Going Underground

Feb 16 2014 | By More

New company take Cassandra to the Coves

Mairi Neary and Wendy Barrett in the Coves. Photo © Underground Productions

Mairi Neary and Wendy Barrett in the Coves. Photo © Underground Productions

By Thom Dibdin

You would be hard put to find as inventive a setting as the one being used this week by fledgling Edinburgh company Underground Productions.

For their first show, the company are setting off down into the Gilmerton Coves, the mysterious hand carved passageways and chambers that lie below ground to the south of Gilmerton crossroads.

In Empty Prophetess, the company will be using the Coves as the background to the story of the the Trojan princess Cassandra, hiding in the temple of Athena. In Greek mythology, Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophesy in an attempt to seduce her – and cursed her that no-one would believe her prophesies when she refused his advances.

Not since Grid Iron took their promenade production of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber – a version of Bluebeard’s Castle – down into the underground vaults of Mary King’s Close back at the fringe of 1997, has a company come up with a comparably inventive setting.

The company is the work of producer and director Sascha Mathieson, a 21 year-old third year student of drama and performance at Queen Margaret. She has been producing theatre since she was 11 and living in Dundee. She got bored at youth theatre and decided it would be more fun to have control.

“I got a little hooked on it then,” she said in an exclusive interview with Æ. “I would write produce and direct the company from scratch. All proceeds were donated for charity. When I was 16 and it was more serious I had a small budget of up to £300.

“So now I’m in my last year of university, it crossed my mind about how much I was able to do, in my teenage years in the small community central city that Dundee is, with practically no financial support whatsoever. So I set up Underground Productions, at first it was almost an experiment to see whether I could do the same thing I did in Dundee in a much bigger city.”

The major difference for Undergreound Productions is that it is run on a ‘no finance’ philosophy. A clever solution, when only 14 people at a time can get into the performances at the Coves and a fully-funded show would cost thousands to produce.

“The fact we weren’t charging for entry helped my cause…”
The Coves

The Coves. Photo © Underground Productions

“In very simple terms it means that we don’t pay for anything and in return we don’t charge for our tickets,” says Mathieson. “Everything we have is evidence of the wonderful support of companies and people all over the city. From our rehearsal hall to our flyer design and printing.”

In fact, it was the policy which lead to the company getting the venue. A friend of Mathieson’s had just started working for the company which runs tours of the Coves. She suggested it as a venue and liaised with the boad or trustees on Mathieson’s behalf.

“I think the fact we weren’t charging for entry and we weren’t going to make a profit out of their venue helped my cause,” she says. “The Coves is one of the top ten things to do in edinburgh on trip advisor but when you talk to locals about it they usually haven’t heard about it. I think the fact that we will mainly be attracting people who wouldn’t go to the coves also worked in our favour.”

Having secured the venue, Mathieson was free to start building a show. She advertised for actors through various internet sites and brought in a crew she knows and trusts from other companies and university. She and her actors, Wendy Barrett, Mairi Neary and Zoe Matthews put together the story using the venue as a stimulus.

“They felt that the coves, while it was underground it felt safe, so like they were hiding from something,” she says. “They came up with the story of Cassandra the Trojan princess who has the gift of prophesy but with the curse that no one would ever believe her.

“We start the play when she is hiding in the Temple of Athena after she’s foreseen the fall of Troy – which has then happened. She is sitting in the temple hiding from the Greeks with the sinking feeling that something bad is meeting there. We’re going to draw the audience round the venue in promenade so they get the full feeling of the Coves.”

Empty Prophetess
The Coves, 16 Drum Street, EH17 8QH
Friday 21 Feb, 6pm (sold out), Saturday 22 Feb: 4pm, 6pm.
Performance is free. Book by emailing Sascha Mathieson on sascha.undergroundproductions@gmail.com.

Facebook event for the show: www.facebook.com
Gilmerton Coves website: www.gilmertoncove.org.uk



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