Live-scored by electronic sound artist Anneke Kampman, formerly of Conquering Animal Sound, Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound is a journey through the amazing life of one of the great, unsung composers of the twentieth century. In 1942, a séance inspires seventeen-year-old Daphne Oram to found the world-famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop and shape the entire development of electronic sound, cutting a trailblazing path through uncharted musical territory.
Her incredible story is now a play written by Paul Brotherston and Isobel McArthur that debuted at the Tron theatre over the weekend and is now touring Scotland. It’s the latest production from Blood of the Young, a Glasgow based theatre company made up of writers, performers, sound artists and musicians who make dynamic, original, physical work with a strong visual and sonic identity.
Before this talented crew set out on the road, Glasgowist spoke to Paul Brotherston.
Tell us about Blood of the Young, and your own role in the company?
Of course, well I’m – I suppose you could say the Artistic Director
Great job title.
it’s good, isn’t it? Kind of cool. I founded the company, with some fellow graduates of the Conservatoire in 2015. And this is our third show, although our first on this scale.
We made a show called Golden Arm Theatre Project, which played in the Tron and the Traverse about a year and a half ago. And then last autumn we made a show called Secret Show 1 that also played at the Tron.
And so that was like a classic play done in a very anarchic way, and the audience didn’t know what the play was gonna be. I think we’re always trying to do things a bit differently, and we’ve usually got quite a bit of live music in our shows as well.
All our shows so far have had a lot of live music. We’ve worked with a band – Golden Arm Theatre Project was a show that we did with a band called Golden Arm. And then in Secret Show 1 all the actors played instruments.
With this one we’re now playing with electronic music.
What was the reasoning behind setting out as a group and starting up Blood of the Young?
I think I set up my own company largely because I had a strong feeling about what the style of work was that I wanted to make, and we were very keen to stay in Glasgow. I felt there was room for another theatre company in Glasgow. There was a gap in the market. There are lots of theatre buildings, and there are a few very established companies, but there aren’t, maybe, as many new companies emerging, you know, with a really strong identity.
So we felt we could be that company. And then it sort of suited the opportunities that were available in Glasgow. So at the time when we formed, the Arches was there, and they really helped us in the early days, and gave us space and were keen to work with a theatre company.
I think in Glasgow there’s quite a lot of quite renowned solo performers who make their own shows, people like Gary McNair, and Kieran Hurley, and Julia Taudevin, all these artists. But there’s not maybe as many companies.
In Glasgow we’ve had a huge amount of support from places like the National Theatre of Scotland, the Tron … The Tron specifically have been our big supporters, really given us the space and time to play, I think that’s what’s been so important to us in Glasgow, is just the support we’ve had from all of the theatre buildings.
How do you select subjects for your shows?
It’s always just a feeling, isn’t it. You kind of get an idea in your head. But I think with Daphne Oram it was quite a specific moment.
I was looking at a portrait of her in the Modern Art Gallery in Edinburgh, by the Glasgow artist Victoria Morton. I didn’t know who she was at all, this woman, but there was something about this painting … You know she was sitting among all this amazing sound equipment, and it was green and purple, and she had these crazy glasses on, and there was just something about the picture that I found very exciting.
So I went away and researched this woman and found all these amazing episodes in her life. She had a very interesting philosophy about how sound works, and it became clear that her story was one of a young woman who was able to become an engineer at a time when women just didn’t do that kind of thing.
She was able to push against a real male-dominated environment at the BBC, and achieved what she wanted. She founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop at that time, and it was quite incredible what she managed to achieve, really.
How does things work within the company, does everyone have defined roles when you are putting a show together?
It’s quite fluid. Free-for-all is probably a good way of putting it. It’s a vaguely organised free-for-all, is how I would term it. I mean, everybody has different specialisms. So we’ve got people who are in the company and wouldn’t call themselves actors, but are more musicians and write music. And then there are people in the company who are definitely actors. Most of them play instruments, so they can play the music. Then I tend to lead things at the moment. But ideally I would like to step back from that, so that other people can have a go as well.
There’s also a woman who’s designed this show, a Spanish woman called Ana Inés, she’s a designer, and is also part of that collaborative process. So it’s people with different specialisms all coming together. But it’s pretty random at times.
We get together every month and sort of train physically. So we do a lot of quite athletic work together, quite physical work, every month, as well as teaching each other to play different instruments, things like this, so that we can all get better as a group.
Do you have a set idea of how many shows you want to put on a year, or is it a case of just looking for inspiration and then working on something, whether it’s a piece that you can adapt or something that you can just start writing from scratch?
I think it has to come from the idea, really. This to our third show in the two years that we’ve been together, it’s quite a lot, actually. But ultimately it depends on having a good enough idea to be able to pitch it to a theatre. And for them to kind of back it, or to get development money for us. So, we always tend to have three or four ideas flying around at once, and it’s just about sniffing the air a wee bit and working out what the mood is and what show would be best at this time.
We’re planning to do one of the secret shows a year. So next year we’ll do Secret Show 2. And again it’ll be a classic play, and we’ll do it in our own style.
What about your interactions with the Glasgow theatre-going public? Do you feel that there is an audience out there to allow you guys to come at things with a slightly different angle?
Oh yeah, definitely. It never ceases to amaze me. I remember when I first moved to Glasgow, and I went to the Òran Mór, and I could never have imagined that number of people would be in watching a bit of theatre at lunchtime. You know, on a weekday.
We found, both the shows, Golden Arm Theatre Project and Secret Show 1 both sold out very quickly. There’s a very strong live art scene in Glasgow and a very strong set of solo performers who make work. And then you’ve got your big theatres like the Citizens and the National Theatre of Scotland.
There’s that little in-between area where there’s quite a lot of space for our company, there’s a real audience for that level of work, and for people thinking of it differently.
Your new show is touring now, tell us a little bit more about it?
Well, Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound, it’s colourful, it’s very visual, very fun, it’s playful, and it’s sort of experimental in a way that I don’t think people have seen before – in the way that it uses sound, and the way that it tells its story.
I think most of all it’s beautiful and it’s accessible, and it also tells a really inspiring story of a woman who was an incredible artist and who had a determination to get what she wanted in life.
Ultimately, Daphne hasn’t quite been remembered in the way that she would’ve hoped. I think that’s a big strand that the show – what you get remembered for, or what you don’t become remembered for, in this case.
I mean, in the end, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop wasn’t what Daphne Oram imagined it would be. When it was actually made, it wasn’t what she wanted it to be, and she was very disappointed in it, and actually resigned after only six months.
And yet, that is the way that she’s remembered. If ever anyone asks about the show, I always saw, “It’s the woman who founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop”, and that’s probably not how she would like to be remembered.
So the show is about what that’s like, and we hear from this figure in history about what that feels like. To not be remembered for what you would want to be remembered for.
Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of SoundWritten by Paul Brotherston and Isobel McArthur
Directed by Paul Brotherston
Touring Scotland, May 2017
Eden Court Theatre and Cinema, Inverness
18 May, 8pm
01463 234 234
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
23 – 24 May, 7.30pm
0131 228 1404
Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
31 May, 7.30pm
1 June, 7.30pm
01721 725 777
Dundee Rep Theatre
2 June, 7.30pm