Telling stories with imagination.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Metta likes... Production values

This week, we like high production values.
Well, we always like high production values, but lets think a little about what that means. What we often mean is a slick and highly polished production - the sort of thing that looks expensive to achieve, the kind of professionalism you expect to see at the National or in the West End for example, but is that the only meaning?
Something we've been exploring at metta over our last few productions is the idea of developing a bit of a messy, real-world feel to our shows. We've rather taken to heart the idea of a 'poverty aesthetic' - and not because it's cheap to achieve, but because sometimes (or perhaps always...) what we want from a piece of theatre is a strong emotional connection to the characters and the story in front of us, and very often those strived-for 'high production values' seem to get in the way of that, seem to put up some sort of barrier between the actors and the audience.

And at metta we're all about breaking down that barrier - breaking down the fourth wall, and engaging with the audience. That's one of the things we mean by metta - being aware of the fact that we're making theatre - wearing our theatricality on our sleeve as we say - and using that self-awareness to forge a link, a connection in that shared knowledge, between performer/director/designer and every individual audience member.

Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida Theatre
Rupert Gould's Headlong company is enjoying huge success at the moment, and quite deservedly so - and they provide a good example of the 'slick and expensive' approach to high production values. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Almeida Theatre a couple of years ago is a good example, and was perhaps the show that sparked this whole line of thinking, in my mind anyway! I came out of that show literally blown-away. I loved it, everything about it, from the set & costumes to the performances to the writing to the sound design, it was brilliantly done. But then thinking about it even shortly afterwards, and certainly looking back to it again now, I have only the haziest memory of my emotional response to the story and the characters. I think what I liked about it was it's cleverness. The writing and its setting were certainly clever (that's true of most Rupert Gould's work, take his and Ben Powers' production of Six Characters for example) but the thing that really struck me was the sound design, and the way everything about the production was so slick and seamless. Somehow that left me feeling slightly isolated from the world of the characters, I wasn't ever completely sucked in.

But the way to forge that emotional link that I'm always searching for isn't simply 'poverty', the problem isn't that 'slick = bad', that's not what I mean! Complicite aren't a company you can accuse of being cheap, and their recently revived A Disappearing Number is nothing if not slick (now there's a technical rehearsal that must have gone on for an age!) with its' flying walls, spinning screens and countless projections - again a show that I loved, but this time one that moved me, and most of the rest of the theatre from what I could tell! There was more of a human element to the show than with Judas, and the actors were more obviously aware of the three-way interaction between them, their characters and the audience.

And all this is intimately tied up with design, which is what excites me so much. For me the lack of intimacy in Judas came from a slightly overly polished design aesthetic (and I mean all aspects of design - sound, set, projection, lighting) and the intimacy of the Complicite show was helped enormously by its very simple design - a single lecture room set was easily transformed into a multitude of different locations with small, simple changes, some clever projections and plenty of imagination.

So what we're trying to do with our productions is to break down the barrier that the fourth wall often brings with it, and instead to help our actors reach through it, and connect directly with the audience. Not a new idea at all, but hopefully we're exploring some interesting ways to achieve it, and 'wearing our theatricality on our sleeve' is one of them!

And on the subject of breaking down the fourth wall - our next show, The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, doesn't have one at all! It's in the tiny and lovely London Particular cafe in New Cross, with the action taking place all around you!

No comments:

Post a Comment