Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Nina Atesh, Taking Us Down ‘Horne’s Descent’ at the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2024

Classism, organised religion, and free will are all being held up in the mirror through the kaleidoscope of Horne’s Descent later this month. The show follows a priest emerging from the fog and fumbling of the First World War, coming to terms with a spiral into moral conflict. The piece aims to present itself as a psychological interrogration of whether we have the power to change the course of our lives, and at Binge Fringe we were intrigued enough to sit down and unpack those themes with the show’s Writer and Producer Nina Atesh.

Join us for a pixelated pint as we navigate the misty alleys of morals in the face of conflict – both international and personal.

You can catch Horne’s Descent at the Old Red Lion Theatre from the 2nd to the 13th of April. Tickets are available through the theatre’s online Box Office.

Jake: Hi team! You describe your show Horne’s Descent as ‘a psychological interrogation into whether we have the power to change the course of our lives’, tell us about the inspiration for the story.

Nina: Hi Jake! Horne’s Descent (in a very basic nutshell) is an exploration of whether we have freewill or not. Are we determined by our class, our religion, our place within society, and doomed forever to fall into those boxes without the chance of breaking out, or do we truly have “choice”? That’s a very broad look at the play, but it sort of focuses on that as a major theme.

For me, I was inspired by the time period itself; England just after the end of the First World War; and how different society was compared to how it had been in early 1914, and the changes that happened throughout those six years, bringing us to the beginning of 1920 which is when the play is set. It’s always been an interesting topic for me as a writer, delving into the psychology of men who have been through these really extreme and horrific circumstances, to then come out the other side….

How does that change a person? How does that change their view of the world, of society, of religion? It’s deep stuff, but a wonderful exploration of the human psyche. Without giving too much away, my writing always has an ‘other-worldly’ element to it as well; so whilst it’s a very human story, it’s also experimenting with things that are, let’s just say, bigger than us.

Jake: The piece touches on themes of classism, religion, and free will – what binds those together in the story and what are you hoping the audience will take away from it all?

Nina: I think it’s that thing of being boxed in. We’re sort of ‘doomed’ if you like, to live within our place in society, and for a long time that’s been determined by how you align yourself religiously, or what your ‘class’ background is. If we have no control over these things, and are forced to live within their parameters; do we truly have free will?

It might sound like I’m being a bit pessimistic, and I promise you I’m not! I do believe we can break out and smash glass ceilings, more so now perhaps, than we could in the past, but I do believe that we are determined by our place in society to an extent, and these things can hold us back. So, in a way, the idea of the play is that; if there is a God, and there is a Devil, and they exist in the way they do in the bible, then is our path not already set for us? Are our lives already determined by ‘greater’ beings who control the universe

Personally, as an atheist, I don’t believe this, but as a writer, these are really fascinating themes to explore, and putting characters in these kinds of situations make for interesting narratives. It’s hard to say now how audiences will react to it. I’m hoping it will broaden their philosophical view of the play but also of the world around them, and have them thinking about it for some time afterwards!

Jake: Tell us about the characters in the show, how you developed them, and how the process has been.

Nina: I’d wanted to write something about a priest for a long time. So, the central character is a young man called Peter Horne, who has been ordained for about a year when the play is set. Without spoiling it too much, he’s the sort of character you could argue is ‘doomed by the narrative’ but on the surface he’s more ‘doomed by society’. He comes from a working-class background but was forced into high society thanks to “self-made” family money in the 1800s, at the height of the industrial revolution; so, he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the English aristocracy in general, and yet feels a violent urge to belong.

His best friend, Albert, who he’s come to meet after not having spoken to him since before the war, is a perfect example of everything Peter wants to be but can’t. Blue-blooded, born into money and privilege. Their dynamic was one of the most interesting things to explore and unravel as I was writing it. The sort of friendship where they each get something out of the other. Their relationship is very much based on control and power; something that turns rather toxic and becomes more volatile throughout the play. And then there is Etta, and her niece Mary. These are sort of ‘free and loose’ women, very much enjoying the shift of their roles in society at that time; well-travelled, wise, clever; the sort of women Peter and Albert wouldn’t really have rubbed shoulders with before the war.

There’s not much I can say about them without spoiling the story unfortunately! But we’ve just started rehearsals and it’s so fun to watch our actors taking on these larger-than-life characters. They’re very rich and layered, and (hopefully!) these are things which make it dynamic for an actor to play. We have a fantastic cast who are really enveloping their roles; and it’s been a joy to do the initial table work with them.

Jake: The show is being performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre – tell us how the show ended up at that venue and what you’re excited for in this upcoming run.

Nina: The Old Red Lion is a brilliantly atmospheric theatre right in the heart of Islington, and it’s a wonderful setting for Horne’s Descent. The seating are these old rickety benches that feel like church pews, and it almost feels like you’re part of the set when you’re sat in there. It’s great to feel swallowed up by it, and it’s very easy to give it an almost immersive feeling, being part of the world you’re creating on stage.

I have a bit of a relationship with the theatre already, having had my first show, The Drought, do a short run there in 2022, and I run a horror-themed theatre festival ‘GrimFest’ alongside the artistic director, Jack Robertson. Jack is very keen, I think, to bring more stories like this to the ORL, he’s a horror fan himself, and we’ve both said on occasion that more stories like this should be on stage throughout the year, not just in October.

So, it feels nice to be a part of that community in a way, breaking boundaries of the ‘standard’ theatre-going experience, and being able to do it on the fringe feels even more special. We have the most wonderful set-designer; Miranda Cattermole; creating some really exciting things with the space. The stage there is a bit of an odd configuration, which raises some challenges, but can also give you a chance to be quite experimental.

Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?

Nina: Well, in keeping with the theme of religion and the Anglican church, there is a lot of red wine that’s being drunk by the characters! But I think if this play was a drink, it would certainly be something a little more exciting than just a standard glass of vino!

I would go with maybe something a bit spicy and smoky, like a rich bourbon mixed with an exotic splash of orange syrup, and then some smoky rosemary as a garnish. And it would probably be served warm too, as the play is set at the beginning of January!

Tickets are available through the theatre’s online Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together novel-length reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them