A Play in Technicolour
Nathaniel Brimmer -Beller is about to enter his 4th year as a student of International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. He founded Black Bat Productions in 2016 when he put on Mack The Knife at Bedlam Theatre and since then some fabulous people with unique talents and insights have come aboard to create a well-oiled team who are producing great works.
Tell me about Black Bat Productions
We mainly try to present very cool theatre. Cool, of course, applies to all sorts of things, but we’ve found ourselves mainly creating works I would call retro dark comedies. Mack The Knife was set in 1958 London, Technicolor is set in 1967 New Mexico, and an unproduced script, that should be coming soon, is set in 1942 Los Angeles. We like the older aesthetics. Dark comedy also lends itself perfectly to the type of theatre I am most interested in — visceral, realistic, humorous narratives which can find a wry laugh in the darkest of places. As there are actual people in front of you during a play, I find it most exciting to put realistic characters, types you might meet every day, through bizarre circumstances, such as in our adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Arthur Savile’s Crime, which we made in 2015, (before ‘Black Bat’ was coined), which played with soothsaying and curses. Almost all our characters ask or are asked whether the surreal is possible, and whether it is happening to them - or they are faced with jarringly real possibilities that border on surreal, such as the draft or a trigger-happy detective and a larger-than-life femme fatale in Mack The Knife, for example. We also focus heavily on the cinematic flair of theatre, and we hope to entertain in a snappy, thrilling way. Plus we incorporate plenty of music every time! We try to have an eclectic and notable soundtrack for every production; makes the whole thing more enjoyable, I’d say.
Where did you get your inspiration to write Technicolor?
In all honesty, a friend of mine quipped to me in March that no one ever writes sci-fi plays, and I said it could be cool, and he said I should write one next. So I brainstormed for a few days and started writing. Technicolor is a name I had been saving in my notes for nearly a year, actually — I find it has such a nice ring to it and is immediately recognizable for various reasons. So I thought I would use that title and craft a play that could be classified as science fiction, but still fit the Black Bat mold. Technicolor is more in the vein of The Twilight Zone, tha
n, say War of the Worlds, but it is definitely coated in the surreal, if even extraterrestrial. I looked back to sci-fi stories of the 50s and 60s, especially minimalist, realistic tales and mysteries. I love my Star Wars and Star Trek, but what fascinates me more are the low-budget, slow-burn sci-fi yarns that treat the bizarre with more grounded uncertainty. Take Invasion of the Body Snatchers, most episodes of The Twilight Zone (particularly ‘Where Is Everybody’ and ‘Eye of the Beholder’ and so on), or even more recently, Get Out, Coherence, Moon, It Follows, Midnight Special, Annihilation, and one of my all-time favorite minimalist films, The One I Love. These are all science fiction, but with a level of maturity and grounded realism that makes them that much more affecting — the content is surreal, but the context very recognizable. Makes it much creepier! Technicolor is not particularly creepy — at least not at first — but it certainly dabbles in the surreal, and its whole plot is a tribute to all these great works. I also got serious inspiration from the latest album by the Arctic Monkeys, who explored sci-fi style in their own way, a way I seriously adored — in all honesty, I had their album on repeat as I finished the final stretch of Technicolor’s plotting. The mix of the surreal, the scientific, the stylish, and the retrofuturistic comes from many inspirations, but I believe they have come together for an aesthetically pleasing, genre-bending presentation.
Why should we go and see it?
The actors. I can only do so much as a writer/director, but it is the actors who have elevated it into a genuinely dynamic show that stretches the mind while putting a smile on your face, and shows off some seriously head-turning young talent. I have been working with an almost all-new group of people, which required some getting used to at first but has now resulted in a superbly talented ensemble who will hold your attention the whole way through with ease. See it for them! Also, the retro feeling is great fun; the 60s costumes and soundtrack, as well, if I may say so, will give audiences a lot of fun. Think Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, The Box Tops, The Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane. It’s a multifaceted ride. Also, it’s free.
What does it mean to you and Black Bat Productions to be part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
It means the world! This is a fabulous place to be a theatre creator. No matter what happens with one’s own show, this month is filled to the brim with fascinating ideas and talents going around. It also is such a nice group to be a part of, and a nice stamp of legitimacy for young theatre makers like us. To have created and performed in the Fringe seems like a rite of passage, and certainly a lovely achievement just to smile about. As I reach the end of my university time, I appreciate the Fringe more and more as a student — where else can you find people from all over of every type creating theatre on this scale, and in your college town as well?!
Do you always choose to be in the Free Fringe? If so, why?
So far, yes. It is a phenomenally generous operation, and somewhat of a no-brainer for young creators like us. With the Free Fringe, we have so much more room to breathe; in a venue where you have to turn a three or even four-digit profit to even think about breaking even, there is a pressure that, to me, feels extraneous to what we are here to do. Instead, we went with Free Fringe, and not only for our sake — it also allows for a much more varied audience, who are willing to give your show a shot because all it costs them is an hour.
Will you have time to see stuff at the Fringe? If so, what?
Yes, hopefully! With directing Technicolor and acting in Much Ado About Nothing for the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company, and having two radio shows on Fresh Fringe every week, and reviewing for Edinbuurgh49, I am squeezed for extra time, but I am making it work! I have already seen an incredible show, called Cold Blood at King’s Theatre, which is definitely one of the most dazzling things I have seen in recent memory. Couldn’t recommend it more highly. In general I always keep an eye out for similar shows to ours: relatively small, slyly comedic and stylishly crafted narratives. The Fringe is also a fascinating chance to see theatre from around the world — I have bookmarked productions from Nigeria, South Korea, Turkey, Finland, Brazil, and more already.
Did the Fringe have any sway on why you chose Edinburgh as a university?
It certainly did. The real attraction was Bedlam Theatre, also known as the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, which is the United Kingdom’s most prolific student theatre society. (It still is one of the biggest reasons I love my time in Edinburgh; I have directed six shows there and performed in more, and was lucky enough to serve as President during the 2017-2018 season, which was great fun but kept me away from the creative side of theatre for slightly too long…until now). The combination of Bedlam and the Fringe made Edinburgh a delightfully attractive choice when searching for the right place to spend four informative years, for sure.
Technicolour is being performed from 8th – 17th August at Revolution on Chambers Street at 1550. It’s FREE so just turn up and prepare to be entertained.