Telling stories with imagination.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Responding to a site

Samuel Collings | Photograph William Reynolds
So our latest production - Luigi Pirandello's The Man With the Flower in His Mouth - takes place within a café. I mean not only is the action (such as it is) set in a café but we're also staging it in one - the beautiful and intimate (recently opened) London Particular on the New Cross Road. And in fact this is our second foray into site responsiveness this year (I won't dare to call it site-specific because for the purists out there site-specific is itself a very 'specific' term) after our commission from the V&A museum to create a performance (which became for us a bit of an experiment in dance theatre) in one of their Spiral Booths.
That piece - 12 Dancing Princesses - was a challenge because the site to which we were responding was so unique - a spiral staircase structure with little cubicles coming off it, with a capacity of 6!!! So we chose to make a durational piece that you could slip in and out of - 3 performers dotted throughout the structure telling the same 12 stories over and over in a loop. Also to accommodate the (literally) hundreds of visitors to the exhibition we used music that reached beyond the confines of the Booth so that audience outside could watch from without as well as from within.

This time round we're not quite so restricted by our space. Although certainly we are currently wrestling with different seating configurations to achieve a capacity of 20, that also still feels like a café, and not simply a café that's had the tables taken out of it and the chairs laid out in rows. I'm desperate to avoid that at all costs - otherwise we may as well be in a theatre - and for me the joy of staging the play in the setting in which the action actually takes place is precisely so that we can authentically respond to what that site, that space, that setting offers us.

Aside from the chair shuffling the space is a joy. The moment the door onto the street is opened we hear the most brilliant and rich sound design - cars whizzing past, a woman's stiletto's clacking on the pavement, snatches of conversation - the kind of ambience that would take hours to create as sound effects in a theatre. And if, as may happen, one of the characters decides to go to the toilet in the middle of the play (we're keeping everything very open so the performance will never be the same twice) we can hear the floorboards squeaking, hear the flush, hear him coughing through the wall. As audience then we are immersed in the world, inhabiting the same world as the characters, and watching the play becomes rather eavesdropping on other people's lives.

Our costume designer Katharine Heath has responded to the site by using the café's palette of neutral tones - wood, red brick, terracotta floor tiles accentuated by highlights of red - in the costumes. But she's done it in such a way they they simultaneously have one foot in the cafe & contemporary London and one foot in Pirandello's early twentieth century Italy.

I'm also incredibly lucky to have such brilliant and open performers (Samuel Collings & Liana Weafer) who are always responding to what the space throws at them in lovely quirky ways, whether it's just a subtle acknowledgement of the cafe staff who will be serving coffee & cakes during the show, or more outrageous interactions like licking the dust off a lamp-shade or playing intricate games with the café's condiment. So all in all we're responding well.

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