By Carmel Shortall
I spoke to writer, producer and founder of Trunkman Productions, Trent Burton, after the previews to ask about the play’s background, its reception and what it means to him. As this is the third Trent Burton and Trunkman production at the Fringe in as many years, I asked him: what’s the attraction?
Trent felt that The Camden Fringe provided a cheaper and better alternative than Edinburgh. Both his previous productions (Rob Is, in 2009 and The Twenty Minute Policy, in 2010) went well and he wanted to do something in this year’s festival – the opportunity to preview the play during the Fringe, before its run in September, was too good to miss. I asked if there were any changes planned for the full run.
“The show in September will be a bit different – we’ll iron out a few issues and tweak it a bit.” I asked what would change and he confirmed that the play would likely be about ten minutes shorter and better technically – there’d be more ‘specialist’ lighting for instance.
Trent’s wife Melinda Burton directed Alternative, and, as this was second year in a row she had done so, I asked was he now happy to entrust direction to her or did he envisage directing one of his own plays again? Was there in fact a great deal of collaboration between the two or did he just let her get on with it?
“Melinda is the theatre director. She’s acted – she understands actors and theatre a whole lot better than I can.” But it helps that “she knows where I’m coming from”.
As a play, Alternative grew out of Trent’s own experiences with a recent illness. Searching the internet for information on his newly diagnosed stomach condition, he was amazed at the number of sites making extravagant claims on behalf of homeopathy, in particular. This led him not only to writing the play but to working with an organisation called the Nightingale Collaboration which exists to “challenge questionable claims made by healthcare practitioners”.
I asked Trent did he think that the issues raised in Alternative could overshadow the fact that it stands on its own as a comedy and is, in fact, a very funny play. He said that he hoped not, although the potential was there. “We’re not forcing people to make decisions…I hope people can see past that and enjoy the play.” Likewise, the Nightingale Collaboration are not confrontational: their intention, as with Trent’s, is to inform. “I hope it doesn’t come across as an attack. Our first aim is to entertain, then educate”.
Had there been any backlash? Trent mentioned that there had been some negative response to the play from homeopaths but, on the other hand, he had had some “nice letters” from homeopaths who had come along to see the play. And although Alternative comes down firmly on the side of medical science, the flaws of GPs are not glossed over.
The issues are certainly contentious: Trent and I agreed to differ on the subject of just how bad GPs can be (and how often) but as someone who has a lot of time for several (but by no means all) types of ‘alternative’ therapies, and who has seen the play, I can see both sides of the argument. In the end everyone has their own opinion – and if they don’t before seeing the play, they will at least be better informed by the end of it.
In the final analysis, Alternative is a comedy drama influenced by the writer’s take on issues surrounding alternative medicine – those who object to it on this basis and feel that a play should not concern itself with such issues are missing the point. Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Alternative opens at The Etcetera Theatre, above the Oxford Arms pub, 65 Camden High Street, on Tuesday 13th September and runs to the 17th at 7.00pm every evening until Sunday 18th when it starts at 6.30pm.