Yesterday, Sundial Theatre’s phenomenal debut play, Borderline, opened at the NWTAC Theatre. Already, I have heard buzzing reviews from my fellow writers at MancMuse, and I’m anxious to attend myself. With a second performance tonight and two more tomorrow, there is still time to catch Borderline: you can access tickets here.
Following my interview with the leading cast, Emerson Baigent (playing Hal) and Callum Appleby (playing Cody), I’m excited to share my next interview, this one with the supporting cast. I spoke with Grace Bute, Holly Van-Assen and Fletcher Davies Rushton, to find out a bit more about the play as a whole, as well as the future direction of Sundial Theatre.
As an actor myself, I’ve been in many rehearsal spaces, but it still feels very special to witness young creatives putting so much into their work. The cast and crew of Borderline really are a fantastic, articulate bunch, and I know that the product of their hard work is going to be very special indeed. If the final performances are going to be anything like what I got to see inside of the rehearsal room, then the audiences can certainly be promised a spectacular, intelligently created piece of work.
So, to start, why don’t you guys introduce yourselves and the characters you play?
(The three of them look at each other, and there is almost a moment of awkward-giggling. Then Grace volunteers herself, a big smile on her face.)
Grace: I’m Gracie Bute, and I play June Putman. I play Cody’s mom and sort of like Hal’s adopted mom figure in a way, so she’s quite a central figure in their lives. And she’s a single mother, because her husband died quite a few years before the play starts, so she’s raised Cody on her own. Then Hal has joined the family unit, so she’s had a hand in raising him and modelling him. She’s very much at the centre of their world in many ways.
I don’t want to give away too much either, but something happens to June and she makes a decision that impacts Hal and Cody, and that impacts the events later on in the play.
Holly: I’m Holly Van-Assen and I play Doctor Allman. Doctor Allman is the GP, and we see her a good couple of times in the play. Basically, she’s kind of the gatekeeper between someone who needs help and them actually getting help. And it’s not always easy for her, even if she wants to be able to get that help, because of the medical system that exists within the play.
Fletcher: I’m Fletcher Davies Rushton. I play a drunk person in the club, so, uh, there’s not a whole lot to that character, I’ll be honest. But I’m also a police officer later on in the play. I won’t give too many details, though, because I don’t want to spoil any later moments in the play.
The main thing that I’m going to be asking everyone really is how you actually got yourself involved in this project in the first place. I’m assuming you guys are university students? I know that Sundial was born out of a bit of kind of frustration with the course and that various issues led to this being created.
Fletcher: Yeah, so, we’re all on the same university course and had what would be our first year of university – pretty much the whole year was on Zoom. Which, as like theatre people and artists, was a really frustrating time. And I think just in the current climate of 2020 and then this year, with a lot of injustices coming more to the forefront of people’s minds; I think the pent-up frustration of young people and their voices not being heard added to that. I think, for me personally, feeling really creatively trapped because of COVID, to then have something that we can all put all of our different creative voices into and be involved in creating something – it was a really great thing. And I think that Sundial started from that.
Grace: Yeah, and at the end of the year, Dan, the director, and I were in a project together. And it was so hard. I mean, we were all just getting really stunted with it. It wasn’t going well. It wasn’t what we all wanted. And it was really pretty crap. I know that Dan obviously got quite frustrated with that and just wanted to put on a play.
But in terms of my involvement with this piece in particular, me and Dan were in the same movement class that we were going in person for, like, once a week. So, we were in the same class and he was like, ‘do you want to come to this play reading?’ And I was like, ‘sure, why not?’
And I thought it was just a play reading. But then Dan messaged me afterwards and he was like, probably within five minutes of it ending being like, ‘do you want to play June?’ And I was like, ‘obviously. Definitely.’ And so, I think that’s where it started. The interest of everything was just saying that we’d be able to sit and read through a play that someone we care about wrote. And it’s really well-written.
Going forward, I know that there are quite a few plans for Sundial, and that there are various upcoming projects. What are your perceptions on the route Sundial is going to take?
(At this point, Grace and Holly instinctively look to Fletcher to answer the question. It’s charming to witness that, as the interview unfolds, there are moments of pause where these three performers know exactly who should be saying what. They give space for the right person at the right time.)
Fletcher: I’ve actually been more heavily involved in the behind-the-scenes stuff with the company as a whole, rather than project to project. I’m really excited with how it’s going because I’ve always been a straight actor. So, I’ve been, like, learning how to direct a show and how to produce a show. And I’ve never done solo directing, but now I know that I have that coming up for one of the plays in this season. It’s such a huge learning curve for everyone. Everyone has room to grow as a director or a producer or whatever they want to do. Whether you’ve got lots of experience or no experience, everyone is learning on the job, which I think is such an amazing thing to be able to do when you’re doing something creative like theatre.
So, on that note, I’m kind of intrigued to hear about how collaborative the process of making Borderline has been. Especially considering how personal and special this piece is to the director, Dan.
Grace: I think it’s been great how Dan has trusted us. I don’t know how to describe it, really, but Borderline is kind of…
(She can’t quite place her finger on it, and Holly jumps in to help.)
Holly: It’s like a piece of him.
Grace: Yeah. And it’s sort of grown into more than just a piece of him, because if there’s anything that we brought to it that works, he’s not shot it down. It’s obviously still something that’s a massive piece of him, but we’ve been able to bring our own sort of things to it, which has helped us connect to the role.
Fletcher: I think because he has that trust, he knows that we have the same trust in him. So it’s a really nice, calm and easy-going back-and-forth between us. It’s not like he’s the director and we’re the cast. First and foremost, we’re all friends, which I think is a really nice environment to be able to work in as well.
Grace: The respect really helps though. If there’s stuff to figure out or if we’re a little unfocused, we know where the respect lies with each other, but we’re still also able to be friends outside of it.
There’s a lot going on within the play. There’s a story that’s very personal to Dan, and lots of things underneath that, but what do you think is actually at the core of the play?
Holly: I think it is the medical system that we have today, but it’s just not as direct. It’s not as obvious.
From my understanding, the system within the play is sort of modelled off our own NHS system, but taken to an extreme, dystopian level.
Holly: Yeah. So…I don’t know how to word it. Um–So, the medical system within the play works on a tiered level system, from number 1 to 10. Basically, everything is decided by a computer based on answers to questions that you would get in a check-up, and the number that you get at the end is the severity, so it determines what level of help you’re going to be allowed to get.
And the thing with Doctor Allman is that she can’t necessarily provide the level of care that she wants to, or that the characters necessarily need, because of the way the government has stripped down the medical system. It impacts all of the characters in the play quite heavily, because in some instances they are needing help and not getting it. I don’t want to quote the resource without knowing it 100%, but I did read a few months ago about how many teenagers today feel like they have to prove that they are close to committing suicide to get the help they need. They have to actually end up in hospital after an attempt before they will get that help.
Fletcher: I think that really shows in the play, particularly at the end and in some of the scenes with Doctor Allman. One of the questions that commonly gets asked is, ‘do you have any suicidal thoughts or any intentions to do it?’ Then a character will say ‘yes, I’ve got suicidal thoughts, but I don’t know how I’d go about it.’ And that for me is a really strong example of the system really failing people, because some will very clearly say ‘I have suicidal thoughts’, but because they don’t have the plans to back that all up, so to speak, it’s like, ‘oh, you’re–you’re on level five.’ And I didn’t know this until a few weeks ago, but some of the questions that Doctor Allman asks Hal and Cody are real questions that the director, Dan, has been asked in doctors’ appointments.
And in Borderline, would you say it’s almost cutting through that grey area that we have in our current system? It just gets straight to the fact: if you’re not severe enough, you’re not worthy of help.
Fletcher: I think that no matter who you are in the audience, you will be able to find something in the play that you relate to. It doesn’t necessarily mean the audience is just people who have BPD or any of the other specific conditions that are mentioned in the play. Anybody with any kind of mental health struggle will be able to relate to this kind of system. You have to reach a certain point to be able to get that help.
(The other two nod in agreement. At this point, there’s nothing more to say, really, but only something to do. Making theatre is a largely unappreciated catalyst for change and commentary, and sometimes it really does rest in the hands of young creatives to do something very brave, new, and critical. I think that Borderline is a show to do just that.)
If you found this interview interesting, then please don’t forget to check out my interview with the leading cast members, or Andrew Campbell’s interview with the directors Daniel Johnson and Hannah Nimmo. For more information on the show, check out my press release article, and visit the NWTAC website for tickets! And definitely make sure to check out Luke Spiby’s impartial review of the play’s opening night performance – coming soon!