as that is the best way to elevate your work and ensure that it keeps developing. Having Ellie Bookham as our lighting designer on ‘Sardines’ was an enormous step for us and hugely exciting as it introduced another creative head who thought and saw things differently to us and therefore opened up new possibilities for our shows.

What’s been a highlight?

Putting on work in London has got to be our highlight. London has been the melting pot for so many of the shows which inspire us and the home to many of our role models, so beginning to transition into that world, albeit on a much smaller scale, feels incredibly thrilling.

What’s your advice for people looking to work in theatre?

Perseverance. A dedication to keep trying and to try everything and anything that is thrown at you. Everything you do you absorb into your toolkit, even working on an awful production or assisting a difficult director. These experiences put you on your own path to success and teach you how you would do it differently. You have to be bold and confident in who you are and what you can bring. Get yourself into the rooms where you can meet the right people who can offer you opportunities. A great tip for this from a directing perspective is to attend press nights and know what the director of the play looks like, compliment them on their show and ask them for a coffee to learn more about their process.

Who/ what inspires you?

We are inspired by conversations that dominate our current climate and how we can engage in these debates through theatre. We want to engage audiences in debate, to allow them to question and unpack what makes the world the place we live in today and our place in it.

This is why Rumble works with new writers to explore the human condition. We want to find new ways of storytelling that will entertain and move our audience and ignite their imaginations. We are influenced by the way Sally Cookson seamlessly conjures settings, the precision of physicality in Complicité, the wordplay of Duncan Macmillan and the imaginative array of storytelling techniques that Emma Rice masters.

What can we expect from ‘Sardines’?

Expect to see very familiar scenes from the tube, but totally reimagined. It’s a play that asks: what if we actually spoke to each other when commuting? Would we feel less lonely? Because loneliness isn’t necessarily being alone, it’s feeling like you’re the only person going through what you’re going through. You can be in a room full of people and feel totally isolated. We’re trying to create a space for conversation – one that makes people realise that we’re more alike than different and that we’re all trying to work our way around the pains and joys of life. It’s a lot of fun – and includes a dance party, a campfire sing along and some birthday cake – but it also runs quite deeply in talking about the darker parts of life that we don’t often talk about.

What are your plans for Rumble?

We want to develop Rumble as a London-based theatre company. We hope to continue our work on the London Fringe scene for the next year, transferring ‘Sardines’ to VAULTS festival. The VAULTS stages are all under Waterloo station and we feel this would be a hugely topical location for the show.

We want to progress to becoming an associate theatre company at an established London venue. This would enable us to produce work more regularly and on the same stage, in hope of gaining a new and loyal audience. But most importantly we want to be guided by our projects. We have some really exciting new plays in the pipeline for 2019 and we want to secure funding, to increase our production values and wow audiences.

How is theatre changing, especially when it comes to women working in the industry? What more could be done?

There has been a big shift in theatre programming and industry development over the last five years, a push for accessible work for all social groups. It’s a brilliant time to be emerging into the industry, as there is real scope and dedication to creating work for all – not just the privileged. We’ve seen an expansion in youth free ticket schemes, relaxed performances for those with disabilities and each show offering BSL-interpreted performances. This openness feeds into the bridging of the gender gap too. It is shocking that it has taken events such as Weinstein to shed light on the truth of what a lot of women have experienced in the creative industry, but it has brought a long-awaited regalement and huge promotion of woman’s work and place in the arts. Nonetheless, there is a long way to go. The big theatres are still dominated by men, both on stage and the production teams, and the percentage of female Artistic Directors is horrendous. We need to be promoting blind casting and creating more opportunities for more females in production teams to ensure we are rustling the industries feathers and bringing equality to the arts.

‘Sardines’ is at the Drayton Arms Theatre now until 7th July. Tickets available here