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Nathaniel Jones (Sing, River)

Weaving together an original folk score and tales from a romance best forgotten, Sing River is an invitation into the hidden world of British mythology. This is a new queer solo show that explores the act of severing yourself from dark memories to survive, and we took the opportunity to speak to writer and performer Nathaniel Jones to tell us more.

Q) Can you tell us a little bit about Sing River?

Yes, of course! Set on the riverbed, deep beneath the surface of the River Thames, Sing, River follows one person's journey in an imagined world, where the world of British mythology hides. Every year, the river invites the character to the riverbed to learn as much as he can about the river's past. In this murky underwater world, the character is able to find solace from the messiness of the modern world amongst the discarded objects, seeking the innocence and weightlessness of their past. It has an original score, with music ranging from jazz to musical theatre to folk!

Q) What inspired you to write a piece of theatre based on British mythology?

I've always been super interested in British mythology, and I think one thing I found fascinating about it was the fact that we know so little about most of it, and it requires deep digging. I'd spent a while wanting to write about some aspect of British mythology, but pinning anything down was incredibly difficult, and it turns out that a lot of what we think we know is either a complete guess or someone else's reconstruction of this past. I eventually got to the point where I realised talking about this obscurity in itself is a pretty interesting topic!

Q) What themes does Sing, River explore?

At its core, the show discusses the idea of history - both national and our own personal stories. It reflects on how we remember it, and how we might want to forget it... Besides that the show also focusses on how we find our own identity and the longing for past innocence. I can't give too much more away, but I'd say that the core message of this show is that there's not always a happy ending in the way that we resolve ourselves with the past, and that sometimes we're allowed to construct fantasy when the truth is too much to handle.

Q) What are you hoping that audiences take away from this theatre piece?

This shouldn't be a difficult question, but it always strikes me as one when I get asked it in regard to this show. I think that's because the show partially acts as a cautionary tale, and so I'd hope people would walk away thinking that they wouldn't do what our character does at the end! At least from the place that I'm writing this show from, I want people to be able to see the consequences that an unwanted past can have on someone and get an insight into how this character deals with their own trauma. But of course, most importantly, I'm hoping they'll walk out of the theatre humming the insanely catchy songs!

Q) How did you get into writing? What is your writing process like?

The writing process for this show has been pretty long to be honest! It started out as a monologue told from the perspective of a river whose riverbed is constantly littered, and then it slowly but surely transformed into what it is now, after endless drafts and rewrites. That process was the longest - figuring out how I wanted to tell this story, who was going to tell it and how that would be done. I knew I wanted to play with form and didn't want just a man on stage telling a story, as great as that is sometimes. Once I was able to pinpoint that, I was able to get started properly. After the run in Oxford last February, however, I realised that the story wasn't seeing the purpose I had originally intended for it. I wasn't unhappy with the old script entirely, but the show is now almost unrecognisable. I'm very grateful I was able to have that time doing the show in Oxford to allow me to sit in the story and figure out just how to tell it.

Q) What challenges have you faced in this industry with regards to writing and acting? Any advice on overcoming these challenges?

I think the hardest challenge I've faced whilst writing this show has been believing in what I write. The first complete draft of the show back in December had about seven editors, all adding comments on how they think a line should be tweaked or shortened. I didn't mind it at the time, I had asked them all to edit away - I was so unsure in my writing that every criticism was welcomed. Now, however, I'm not sure I'd go through the same process again. With the edits made after the Oxford run, I really let myself take confidence in what I was writing, but I suppose that came from knowing I already had a script that an audience seemed to enjoy if this new edition didn't work out. The second time around I kind of hid myself away, completed a new draft that I was pretty happy with, and then worked only with my director to figure out what needed ironing out. I'm not sure what advice I'd give to overcome this kind of insecurity apart from trusting that people will find what you're writing interesting if you write it from a place of authenticity. I know it's cliché and ridiculously hard to follow that advice in reality, especially as I had multiple people telling me the same thing, but it was only once I ran with the idea that I really started enjoying the process.

Q) Let's finish on a fun question, if you could describe Sing River as an ice cream flavour, which would you choose and why?

Oh definitely honeycomb ice cream - honey is essential for celebrating Midsummer!

Sing, River plays at The Hope Theatre, Islington from the 27th June until the 8th July. For more information and tickets, follow this link here.


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