ED2022 Dance & Physical Theatre ED2022 Interviews

Andrea Walker: Sad Book

By | Published on Saturday 20 August 2022

When it comes to the Fringe, it’s probably comedy and theatre that people generally think of first, but of course there are other elements too. And while the programme of dance, physical theatre and circus is a small one, it usually features a high proportion of new, innovative and exciting work. 

One of the companies that often features in the listings is 201 Dance Company – you may recall the group’s debut Edinburgh show ‘Smother’ – and they are back this year with ‘Sad Book’, based on the book by Michael Rosen. 

To find out more about this year’s show, I spoke to its director and choreographer, the company’s Artistic Director, Andrea Walker. 

CM: Can we start by talking about what to expect in terms of the genre of the show? What elements are included and what style of performance is it?
AW: Here at 201 we love to create work that is cinematic, narrative driven and visually striking. ‘Sad Book’ is no different, and also our most ambitious project to date! Expect a mixture of dance theatre, animation, a few unexpected surprises, and a beautiful original score that will stay with you.

CM: What story does it tell? 
AW: ‘Sad Book’ follows a father as he comes to terms with the death of his son. It’s a personal story of loss and grief, but also of hope and the beauty of memories. The show is adapted from Michael Rosen’s award-winning novel.

CM: What themes are explored through the show? 
AW: Sadness is the main theme of ‘Sad Book’. What I fell in love with about Michael Rosen’s novel is that it has no moral, no ‘lesson’. The book tells us that sometimes we’re sad, and that’s ok. With the show, we wanted to take the audience on a similar journey, and navigate what sadness means to us.

Sad is such a complex emotion: it can be paralysing and numbing, but also beautiful and melancholic. Like when we think of a moment in our past that made us happy, but we’re sad it’s no longer here.

I hope the show will make people feel sad, happy, and also happy that they felt sad. I hope it will touch anyone who’s struggled with mental ill-health and depression, as well as anyone who’s experienced sadness in their own unique way. 

CM: What inspired you to create a show based on the book?
AW: I first discovered the book seven years ago. To this day, I have never read anything that spoke to my depression and sadness the way ‘Sad Book’ did. In the novel, Michael manages to explain sadness with beautifully simple, yet gut-wrenchingly effective language.

I knew I wanted to adapt it for the stage the second I put it down. Our premiere at Zoo will mark the end of almost five years of development. It’s a work in which we’ve put so much love and care, and that we’re very proud of. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about 201 Dance Company, its aims and ethos? Who is involved?
AW: 201 is a queer-led company that brings together experienced artists to create daring work often driven by personal experience of mental ill-health. We aim to create work that is socially responsive, accessible, and tackles current social issues. 

Patrick Collier produced ‘Sad Book’ during the development and preview stage and is also the show’s Associate Director. Pip Sayers is our wonderful Company Producer, and is also producing ‘Sad Book’s tour with Lou Rogers.

The show has a phenomenal cast of dancers, with Alan Coveney taking the lead role. Louisa Smurthwaite is our Production And Lighting Designer – she’s done every 201 show to date, we can’t live without her!

Our beautiful animations were made by Liu Bofan, Louise Rhoades-Brown and Harriet Bruce, with projection design by RCM.

The original score was composed by a phenomenal team of musicians led by Richard Evans, with whom I worked really closely. I’m 201’s Artistic Director, as well as ‘Sad Book’s Director and Choreographer.

CM: The company has been to the Fringe before, hasn’t it? What keeps you coming back to the Festival? 
AW: The Fringe is such an exciting place, and Edinburgh has a piece of my heart! We premiered 201’s first ever show – ‘Smother’ – at the Fringe back in 2015: it’s what launched the company, as well as my career as a director and choreographer. Since then, we’ve always premiered our new productions in Edinburgh. You just can’t beat that feeling the Festival brings! 

CM: What are the best things about performing in Edinburgh? Are there any difficult things about doing the Fringe? 
AW: I would say the best is the type of audience the festival attracts: everyone is there to be amazed, shocked, to laugh, to cry, and they may experience all of those emotions in just one afternoon!

A lot of companies premiere new works at the Fringe, so it’s great to know a lot of your audience is specifically there to see something brand-new. It’s exciting!

But of course, it’s not a walk in the park. Taking part in the Fringe is always a huge financial and emotional gamble, which adds a lot of stress to most companies and performers. 

CM: What do you do in Edinburgh other than working on your show? 
AW: I watch other shows! I really try my best to get myself to as many shows as possible while I’m here. You could genuinely stumble upon something that could change your life forever. You don’t want that show to pass you by. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you end up in this career? Was it what you always wanted? 
AW: I grew up in the early 2000s MTV era. Think Britney, Xtina, Destiny’s Child. I would spend countless hours watching music videos, and as a young, gay teen I dreamed of dancing behind the artists that I loved. In my early 20s I was fortunate enough to build a career in the commercial dance industry.

Eventually, that evolved into me creating my own work, with that 2000s movement vocabulary still very present in what I do. I knew from pretty early on that nothing made me feel as happy as dance did, but I also have a huge passion for film, which got me a BA in Film & Television Production from the University Of Westminster.

My work tends to be very cinematic, and when describing any 201 show I often say that one of my aims is for audiences to forget that they’re watching a dance show, forget about all the moving parts, and watch it as if it were a movie. I’m grateful that with 201 I’m able to mix my passion for both movement and film.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 
AW: ‘Smother’ – 201’s first production – still holds a special place in my heart: what started off as a show made with friends, turned into the most beautiful, whirlwind of a journey.

Aside from my work with 201 Dance Company, I was recently honoured to have been commissioned by the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago to create a world-premiere. The show – ‘Home’ – tackled queer immigrant experience.

I also work closely with Brighton Pride, which got me working with Kylie Minogue. What an icon! 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
AW: I hope I can keep creating work that is true to my vision, that moves people and that makes a bit of a difference in the world, even if it’s the tiniest amount. Also, an Olivier Award would be nice, ha! 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
AW: I’m excited to see ‘Sad Book’ tour, in the UK and beyond! 201 Dance Company’s ten year anniversary is also coming up soon, so we have some pretty exciting things planned for that… Stay tuned! 

‘Sad Book’ was performed at Zoo Southside at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: 201dancecompany.com | twitter.com/201DanceCompany