An intriguing tale of love and loss tours Scotland this month, starting at the Assembly Roxy. Torn is the work of silent performer Francisca Morton of Faux Theatre and draws on her experience as a psychotherapist to look at the mind of someone absorbed by the depths of a relationship. Morton’s character sits on a sparsely-furnished stage surrounded by love letters, and as she delves into her memories, the only accompaniment is provided by composer and Foley artist, Barney Strachen. Ahead of the show, Morton talks to Robert James Peacock about her work…
So, you have a background in psychotherapy…
I was a Hospital Play Specialist at the Edinburgh Sick Kids, specialising in work with neo-nates and working in the Intensive Care Unit. Later, in 2011, I qualified as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
And when did you start writing and performing?
My degree was in Performing Arts and Dance. I have always had a particular interest in theatre with a strong visual style and was asked to make my first show for the Fringe in 2010. It was to be suitable for an audience of babies and was to be performed on the top deck of The Big Red Bus Company’s 1960s Routemaster bus! They wanted to try turning their lovely vintage vehicle into a Fringe venue. They took out the front three rows of seats up top so the ‘stage’ was tiny – my hat touched the roof. A full-house was 25 people! I am pleased to say we had lots of sold-out Fringe shows…
How has your psychotherapy work influenced your artistic work in general and this show in particular?
Put a character or a puppet on stage. You immediately have the potential for a myriad of emotional and relational possibilities. Having an understanding of psychotherapy gives a rich ground to character development and experience.
Torn explores themes of attachment and loss, particularly ‘avoidant’ and ‘anxious’ attachment styles. It explores what happens when the ‘idea‘ of who someone is is stronger than the reality of who they actually are – ‘object relations‘. And it’s about people who bring only half of themselves into a relationship, and those who fall in love with them anyway.
What provided the inspiration for Torn?
I wanted to explore working with the medium of paper. Paper has so many qualities. It can be soft, firm, be torn or scrunched, be flat or textured, robust or flimsy. It acts differently when wet, can be opaque or translucent in light. I wanted to explore it as a theatrical medium.
I devised the piece originally with performer/artist Rebecca Elphinstone and later with performer Melanie Jordan. The process of using the materials as inspiration for the work and the narrative was strongly informed by the teaching of Rene Baker, a visual theatre practitioner and teacher.
Why did you make your character silent?
I don’t feel we ‘made her silent’. It just wasn’t necessary to add spoken language. The narrative happens through visual and auditory means. The audience are invited to witness, to perceive. Words can be very instructional to our experience. To me, visual theatre offers an invitation to the viewer. They are free to interpret what they see in their own way. A form of mental anarchy perhaps.
You use a Foley artist. Can you tell us how that works and why you went that route?
A Foley artist provides additional sounds to a film soundtrack after filming. They often get messy, are in awkward or ridiculous positions, and use strange objects, just to provide the right sound at the right moment. I love that they can look ridiculous but have no sense of self-consciousness about it as all their attention has to be on the sound they have to produce next. There’s something captivating and endearing about that.
I was interested in finding as many sounds as possible solely through using paper. We just played around with lots of kinds of paper and came up with a whole sound palette. Barney Strachan [the composer/performer who also plays the role of the Foley Artist] first had the idea.
So Torn grew out of these explorations. That’s what I love about devising work, playing openly and seeing what happens. You don’t know where you’ll end up. But it’s often in a more interesting place than if you’d try to sit down and write it.
The Foley idea works really well with this piece. It also serves to highlight that the main character doesn’t notice or see someone who is actually there because she’s so caught up in her internal ideas.
How do you find being both a psychotherapist and a performer?
As a psychotherapist I know that having some outlet for creative self-expression is an important part of having a healthy lifestyle balance. It happens that for me, being creatively expressed means making theatre and performing. I’ve often thought life would be simpler if I loved sketching or crotchet! Making theatre takes a large amount of time, space, effort, storage, personnel and money! It’s worth it though. And at the end you get to ‘share the joy’.
Is it hard to shift between the two? Has it caused any problems?
As a creative person I enjoy the variety of having more than one profession. So far I’ve managed to make it work. I’m also a single parent. Let’s just say, it wouldn’t all be possible without my own mum! I’m blessed that she is a creatively active person and has always encouraged us to follow our creative outlets. And she’s an incredibly devoted grandparent. Thanks mum ! x