Vault festival preview: Tuna

Welcome to this preview from the Vault Festival 2020.

Tuna runs at the Studio from 7-9 February at 6pm, and is produced by Airlock. I asked writer/performer Rosanna Suppa and director Robbie Taylor Hunt to tell me a bit more about it.

1. Tuna has had a long period of scratch and WIP performances before coming to the Vaults. What should audiences expect from the full production?

RS: Audiences can expect a final iteration, that’s one of the biggest things. Over the last year, each performance we did we took big steps to push certain aspects, or change big sections of the play to experiment with what would resonate the most with audiences and which version achieved the most of what we wanted it to.

That’s all very vague and conceptual, generally I wanted to make a show that told this unique story, and never let an audience sit pretty or be able to predict what was coming next. After all these shows last year, pushing different aspects, getting it very wrong and very right.. I think we’ve got it? 

RTH: With one-person shows where there’s direct-address, the audience is a key part of the production. We’ve been able to sense it when something’s not working, when we’ve lost them, or when they’re gripped. As well as whether the humour is landing!

So having that process of scratch nights and works in progress has been so instrumental to getting the show to the slick, confident, dynamic place that it’s in now. Whole focuses of the play have shifted, entire sections have come and gone. Which also means if you’ve seen Tuna before… there’s definitely something new to see if you come again!

2. The description says the show is semi-autobiographical. How much of Rosanna’s story are we seeing in this play?

RS: Some moments are absolutely verbatim, played out precisely as I remember them, but I reckon about 80% of the time I’ve blown an anecdote from from my childhood way way out of control and slotted it into a narrative that is definitely not mine.

I invite anyone that sees it to catch me in the bar and guess at the moments they think are true. But also so much of the show is dedicated to caricatures of silly sisters and spies and cash fairies, those are there for audience members to find some truth in, and mostly to laugh at.  

RTH: Only thing I’d add to this is that it is so very “Rosanna” in its fantastic, weird and wonderful, slightly twisted sense of humour! 

Tuna at the Old Red Lion. Image courtesy @AirlockTheatre
Tuna at the Old Red Lion. Image courtesy @AirlockTheatre

3. London is often painted as a ‘no-go’ area full of violent crime. How does Tuna explore this issue and the perceptions of the young people growing up in the capital?

RS: Tuna is a specifically non-London story, because of my own heritage and also a deep set desire to hear some crime stories that aren’t centred around a city.

That being said, where Tuna resonates with the recent boom in under-18 knife and gun crime is in its exploration of growing up surrounded by criminality; the expectations of those kids; their barriers to exit and their relationship to their family.

I can’t make sweeping political statements about those young people, but Tuna aims to show that working class people, specifically girls, brought into that lifestyle by circumstance can still be loveable and witty and whole in a way that’s usually reserved for characters of a different social standing. 

4. Why is the show called Tuna

RS: I went to Billingsgate market at 4am one school night when I was very young and remember seeing a big dead whole tuna lying on a wooden pallet outside the market shutter.

I was small, maybe 12 or something, and the tuna was wet and cold and fucking massive. Easily bigger than me. There was a person’s flesh worth of fish on there, and I think about that quite a bit. 

5. What should audiences expect from the show? 

RTH: Honestly a perspective, character and story unlike anything you’ve seen before. I know people say that a lot but I really can’t think of anything I’ve seen that’s like this.

Having a young, working class girl take centre stage in a story is rare, and when it’s done it often falls into stereotypes. Rosanna’s done an amazing job at making a smart, funny, ambitious, complex character, who’s messy and kind and honest and impulsive and dark and much more.

As a queer theatre-maker, I also love the fact the character is queer but that’s completely incidental to the story. Expect to laugh… and grimace. 

RS: a recent audience member described it as ‘like the first time I took speed’ which sounds like a good thing, because the way he phrased it, he’s done speed since.

Seriously, they should expect a story they haven’t heard before. British gun crime stories tend to be limited to high stakes gangster films populated by angry men.  This is the opposite, it’s a story about a girl, her sister, and the life she was born into which just happens to be surrounded by firearms.

It’s very quick, and doesn’t let you get comfy. You should leave wondering how much of the narrator’s story you could trust. Hopefully. Maybe. 

Airlock company logo
Airlock company logo

My thanks to Rosanna and Robbie for their time in answering my questions. You can book for Tuna at the Vaults Festival website.