Lampedusa - Celebration

One of our aims at the beginning of making Lampedusa was to highlight and spark a conversation about the migrant crisis through theatrical experiences.

Originally, Wonder Fools’ plan was to deliver workshops in areas of Glasgow with high levels of refugees. Along with producer Steph Connell, I met with various different groups and individuals including Tricia McConalogue from Bridging the Gap; Pinar Aksu who is an activist and Community Development Worker, who works with Maryhill Integration Network; and the Citizens Theatre’s very own Elly Goodman who works with the Participation department. Through discussion and consultation with them, we decided to challenge ourselves and push our engagement programme further than simply delivering workshops. We opted for a more sensitive, holistic approach to working with the different groups involved  which better served what we wanted to achieve. It felt felt important that we tried to engage with people who were affected by the issues in the play – the migrant crisis, austerity – but who might not see the play itself.

There were two words we kept coming back to. The first was ‘hope’, which was what confirmed in my mind that I wanted to stage Lampedusa in the first place – the note of uplifting defiance the play ends on. The second was ‘celebrate’, whatever it was that we created outside of the performance to engage people needed to ‘celebrate’ the values of the play. In this vein, we began to plan an event which would invite the different groups we had spoken to, groups which work with refugees within their respective communities, to come to the Citz on an afternoon during the production run where they could bring friends and family and enjoy performances, food and conversation. We began referring to this event as a ‘Celebration’.

Over the next month or so, Steph and I set about planning the event – who would perform? What food would we offer? How would we ensure that people knew about the event? We contacted Tricia, Pinar and others to ask if there was anyone from their groups who might be interested in performing. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’, and the challenge then became logistical – could people make it on the day, what would they perform, and how long for? Etc. We decided to offer, as Wonder Fools, the bus fare for anyone who wanted to attend the event but could not afford to do so. We found an organisation, Social Bite, who would provide catering. They were the perfect match for the event as ¼ of their workers are formerly homeless people and 100% of their profits go to charity. Finally, we revisited groups like Bridging the Gap to spread the word about the event, and created a poster to post around Glasgow and on social media.

The event was held on 17th November 1pm – 4pm and included performances of Albanian singing, Indian stick dancing, spoken word, Bollywood dancing, Persian / Flamenco dancing, and composer of Lampedusa, Stuart Ramage, singing songs. Over 60 people attended throughout the day and the event achieved what we wanted it to: to highlight and spark a conversation about the migrant crisis and we did this in a hugely positive way, by celebrating the rich culture and diversity of Glasgow. 

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Three

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The third week of rehearsals on Citizens Theatre’s forthcoming production of Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has centered on refining, tightening and consolidating detail. At this stage in the process the exploration, investigation and experimentation of weeks one and two has paid dividends and the priority has shifted from play and invention towards making final decisions. An essential aspect of this has been finalizing the updates made to the original script in preparation for production week; Anders’ unwavering support was exemplified when he sent the “go ahead” all the way from Nice!

The first half of the week was spent staggering through the play with musical support from composer Stuart Ramage. For the first time we saw all the component and composite elements of the production pieced together, giving us insight into the overall shape and feeling of the production. This illuminated areas in need of refining; key moments in the text that needed enhancing or clarifying in the performances in order to sharpen the dramatic arc of the play. During this process we were also able to hone the relationship between the performances and live music; tightening the music cues and underscoring of the production.

By Thursday we were ready for our first run of the play. Joined by the rest of the creative and production team (Producer Steph Connell, Lighting Designer Benny Goodman, Designer Alisa Kalyanova, Technical Stage Manager Neil Anderson), it was our first performance in front of an audience. This is always a nerve-inducing experience; releasing our collaborative creation and artistic response to Anders’ masterpiece into the ether. To our delight, however, the run went without hitch and was met with positive feedback.

With only a few areas for reconsideration suggested by our creative collaborators and advisers, we wasted no time in getting back to work with notes to Stu and the actors before a second run that afternoon. Due to the nature of the performance space, an intimate in the round configuration, it was important to Director Jack Nurse to give the actors as much exposure to the space with an audience as possible (prior to the opening of the show). For the second run of the day we were joined by Wonder Fools Co-founder Robbie Gordon whose dramaturgical perspective gave us food for thought and inspiration for further development of detail.

Friday was spent honing, refining and in places reworking in preparation for production week. Thanks to Jack’s proficient organization, attention to detail and concise and articulate expression in the rehearsal room, and Louise Mai and Andy’s commitment, focus and resourcefulness, we enter production week in the strongest position possible.

Thus it is with enthusiasm that we embark on the opening of our production of Lampedusa in the Citizen Theatre’s Circle Studio, and we are excited by the prospect of seeing all our hard work come to fruition in the sand and under the lights.


Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Two: 'Stu, Sand and Storytelling'

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The second week of rehearsals on Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has sailed by; the week of “Stu, sand and storytelling” as it has been affectionately christened by the creative team. Specifically, we worked through the play scene by scene focusing less on shape and picture in favour of music, connection and detail.

An essential aspect of week two was working closely with composer Stuart Ramage who has been a constant and invaluable presence in the rehearsal room. Together, we have experimented with the use of music to underscore the narrative progression of the play and the experiences of Denise and Stefano. Following Louise Mai and Andy’s responses to the text with meticulous attention to detail Stu has been able to improvise compositions as we delve deeper and deeper into the play; investigating how we can use live acoustic guitar to enrich our response and exploration of the text and the emotional trajectory of the characters. The interlacing of music into the production has been an illuminating part of our process, highlighting and unlocking key transitional moments in the play. We are confident that with Stu’s original composition our production will be an evocative, affecting and distinctive response to Lustgarten’s distinguished text.

After much discussion with the cast and creative team this week we decided to bring our story forward from 2015 into the present day. From these discussions specific ideas for adjustments to the script were born and presented to Lustgarten, who has generously updated the original text. In 2017 the migration crisis is far from behind us and the switch to Universal Credit continues to threaten the financial security of those relying on the government benefit system; thus, the original themes in the play feel more pressing and urgent than ever. Due to the nature of this play and Anders’ powerful and challenging perspective, it is important to us that our production retains the sense of urgency of the political issues raised in the 2015 production. This we hope to achieve by incorporating contemporary politics for a modern audience, in the spirit of the original text; by challenging the status-quo and shining a light on the experiences of many suffering as a result of socio-political injustices of today.

Week two has also concentrated on combining the space; introducing both Denise and Stefano’s respective worlds and working with Louise Mai and Andy in the space, together. Director Jack Nurse and the cast have experimented with building the sense of connection between Denise and Stefano and their seemingly distinct experiences within the narrative. Specifically, how and when their individual narratives and performances intersect and how to fluidly and imaginatively transition between their stories. The synthesis of Louise Mai and Andy’s rehearsals, the worlds of Denise and Stefano and the integration of music into the narrative has added a vibrant, inventive and dynamic energy to the piece and generated an invigorating momentum as we press on and into week three. 

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week One

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The first week of rehearsals on the much anticipated Scottish premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s bold, incisive and moving masterpiece, Lampedusa, was a reflection of the urgent and assertive attitude of the play itself. Lampedusa tackles European mass migration from a global perspective and its impact on British domestic politics. But, more importantly, as Anders and director Jack Nurse were keen to stress on day one of rehearsals, this is a play about the personal experiences behind the politics. It is the story of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.

The first two days of rehearsals were spent with Anders Lustgarten. Under his guidance we descended into the deep tissue of the play with table work and group discussion. This process illuminated the enduring vitality of the politics in the play and, crucially, the necessity to maintain the sense of political urgency encapsulated in the original production (Soho Theatre, London 2015). Consequently, Anders proposed to update the original text; to encompass the current political climate in Europe and post-Brexit Britain. Citizens Theatre’s Lampedusa will therefore be an entirely new, cutting-edge and unique production.

Next order of business was get the play up and on it’s feet. Director Jack Nurse’s process is curated to mirror his overall vision for the production. The play introduces two independent and diverging experiences of mass migration from a global and domestic perspective. As the play progresses parallels between the characters begin to emerge and unite their experiences. The first week of rehearsals was centered on working with Louise Mai Newberry and Andy Clark individually to get better a sense of the shape and arc of each character within the text. Week by week as we continue to work through the play we will begin to integrate these rehearsals and, furthermore, the physical and emotional journeys of Denise and Stefano.

With the mid-week arrival of composer Stuart Ramage came the infusion of live music into the rehearsal process. In this production the lyrical quality of Lustgarten’s writing and the centrality of Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté’s song Lampedusa will be supported and enhanced by live acoustic guitar. Stu’s presence in the rehearsal room throughout the three-week process will enable the development of a musical score in tandem with the exploration of the text.

Week one has also been about acclimatizing to the intimate performance space of the Circle Studio and confronting the challenges of balancing the contrasting worlds of Denise and Stefano while they inhabit same physical environment. At this stage in the process possibilities are infinite and continual investigation, trying new and diverse ways to respond to the text and use of space, is essential and encouraged. Week one is not about nailing ideas to the ground but rather discovery, imagination, playing and interrogating ideas; skills that Lousie Mai and Andy demonstrate with verve and dexterity. Working at an impressive and efficient pace we are off to a flying start. 


Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten is a Citizens Theatre production in association with Wonder Fools. It will be staged in the Circle Studio (8 – 18 November) following our recent production of The Coolidge Effect at the Tron Theatre and Traverse Theatre in September.

For one of our very first projects as a company we used an extract of David Greig’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, switching its focus from rural Border ballads to urban city clubs and presenting this work as part of Playwright Studio Scotland’s Crossing the Lines at the Arches. Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten is the first time that Wonder Fools will work on a full production using another writer’s existing text.

The project also acts as a culmination of my training as an assistant director at the Citizens. I have been lucky to work with Dominic Hill (Oresteia: This Restless House and Hay Fever) and Gareth Nicholls (Blackbird) as an assistant at the Citizens, in addition to working with Andrew Panton (The Broons, Sell A Door) and Max Webster (The Winter’s Tale, the Lyceum) outside the Citz, and this production will see me put that learning into practice.

The play itself is broadly about the migrant crisis and explores this subject through two intersecting but seemingly unconnected monologues.

Stefano is an Italian fisherman, whose heritage and family trade has been fishing. He’s made his living at sea, and feels most alive there. But following the financial crisis, the work dried up. Unemployed for three years, and in order to support his wife and two young children, Stefano now earns his living at sea but with a very different harvest. Lampedusa is an Italian island and the gateway to Europe for a lot of North African refugees. It is Stefano’s job to pick out bodies from the sea of the people who have not survived the journey.

The second story follows Denise, a mixed-race Chinese/British woman from Leeds who works for a payday loan company in order to pay for her university degree. It is her second attempt at higher education, having had to drop out at the first time of asking to support her ill mother. In Lampedusa, both Stefano and Denise meet people from other cultures to their own who change their perceptions, and in turn the audience’s, idea of strangers and human connection.

I am excited to work with Andy Clark and Louise Mai Newberry who will play Stefano and Denise. Andy is one of my favourite Scottish stage actors and I look forward to working with him again, after The Winter’s Tale earlier this year. Louise Mai originated the part of Denise in the production’s premiere at the Soho Theatre, London in 2015. Her passion for the role and advocacy for the play’s message, in addition to her engaging and dynamic stage presence, means I can’t wait to start working with her.

Anders Lustgarten, playwright and political activist, will be with us in the room for the first few days of rehearsal, which will be both enlightening and valuable. Anders’ combination of activism and dramatism gives his work a unique perspective and one that is really in line with what we hope to achieve with Wonder Fools productions: creating exciting theatre but with a social purpose. In addition, I have an incredibly talented creative team consisting of Alisa Kalyanova, designer; Benny Goodman, lighting designer; and Stuart Ramage, composer. All three are exciting emerging artists whose collaboration will bring skill, imagination and vigour to the production.

What I love about Lampedusa is its human heart. In 2017 it is easy to get lost, downtrodden and depressed at the never-ending negative headlines and news stories. Lampedusa offers a feeling of hope and a celebration of human kindness that will bring warmth and comfort in these increasingly dark times. I can’t wait to start rehearsals and bring Stefano and Denise’s stories to life.