The spark of inspiration for art can be wildly diverse. In the case of north-east playwright George Milne’s current play, Auntie Agatha Comes to Tea, this is most definitely the case.
The hour-long production, which is the latest to have sprung from the popular A Play, a Pie and a Pint (PPP) series, is essentially a crime thriller – albeit one with equal amounts of drama and comedy.
The story follows brothers Damien and Martin, who have fallen on hard times, and the only person who stands between their business’s success or ruin is their Auntie Agatha. As the sole surviving member of their elder generation who passed the business to them, Agatha has the funds they need. But as a strong-willed, thrifty north-east lady, she’s unlikely to offer up a loan.
And so the plot is sprung. The brothers surmise that the only way to extract the cash is to lure their aged aunt to a “fly cup”. A “fly cup” from which she may not escape with her life. Insert peal of thunder here.
For George, who by day works within Aberdeen City Council’s planning department, it was the PPP format which led him to find his inspirational spark.
“I knew it was for the PPP series before writing, and I knew they had restrictions – that there needed to be up to three actors, and one main set. But I actually like restrictions like that. It’s more interesting to work with them. So I thought about what I could do and Rasputin came to mind, as he often does,” he said laughing.
For those not up on their 19th-century Russian history, Grigori Rasputin was a hugely influential – and much despised – private adviser of the Romanov’s, the ruling family of the Russian Empire.
“I like Rasputin; I always thought he had bad press,” said George. “He was just trying to keep his country out of a silly war.”
A prominent memory which stuck in George’s mind was an assassination attempt made on Rasputin’s life involving poisoned petit fours. However, soon after exploring the idea of a play centring upon the man, George decided against stepping a toe into the historical mire of his life.
But the idea of a murder plot remained.
“I thought, let’s make it someone in a hierarchy that needs to be removed. One thing led to another and it became that there was this auntie who needs to be done in,” he explained.
While the Russian Empire was the initial spark, the plot which came to be is actually quite a natural fit for something based in the north-east, George found.
As he explained, “there’s no malice in this murder attempt.
“One of the things that roots it in the north-east, is that there’s this pragmatic view. It’s not a crime that has come from a family feud. It’s all rooted in a practicality. And I think the people of the north-east are a practical people”.
George has written for theatre for many years, having begun with sketches for Aberdeen-based group Aurora Rabble, which had a popular following in the 1990s. However, “Auntie Agatha” represents his first full play, and he’s delighted that the team behind PPP considered it ideal material for their new season.
Working in collaboration with colleagues in the field, and the play’s director, John Bett, his initial draft was refined to the polished version which premiered in Glasgow’s Oran Mor last week. Through the two-week production process, George was invited to see the first rehearsal and technical run before it hit the stage. As such, when it came to the opening night, his attention wasn’t strictly on the stage.
“With the first performance, because I had seen it before, I was listening to the audience more than to the performance. And everyone seemed very satisfied with it,” he said.
Now that his north-east-based play is coming to the north-east itself, George has high hopes it’ll be welcomed with open arms. But anyone expecting the play to be chock full of easy local references can think again. The audience’s enjoyment, George hopes, will come first and foremost from the script and performances, irrespective of their setting.
“I hope it works not just because of the Aberdeen accents,” he explained.
“That said, the cast have been very diligent. They have been very conscientious of the accent and worked hard on it. But there’s only one local reference in the play, and that’s because it fits in perfectly. It’s about the Haudagain roundabout. I wouldn’t have fitted it in just for the sake of it.”
Auntie Agatha Comes to Tea, presented in collaboration between Aberdeen Performing Arts and Oran Mor, will be performed at the Lemon Tree from Tuesday, March 25, to Saturday, March 29. Performances start at 6pm each night, with a 1pm matinee also on Saturday. The pie and pint are available one hour prior. For tickets, visit www.aberdeen performingarts.com or call 01224 641122.