In conversation with Taliah Horner, writer and director of Stained

Taliah Horner, a familiar face from the Bedlam stage, debuts her new absurdist comedy about the perils of capitalism and oppression this week. It does not sound like the cheeriest of subject matters but Horner was clear on her decision to make it a comedy. “Comedy allows you to tackle a lot more, it’s not as confrontational, it allows you to talk about things more in depth without getting too intense.” She laughed at this point, “having said that it does get quite intense.” 

It is easy to understand why the piece has an intense core, especially for Horner herself. She feels the audience could interpret the play as a metaphor for any form of internalised oppression but Horner had her own experiences of internalised transphobia in her mind as she wrote it. The characters are originally moulded around things that people have said to her, before being abstracted into larger than life representative characters. 

The plot follows a bizarre situation from Horner’s childhood, where she witnessed a chef slowly buying up a whole town in Cornwall where she went on holiday. The confusion of why one man was suddenly in possession of an entire town, though she admits it made fiscal sense, was a strong influence on the style of the script.  

Drawing on French absurdist and Berkovian influences Horner has abstracted and exaggerated this idea, using archetypal characters to explore a comic side to the darkness of the capitalist underbelly. 

The old adage ‘write what you know’ is something that can be misunderstood to create banal and domestic drama. However, putting personal experience into a piece can give it a vital sense of reality and depth of emotion. This personal touch is something Horner has not only injected into her script but also into her directorial style. She drew heavily from her acting background, considering different directors and thinking “why haven’t I enjoyed this performance and what do I want from [the director].” 

It seems to have worked. She says the cast have all been really enthusiastic and that she has worked to foster a collaborative environment where they feel comfortable making points about the piece that she hasn’t thought about. Ultimately she says “people give better performances when they’re connected to things,” and her style of improvisation and devising in rehearsal has made the cast connect very strongly with their characters and the meaning behind the comedy. 

Horner sees this play as important to our modern society because we have a desire to educate ourselves but often struggle to connect with descriptions of oppression on an emotional level. She says, “I like to think this proposes an experience in a way that people will understand and connect with because it’s more about feeling and emotion and it’s a bit more raw so I hope that’ll connect to people more, and also I think it’s funny as well.

“It’d be quite interesting to see if people relate to certain characters and see who they see themselves in most,” she says, “and perhaps it’ll allow them to think more critically about themselves.” 

This is a play about internalisation and self-reflection so it follows that the audience will also have a chance to reflect. However, the piece still aims to entertain, it is after all created by one of the Improverts. There will be spaghetti, admittedly spaghetti that is a metaphor for mass consumerism, but still – spaghetti. 

While we can expect to laugh, do not go to this play expecting pure comedy. The theatrical style Horner has chosen is one she says “does switch you on in a different way” and this might educate the audience more than they’ll notice. What she really hopes is that the audience have an “empathetic response” by the end.   

 

Image: Bedlam Theatre

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