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Live Theatre audiences prepare for a downpour of emotions in The Soaking of Vera Shrimp

Writer Alison Carr has stepped back out of the spotlight as her latest piece of work comes to the stage. Sam Wonfor explains, and prepares to soak up an intriguing lecture

Writer Alison Carr's play The Soaking of Vera Shrimp premieres in Live Theatre's Studio space on October 15
Writer Alison Carr's play The Soaking of Vera Shrimp premieres in Live Theatre's Studio space on October 15

The last time I spoke to Alison Carr, she was preparing to take to the stage for her first solo show.

Although she had acted before - mostly with the People’s Theatre in Newcastle - this was to be an upward gear shift, taking her own play from the page to the stage, and keeping it there until the curtain came down.

The Soaking of Vera Shrimp opened for script-in-hand previews at Live Theatre in July 2013 and provoked much positive feedback, but it quickly became obvious to its Newcastle-based creator, that dramatic changes were required.

So, when the production proper opens in Live Theatre’s Studio space on Wednesday (October 10), it won’t be Alison telling Vera’s story.

“It wasn’t the right show for me to do, but we could only learn that was by me having a go at doing it,” she says of her decision to step aside.

“We got really good feedback. People enjoyed the story and enjoyed watching it, but one of the things that people were finding was that they wanted Vera to be more present. It made us (Alison worked on the piece with director Rosie Kellagher) realise it was crying out for was for Vera to tell you what she was doing, rather than me saying ‘Vera was doing this, Vera was doing that’.”

It’s probably a good time to introduce Vera to anyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure.

Vera Shrimp is someone who, at the age of 14, discovered she had the ability to ‘read’ raindrops - each one having soaked up an emotion from those it had come into contact with.

“The premise of the piece hasn’t changed,” says Alison. “But it needed someone else to take the story on. It’s a very different thing, being a writer/performer in a narrator role than presenting yourself as a character.”

Step in actress Tessa Parr, who many will have recently enjoyed in Dead To Me at Northern Stage.

“Gez Casey (Live’s literary manager) recommended her to me and Rosie and as soon as we met her, we knew she’d be great.”

They weren’t wrong. A scratch night at Live in December, which came with the opportunity to secure a bursary to develop the piece into a full production, went Vera’s way.

“The audience really warmed to what Tessa was doing in the 15 minute-extract we put together for the scratch night, and that kind of validated our decision to make the changes.”

So how has the piece developed?

“Well, it wasn’t just a case of changing the ‘shes’ to ‘Is’,” she laughs.

“It’s very different now. Basically Vera has prepared a presentation for us, which she is going to deliver about her belief that raindrops contain emotions. She’s done her research, she’s got her facts and figures and results from her experiments and she’s going to talk us through it.

“It’s not some sort of airy fairy theory. As far as Vera is concerned, the raindrops aren’t a metaphor for something else. They contain emotions - fact.”

As well as offering the audience food for thought when it comes to getting caught in the next downpour, Alison says the development of the play has offered her the chance to explore a new way of working.

“Part of the bursary was to support theatre makers making theatre in a way which was different for them. For me this meant it was much more collaborative. It was me, Tessa and Rosie in a room together, trying things out and finding the piece.

“I’m not used to sharing early stage ideas. Usually I have to be at least at draft four before I’ll tell you what it’s called,” she admits. “It was quite exposing, but it was good and different, and I’m really pleased with how it has turned out.”

* The Soaking of Vera Shrimp plays Live Theatre’s Studio space from Wednesday (October 15) to Saturday.

Meanwhile in the main theatre, Ian McLaughlin’s one man show about the search for his father, Good Timin’, returns for a 10-day stay after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe. For tickets and more information on both shows, call the box office on 0191 232 1232 or visit www.live.org.uk

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