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Interview with Simon Ryninks and Emma Tompkins

April 11, 2016

On Sunday 15th May, Dulwich Park will play host to a piece of interactive outdoor theatre when Dulwich residents will be called upon to help young time traveller Myrtle West get back to the present day! There’ll be clues for the audience to solve and a trail to follow, so lots of fun for all ages when The Multiple Myrtle Mysteries land. The event is free to attend and part of the Dulwich Park Fair.

Simon Ryninks and Emma Tompkins from the Milo Wladek Co are the creative minds behind the event. Both are experienced community theatre makers having worked with the Young Vic and Old Vic’s Outreach and Community projects respectively. We spoke to Emma and Simon to find out what’s in store for the people of Dulwich on the day…

Where did the idea for the Multiple Myrtle Mysteries come from? 

Simon: The show focuses on employees of time-travel corporation Endless Horizons Ltd, trying to get the revered scientist/adventurer Myrtle West back to 2016. She’s become unstuck in time you see…

The plot came to me one afternoon in 2015 when I was walking in Dulwich Park. I was approached by an old man who told me that he was my future self. I was sceptical, but he listed a load of secrets that I haven’t told anyone. Confused, I asked him why he’d come back. He handed me a folded napkin and said: “If you make it, they will come.” I immediately unfolded the napkin and saw, written in crayon, the entire plot of The Multiple Myrtle Mysteries above a date: May 15th 2016. When I looked up, the man was gone…

Emma: 100% True…

Without giving too much away, what can the audience expect from their afternoon with Myrtle? 

Emma: Japes, sci-fi, time-travel, Brian Green, adventure!

Simon: An interactive treasure hunt and a very funny live performance and film. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (with laughter) and you might learn a thing or two about Dulwich!

An event like this is new to the festival, but have you staged interactive performance events like this before?

Emma: Our last show – The Van Dyck Vanishments – featured Endless Horizons Ltd, our time-travel agency from The Multiple Myrtle Mysteries. At that time they were offering trips into works of art. We had audience members solving puzzles in the Turner Contemporary’s exhibition and then finding their way to a TranspARTation™ centre where they journeyed INTO the paintings they’d just seen.

Simon: We’re interested in how performance can be interactive, without being awkward or forced, so Vanishments saw audience members complete various puzzles to  ‘unlock stages’ of the show where actors performed the storyline. It was bit like a live-action video game with cut-scenes.

Our work blurs the lines between fiction and reality and we seek ways to combine different mediums like film, live action, web and games. Some people call this kind of work ‘transmedia’ or ‘multi-platform’, but we’re proud to call it ‘bonkers’.

The preparations and logistics for staging an event like this must be comprehensive and meticulous. Tell us a little bit about how you take the process from initial idea right up to the day of the performance, and everything in between. 

Emma: I don’t even think an online blog has the room for all of that! All our work so far has always started with a nugget of an idea inside Simon’s head and then it steadily grows into a show from group collaboration. We are VERY grateful to Southwark Presents (the Southwark Council events team), Arts Council England and the festival for commissioning and supporting us. We also want to thank the various members of Dulwich’s community who have backed us. That’s the first step – get the right support.

Then it’s about assembling a crack team of amazing creatives (which we’ve done) cast some brilliant actors (which we’re happy to say we’ve also done) and get everyone excited about the potential.

In the meantime send emails all hours of the day, meet and speak to as many people as possible to get involved, create a lot of spreadsheets and documents, hold workshops to find the stories and get the project out into the community. We’ve also researched like mad and, in Simon’s case, read every single edition of the Dulwich Society newsletter from the past 30 years!

Simon: Time well spent. Thank you to whoever digitised that lot.

You’ve conducted workshops with Dulwich residents over the past few months. How will these feed into the performance? 

Emma: Our story workshops have helped us get a sense of Dulwich as a place and that has fed directly into the script, we’ve met some really great locals and some may even appear in one way or another in the show.

Simon: I’ve sort-of lived in Dulwich for the past seven years (my girlfriend is from the area) so I already knew what a great place it is – rich in its heritage, diverse, so green and lush – but it’s been really amazing digging a little deeper and discovering the real Dulwich from people who live in the area.

Emma: We’ve had some great stories come out of the workshops that will make their way into the trail, which is a special part of the project.

How have residents responded to the workshops – is Dulwich full of natural raconteurs and historians? 

Emma: In a word, yes. It’s been fascinating to meet such a varied group of residents.

Simon: Historically, Dulwich seems to have been occupied by many brilliantly intelligent and driven individuals. Judging by the people we’ve met, nothing has changed.

Emma: We’ve chatted to people who are Dulwich born and bred and we’ve also had a refugee attend one of our workshops who has only been here for 4 months. What Dulwich means to different people has been really interesting to find out and it’s been lovely to hear from and about the community members that make Dulwich (and most probably the festival) what it is.

Again, without asking you to give too much away, what other projects do you have in the pipeline that you might like to tell us about? 

Emma: Well the most important one is the trail which is part of the show, but will run for the length of the festival. We’ve found so much great history from our research, some just through talking to local residents about the area that we couldn’t fit in the script, so we’re going to add it to a very special interactive trail around Dulwich.

It will lead you to the exact locations where curious and fascinating events took place in the years past, and because this is a time-travel mystery show, there’ll be a few clues to solve along the way.

Outside of this Simon and I work as film and theatre makers so depending on which day you ask us, there will be some other project bubbling away for the future.

Is Myrtle ready for her trip to Dulwich?

Simon: You’d have to ask her. We can put you in touch with her, if you’d like an interview? The real question is: will Dulwich  be ready for Myrtle?

Find out what Myrtle has to say here

Photograph by ‘David Good Videography’