Written for The List (issue 662)
It may sound counter-intuitive, but in an environment like the Fringe, where envelopes are being pushed and boundaries broken in every second venue, a degree of restraint can be the best way to stand out. Little Bulb don’t claim that their folksy tales of tight-knit families and pastoral communities make for radical or risky theatre. But in the citywide shouting match that is Edinburgh in August, the soft-spoken few often, contrarily, command the most attention.
‘A lot of theatre can be too dark,’ muses Alex Scott, director of Little Bulb’s latest play, Operation Greenfield. ‘Especially experimental theatre. Sometimes it’s a bit too … full-on? I’m kind of … interested in darkness, but not just from having a really dark theme. We’re trying to do something else – we don’t want to say, “Oh, what a wonderful world, where nothing bad happens!” but we want to celebrate the good things that do happen, to give a context for the darkness.’
In the company’s previous work, this has meant exploring the ways young children react to death in the family – their parents in Crocosmia, and the family patriarch in Sporadical.
‘Crocosmia was about the memories of younger children,’ says Scott, ‘and Sporadical is about finding collective stories to keep a tradition going. Operation Greenfield is within that world and that ethos, but I would say it’s more complicated. More dark, in a way – more questioning.’
Development of the new play started a year ago, at the same time as the company began work on Sporadical. But while Sporadical came together in a matter of weeks, it’s taken until now to get Operation Greenfield ready for an audience – and Scott still isn’t entirely certain what it is they’ve created.
‘Because we’ve not performed it, really, apart from some incomplete scratch showings, it’s quite difficult to know exactly what we’re dealing with,’ he says. ‘It’s set in a fictional town in the mid-1990s, and it follows four Christian teenagers, who are in a band, as they enter a village talent competition. But there’s a lot of added weirdness around that. It’s probably the weirdest show I’ve ever worked on, in terms of the style.’
He elaborates: ‘Sporadical was kind of messy, kind of raucous. This one’s a bit more detailed, a bit more mathematical, much more precise; pretty much the whole show is musically choreographed. It could be a bit more unsettling, depending on where you’re coming from – what images you’re reading into it.’
If it’s hard to imagine being unsettled by a Little Bulb show, perhaps that’s because their work to date has focused on younger children, still in possession of their innocence. As the company matures, it seems, so do the central characters of the shows. ‘We’re looking at teenagers,’ Scott reiterates. ‘Being a teenager is more complicated. The world is more difficult to process. I think the show reflects that.’
Does this mean Operation Greenfield heralds the beginning of an angsty, rebellious new era for Little Bulb? It seems mercifully unlikely, at least as long everyone’s on the same artistic wavelength as Scott.
‘We like to celebrate things that go overlooked: the idea of being tremendous friends, or being in love with someone,’ he says, as if he’s never seen love portrayed on stage before. Perhaps he hasn’t – at least, not the way he wants to see it.
‘It’s probably because we’re very like a family, in the way that we relate to one another,’ he concludes. ‘There’s a lot of honesty, and trust, and rambunctious relationships – that’s how we operate.’