Saturday, 21 January 2017

Donald Trump and the Myth of Progress

In my confused reading of Enlightenment philosophy and the origins of Dramaturgy, only two things have remained clear. Putting Donald Trump in the headline of an article guarantees interest, and there are few things that can't be related to eighteenth century ideas about knowledge.

Robert Darnton's idiosyncratic selection of essays, The Great Cat Massacre (1999) includes an attempt to explain the epistemology of the Encyclopedia, the compilation of knowledge published during the latter half of the 1700s. Examining Diderot and d'Alembert's advocacy of a 'tree of knowledge' - which was sometimes described as a map - Darnton recognises the confusion of d'Alembert's metaphors and language (sometimes, he's drawing on Newton, other times, it's Locke) but concludes that their serious purpose was to 'remove it from the clergy and to put it in the hands of intellectuals committed to the Enlightenment' (page 209). In part, he did this by drawing up a lineage of approved thinkers (yep, all white men) who had advanced human understanding. 

If it was nothing else, the Enlightenment was a self-conscious movement (don't worry, I'll get to Trump eventually). Rather like a contemporary internet fandom, members would mention their affiliation, reference each other and, as in the case of Kant, offer definitions of the philosophy. As the contemporary apologist Vincenzo Ferrone comments, it was 'the first cultural phenomenon expressly recognised by its contemporaries through the name that it gave itself' (page 4, The Enlightenment, 2015). 

Diderot and d'Alembert's various prologues to the Encyclopedia, then, made the project's importance clear and, through their 'tree of knowledge', established an epistemology that divided information into the valuable and the 'unknowable'. Religious knowledge was dumped. But by imagining a lineal development of human achievement, they did advocate a myth of progress, something that still turns up in ideas like 'manifest destiny' or the vision of social justice advocates - known as 'progressives'. 

Myths aren't bad things, in themselves, although Diderot would probably debate that. Of course, the word is used to describe bullshit: those classical myths about gorgons and cyclops, anti-vaccine propaganda, gender binaries, anything that the speaker doesn't believe. But a more neutral definition - a 'story with meaning' - allows a less prejudiced conversation. Following Adorno, the 'myths of the Enlightenment' are another way of saying that the Age of Reason ended up with a reliance on untested articles of faith. That's interesting, but not the point.

The 'myth of progress' seems to demand a counter-myth, the myth of degeneration. If this guy says things are getting better, this other guy is bound to say things are getting worse. And that is where Trump can be shoehorned into the conversation.

I'm not even getting into the wrongs and rights of Obama and Trump - for most people, these are self-evident, anyway. But Obama appears to stand for the myth of progress (when he claimed 'change' as his manifesto, he evoked a brave new future). Trump is the other guy, looking back to the past and asking 'where did it all go wrong?'

Trump is an anti-Enlightenment President. Although I am pretty cynical about the religiosity presented in his inauguration, he is deliberately suggesting that Christianity was part of those good old days. In itself, that's not against Diderot and the gang - they were a lot more circumspect about religious belief than their contemporary apologists claim. But add in the specific Bible that Trump swore on - his mother's old copy - and the backwards glance is more obvious. Unless his finances are even worse than he admits, it's not like he can't afford a nice new translation. 

Hope that everyone notices my dramaturgical reading there.

The appeal of Trump has been explained away a thousand times - it's latent racism, it's a reaction to progressive language policing, it's fear of Islam and so on. And saying that he is simply appealing to one of the great myths is just another essay for the bonfire. I mean, I can use a classic British text to support my point.

.
Of course, I am being sly... calling something a myth removes it from history and makes it a negotiable truth, an act of faith rather than reason. It also places Trump's critics on the side of reason, and Trump on the side of a reactionary tradition that feeds on pessimism. I'm claiming that the dramaturgical reading of Trump's inauguration is more useful than any amount of critique toward his policies, because it reveals an underlying philosophy rather than creates flash-points for skirmishes. This claim is not especially original, nor is it necessarily helpful. 

It's just today's attempt to relate my research to contemporary life. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Red Chair of Dramaturgy: Sarah Cameron on tour


Clod Ensemble

The Red Chair – Scotland 2017 

Written and performed by Sarah Cameron
Produced in association with Fuel
Directed by Suzy Willson 
 Music by Paul Clark
Touring Scotland for the first time, Sarah Cameron’s towering solo performance is a delicious feast for the imagination performed in luscious Scots dialect and served with tasty morsels 



A contemporary take on folk and fairytale storytelling traditions, The Red Chair is a surreal ballad populated with larger than life characters which draws the audience into the extraordinary world of a troubled family, living together but each trapped in their own lonely worlds. Told in a saucy Scots dialect, The Red Chair tells the darkly humorous story of a father who eats and eats until he turns into the chair he is sitting upon, the wife doomed to cook his meals and their 'inveesible' daughter.

The epic and lyrical narrative takes audiences on a journey through a landscape of twisted reason, extreme compulsion and eye watering complacency, where domestic drudgery happens on an operatic scale and a father’s dereliction of duty reaches epic proportions. At three points in the show, audiences are invited to try tasty nibbles sourced from local suppliers and a dram of whisky to oil the way.

Created in collaboration with Dundee-born Sarah Cameron and based on her original book, The Red Chair is performed with the physical vitality that has become a trademark of Clod Ensemble’s work, rooted in the training that both Sarah and director Suzy Willson received at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. Woven into the production is an original sound score created by Clod Ensemble co-artistic director Paul Clark.

Director Suzy Willson said “Clod Ensemble usually works with music and is movement based work rather than being centered around text. We had worked with Sarah Cameron as a performer for many years but had no idea she could write too, so when she showed us the book she had been working on called The Red Chair, we were blown away by the quality of the language. Sarah is a virtuosic physical performer as well as a sculptor -the story felt to us like a kind of sculpture of words and we immediately wanted to hear and see her telling it.”

Writer and performer Sarah Cameron said: “A Scottish tour is a thrilling prospect as it is an opportunity to bring the work back to its natural home. The language and the dialect of conjurer’s up the wild beauty of the Scottish landscape. The text speaks of family and ancestry and in many ways is a romantic remembrance of Scotland, which is ingrained within my being and my heart.”





 I'd better be careful: I might be out of my depth talking about storytelling. But reading the synopsis for The Red Chair, I am struck by the way it could go two (out of many) ways. On the one hand, it reads like a fantastic fairy tale for younger audiences; on the other, it is pretty dark and might have some mature content. Can you help me out on that?

Every piece of theatre and every film is a bit of storytelling - but I know what you mean! We tend of think of something very specific when we think of storytelling. 

When I began writing the story, my idea was that it was for children. In the very best tradition of fairy tales and myth, it was always going to be dark. When you deconstruct Ashputtel (Cinderella) or Hansel & Gretel for example, the predicament of the child is pretty grim. When I got my teeth into “The Inveesible Child” a much more troubling story began to emerge. Her voice, the lemon juice cutting through the fat of the narrator’s, is very different. 

Whereas the narrator is poised, barbed, flamboyant, Queanie (written in a more dynamic and guttural dialect) is mercurial, raw, visceral, elemental - the howl of a wolf. The Red Chair begins like a fairy tale - the baroque and cartoon structure of the story creates a safe space, I suppose, from which we can explore the darker aspects of the human condition.  

As the story goes on the voice of narrator and the voice of Queanie merge - it becomes less like a fairy tale, and more like a poem, perhaps. The form of the story begins to unravel as the transformations occur. My children (aged 6 &10) saw it - but yes, I would say that older children (from age 12 onwards?) would get something from it - but it’s a story for all ages and all people, in the way fairy tales are intended.


I'm really interested in how you'd approach storytelling from a dramaturgical perspective. That is, you start with a book and transform it into performance. Where there any strategies that made this process easier?
Well, it was much easier because it was adapted from a story that I’d written and consequently I knew it inside out. Also, there was no rush - Clod Ensemble’s co-artistic director Suzy Willson & I took our time to adapt it from the original - over a period of about 3 years. It was vital to have Suzy’s impartial and fresh, outside eye. We had writing & editing sessions, as well as performing sessions. 

Along with Paul Clark (the other artistic director of Clod) we showed scratch performances to invited guests about 5 or 6 times during those 3 years. That gave us an idea of what worked and what didn’t. It was a great privilege actually, to be able to take that amount of time and it was brilliant that Suzy & Paul chose to work this way.  

In the early 90’s I was a resident company member of the Young Vic under the directorship of Tim Supple. The first show we made was the Christmas Show, an adaptation of Grimm’s Tales. Up until that period (1993/4) there wasn't very much good children’s theatre around but Grimm’s Tales turned out to be a seminal show and set the bar for a new kind of children’s theatre. During rehearsals we’d used the original tales - in their narrative form, as scripts. We improvised with them, edited and dramatised as we went along, on our feet. 

Through this process we discovered what needed to stay as text, what we could do in action and when we could use both. Carol Ann Duffy poetised our dramatised version of the tales. I learned how to tell a story with simplicity & clarity. 

So when it came to adapting The Red Chair I had some knowledge in my bones. It became clear to me too that verse was going to really help the telling of the tale, especially because of the language and dialect. 

Suzy was brilliant in cutting out the fat and we jiggled and re-jiggled bits of text around, until it came together. It was also edited after during the run of first few shows and it really found its feet (half an hour shorter than the first ever show) at the Brighton Festival in 2014, where we won an award. It’s the putting of it on its feet that’s an essential part of the adapting process.

Because I have spent all afternoon reading about the Enlightenment (and not watching YouTube videos, not at all), I am currently obsessed with the idea that the world has become 'disenchanted': it's not really full of sprites and angels anymore, just mathematical equations and people trying to sell me stuff. But The Red Chair seems to inhabit a timeless world, where magic is still present and transformation is always possible. Do you feel a connection with a more mystical vision of the world and is that expressed through the story?

Gosh. And yes. Good question. Glad you’re not watching YouTube ;) I do think the world has become ‘disenchanted’, at least parts of it. I do find physics (not that I understand much of it) and the exploration of space extremely enchanting - so science has its own magic and wonder. 

But (& I’ve become a little obsessed with this too recently) there’s something about masses of technology, closing down of pubs and gathering spaces, mass urbanisation, the speeding up of lives, the blurring of day and night, our heads in screens, living in a secular society (I’m not religious, but biblical & other religious stories are full of enchantment & strange things) and so on that’s created this age of ‘disenchantment’ perhaps? 

I feel that we're losing our sense of spirit/soul, how each of us is connected to the next, and the other, and ultimately to our world, our universe. In the story, there's no technology at all and so the young hero, Queanie, has no other choice but to rely upon her imagination, and her books. It was important to create a sense of no time or all time - I feel that the story has mythical resonance. Queanie survives because of her imagination. 

She’s a product of her environment certainly, in more ways than one. Queanie is an embodiment of the land about her, she’s the moor and the mist and the blizzard and the lightning strike - the fox, the wolf, the snawy owl.  There’s something in that for me - our attachment to the land, our spiritual connectedness to the trees, the earth, the animals, the stars, the universe - our ancestors too. At the moment, and I don’t know why, I feel very strongly that I walk in their ancient footsteps. 

I don’t know if you’ve seen images of the stencilled hands (9,000 years old) on the Cuevade Las Manos in Patagonia? I’m very inspired by this image, fixated by it somewhat - a sea of waving hands, made up of many individuals over time - open, joyful, ancient - and yet symbolising a whole community. I feel a primal rage against what’s happening/happened in our society, where so many people are isolated and alone. 

George Monbiot has coined our era ‘The Age of Loneliness.’ We’re pack animals and we need each other to thrive. Perhaps as you suggest, re-discovering ‘enchantment’ can bring us together? Stories certainly can.

I do feel a mystical connection to our planet, and beyond. But you know I come from a great line of storytellers - don’t all Scots? My Gran and Dad told endless eerie stories and of course we visited haunted castles and misty moors as children. The melancholy hues of the Scottish landscape and the dark, forbidding architecture of the land is fertile breeding ground for such spooky tales, and I tramped through the Glens, the moors, the Highlands often throughout my eighteen years in Scotland. 

There was never any doubt that ghosts do exist. I was told as a child that Ghosts were about us, all the time. And of course, as you get older you could choose to understand that in a different way. I do think that it’s in the Scottish DNA to believe in spirits, ghosts and such-like. 

The magical transformations in the story are also metaphors for emotional and/or physical states. They can be interpreted and understood in that way too. There are transformations happening around us all the time and in their own small ways, they are miraculous. Perhaps we’ve forgotten how to acknowledge them?

So, the other thing that might make it look like I have done some reading, the use of Scots strikes me as another counterblast to the Enlightenment: this is very much locating the performance in a particular location (and I think I read something in Adorno about how capitalism aims at the universal, like how Disney flatten everything into a generic animation style to sell it more easily). What made you decide on using a language that isn't easily marketable outside of its own area (although that might be an assumption on my part - but I am hoping that there's something about the tradition of the language in there…)?
I didn’t really decide. First of all, a few smatterings of Scots arrived, imperceptibly really. A friend suggested I build on that. So I started searching for Scot’s words and I was beguiled - I felt like I’d found a box of golden treasure. The language was just so beautiful, colourful, rich, resonant, witty, chewable, sculptural. I was transported to my young years in Scotland and the liveliness of the language that had been all around me - which actually, had been forbidden to me at the time - of course that made it all the more delectable and exciting. 

My mum was English and when my dad and she returned to Scotland after they'd met, he began speaking in the local dialect again much to my mum’s displeasure. So, she sent us all to elocution lessons to make sure we didn’t pick up the local lingo too. And of course living down South for so many years, I’d lost my connection to the language, I’d also suppressed it. But as I wrote The Red Chair (I read aloud as I write) I felt like I was discovering my real and true voice - and it was very Scottish! So in the process of writing The Red Chair, which is all about transformation, I myself was being transformed, in more ways than one. I do think there was some enchantment going on!  

There is great liberation in performing and owning these words. And I feel very strongly that these words must survive - I think there’s a bit of a movement in Scotland now isn’t there - a reclaiming of the Scot’s?

Although the story is clearly set in Scotland, I don’t say it specifically. I say, ‘someplace in the glum north o’ the warld..’ I feel that the Scot’s dialect in the Red Chair is a poetic voice. The words have been formed over hundreds of years and are as ancient as the hills. In the same way that the story is timeless and has something of the ancient myth about it, so the dialect, for me (perhaps because I’m an outsider) is timeless; for me it’s a universal voice, in the very best sense; an ancestral, ancient, mythical voice; a potent voice full of knowledge and wit. 

So yes, it might be challenging for some but no more so than going to see a Shakespeare play. After 10 minutes your ear attunes to the difference and it’s no longer an issue (I hope!). We’ve done lots of shows in England and people have often commented on the Scots and how much they love it. Whilst it’s idiosyncratic and distinctive, it’s also mercurial - it’s not academic, it’s not specific. 

There’s some made up stuff and there are words from different parts of the country (the world too) - it’s by no means purist. I agree with what you say above re. Disney etc. I feel stubborn about this wonderful language (and heritage) and it can and must be heard outside of Scotland - it’s too brilliant not to be shared. There’s a strong desire to combat the machine that says we all must be alike, homogenised.   

Of course there were also huge influences from Rabbie Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Billy Connolly, William Topaz McGonagall, Robert Louis Stevenson et al from when I was wee. The sculptural dynamic of the language, its toothsomeness, the way the mouth and body has to move to accommodate the words, is inspiring to me too. They resonate with my training as a sculptor, and a Lecoqian. 

Lecoq is all the rage in my house. Are there any aspects of the performance that you would ascribe to the school's teaching?

All of it. And I write that with a big smile on my face.


Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins | Suitable for ages 14+

Directed by Suzy Willson           Written and performed by Sarah Cameron

Music by Paul Clark                  Lighting Design by Hansjorg Schmidt
Design by Sarah Blenkinsop      Produced in association with Fuel



Listings information

3 & 4 Mar
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HB
8pm | £10 / £7.50
www.tron.co.uk | 0141 552 4267
6 Mar
Eden Court, Inverness
Bishops Road, Inverness IV3 5SA
7:30pm | £11
www.eden-court.co.uk | 01463 239841



17 & 18 Mar
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED
8pm | £16.50 / £13.50 / £8.50
www.traverse.co.uk | 0131 228 1404
20 Mar
Theatre Royal, Dumfries
66-68 Shakespeare Street, Dumfries DG1 2JH
7:30pm | £10
31 Mar
Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee
Tay Square, Dundee DD1 1PB
7:30pm | £14 / £12 / £11
www.dundeerep.co.uk | 01382 223530


Clod Ensemble is one of the UK’s most prominent interdisciplinary performance companies. Music and movement is deeply embedded in all of the works in the company’s repertoire. For over 20 years the company has created an extraordinary body of work lead by Artistic Directors Suzy Willson and Paul Clark. Their work is presented across the UK and internationally, including Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern, Public Theater New York and Serralves Museum Poto. Clod Ensemble has a repertoire of critically acclaimed work, each production with its own distinctive musical and visual identity. Recently the Company has embarked in a new music collaboration with OENM in Salzburg.
  
Suzy Willson graduated from Manchester University before studying with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. On her return she co-founded Clod Ensemble and has directed all of their productions to date. She teaches drama and movement to students, actors, musicians and leads the company's Performing Medicine project. She has worked as a movement director on productions at the Gate, Soho Theatre, BAC, with film director Arnaud Desplechin, performance poet Malaika B, and Jessica Ogden for London Fashion week.

Paul Clark is a leading composer on the British performance scene. His music has reached a range of international audiences and venues such as Lincoln Centre NewYork, Vienna Burgtheater, Berlin Schaubuhne and Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg, through collaborations with Gare St Lazare Irelend and Director Katie Mitchell.

About Sarah Cameron
Sarah Cameron is an artist, performer and writer. Born in Dundee, she studied sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art and theatre at Ecole International de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Young Vic, where she was a member of the resident company that created the legendary production of Grimm Tales. She first worked with Clod Ensemble in 1999, touring their production of Greed internationally in 2003, performing in Zero at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and most recently in a production of An Anatomie in Four Quarters at The Lowry. 

The Red Chair is produced in association with Fuel. Founded in 2004, and led by Louise Blackwell and Kate McGrath, Fuel is a producing organisation working in partnership with some of the most exciting artists in the UK to develop, create and present new work for all. Fuel is currently working with artists including: Will Adamsdale, Clod Ensemble, Inua Ellams, Fevered Sleep, David Rosenberg, Sound&Fury, Uninvited Guestsand Melanie Wilson. 


Dramaturgically Made in India: Satinder Chohan

In a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, three women meet.

Londoner Eva is in motherhood’s last chance saloon. For village girl Aditi, dairy worker and single mother, surrogacy is a lifeline out of poverty. For clinic owner and businesswoman Dr Gupta, it’s all just another transaction.

But set on the fault lines of profound global forces, can it possibly remain that simple?

A thrilling new play about motherhood and blood ties between women and nations in a brave new world.






Forgive me if this sounds a little negative to start off with, but I am struggling with the idea of political theatre at the moment (mostly because I live in my head too much, but...). 

I worry that a play which addresses a political or social concern can pander to an audience, in that it states a situation, the audience nods their heads in agreement, then leave and do nothing about it. What is it for you that makes a serious topic like this good for the dramaturgical treatment?

Agreed, it’s difficult to write plays like this and put them into the world - a depressing enough place as it is. But we need serious plays that challenge audiences and might make us think about political or social concerns or glimpse another world we wouldn’t know about otherwise. To realise we are connected to a bigger world or other worlds. To let those connections and contrasts percolate dramatically, maybe resurface elsewhere in our lives when and where we might do something about them in our own lives or the lives of others.

With ‘Made in India’, I hope audiences might make connections as Western consumers who rely on low-cost, low-paid global workers to provide the material stuff of our lives - whether a pair of trainers or a baby. Because we’re the ones who can afford to blank out those workers’ lives and struggles rather than understand how we connect to them. 

Also, since ‘Made in India’ is also a layered play about gender, global economics and reproductive technology - those complexities need to be approached from different angles. I hope the play does that by showing the entwined lives of three very different women in a fertility clinic in Gujarat.

Actually, I was talking about the show the other day (on my radio show) and suddenly got excited because it struck me that the subject matter was not just looking at a literal story, but spoke to the way that the west treats India - as a kind of resource hub for consumer goods, and damn the consequences. Was this a factor in your approach to the script?

Absolutely – and it’s a play that deliberately explores colonial and neoliberal relationships between India and the UK. Commercial surrogacy is a fitting metaphor for it all. In India’s service or ‘surrogacy’ economy, locals are hired to service a global/Western economy. 

Many are Indian worker ‘surrogates’ substituting Western workers, who are even given Western names in call centres, for example. Commercial surrogates work for profit-driven clinics and affluent global clients - like low paid workers say in the sweatshop or electronics industry. Whether it’s about their exploitation or empowerment, there are still frequent reports of low pay, harsh working and environmental conditions, health risks, excessive overtime, child labour etc that suggests there is still much to do to protect these marginalised workers. It shouldn’t just be about valuing profit over workers and sacrificing human dignity for a quick blood stained buck. 

‘Made in India’ tries to explore this terrain. It’s also interesting because as a society we’re only just catching up with the repercussions of reproductive technologies such as surrogacy - hence the recent ban on commercial surrogacy in India. In our ‘everything for sale’ society, the reproductive technology industry perfectly plays out this controversial, highly charged financial markets vs morality debate.


Another thing that I angst about (and I am sorry that I am asking you to talk about stuff that, I think, needs loads of different people to discuss in any depth) is that there is an under-representation of diverse voices in theatre. 

I know that you work hard to address this, but are there any particular problems that you face when you try to broaden the stories that are told on stage?
I’m so glad you asked this question because from theatre companies to theatres to mainstream play publishers, it’s incredibly tough to get non-mainstream stories like this read, heard or seen. There is a real reluctance to expand an audience’s understanding of the world, by presenting challenging new diverse work, which is seen as too risky, irrelevant and marginal. I’ve been (struggling!) in theatre for about a decade now and sadly, nothing has changed from trying to get my first play staged to trying to get this play staged. You never know if the next one will happen and if it does, it takes years to do. Always back to square one! 

In fact, it feels like a much tougher climate now for new writers like me. It’s vital we have opportunities to tell our diverse stories before they disappear but it’s hard when the theatre establishment repeatedly closes doors on us and we’re struggling to make a living from it all. 

For now, I’m so grateful to Tamasha and all the other theatres involved for staging this work and supporting writers like me who desperately need the experience of our work being staged, so we can preserve our stories, reach out to new audiences and become better writers.

And an old stand-by: what companies would you say are either an influence or working in similar areas to you?

I wish I had more experience of other theatre companies. Obviously, all the ‘Asian’ theatre companies like Tamasha and Kali who give voice to our work have been a huge support and influence and without them, I wouldn’t be a writer today. Other Asian theatre companies like Tara Arts and Rifco are doing seriously important work too. I also admire companies like Clean Break and Paines Plough for their passionate commitment to new writing. As a diverse writer, I still hope to work with more varied theatre companies but mostly, it’s hard to get a look in. 

Still, I’m hugely thankful that companies like Tamasha and Kali exist, understand our creative struggles and make us feel we belong to a creative community – especially when an alienating, insular British theatre establishment makes it as difficult as possible for diverse creatives to develop and for our stories to be heard.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The End of Dramturgy: Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky

THE END OF THINGS
The End of Things is the spellbinding new performance from Glasgow’s celebrated ‘laboratory theatre’ ensemble Company of Wolves. Combining theatre, dance, music, and improvisation, and performed by a cast of five disciplined, physically daring actors, it is a show about beginnings and endings - about love, loss and saying goodbye.

The fourth show from the fearlessly experimental collective is abstract, surreal and unsettling in places, but also lyrical and profoundly moving. Conceived as a collective, led by co-founders Ewan Downie (who directs once more) and Anna Porubcansky (who provides the dreamlike sound design), it is a deeply collaborative piece. The cast - Robin Hellier, Beth Kovarik, Jonathan Peck, Emily Phillips and Liz Strange - have all been through the rigorous physical training which is the company’s signature, and have produced a kinetic, emotional work which is as accessible as it is visceral and dynamic.

Submerged in the beauty, simplicity, and poignancy held in the smallest moments in life, The End of Things combines exciting movement with compelling vignettes that explore the extraordinary in the everyday. Relationships emerge and dissolve; dreams, soft and beautiful, morph into surreal absurdity. 


Echoes of decay and regeneration, of intimacy, loss, desire and longing permeate the stage. A moving tapestry of haunting imagery, intense yet elegant physical exchanges, and ethereal, cinematic vistas of sound and lighting: The End of Things is quite unlike any other theatre show you will see this year.

As with their last, critically acclaimed show A Brief History of Evil, this is a performance for the curious, the adventurous – for those in love with life, the world, and human nature. Elegiac, life-affirming and strange, it will stay with you long beyond the end of the performance.


THE INSISTENT TICKING OF A CLOCK.
THE STRUNG-OUT MOMENTS OF A LIFETIME.
MEETINGS. LOVE. SAYING GOODBYE.
WHAT’S REAL HERE? HOW MUCH IS US, HOW MUCH IS YOU?
INFUSED WITH JOY, PAIN AND BREATHTAKING BEAUTY,
THE END OF THINGS IS A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF LETTING GO.
COME FOR THE SHEER PLEASURE OF CHAOS AND REDEMPTION.
COME AND SEE WHAT MIGHT LIE AT THE END OF THINGS.

Ewan and Anna


Apart from that one time I got on the wrong bus, I've been following your work for a while - I think I even saw your first piece as a scratch. Aside from reminding everyone how dedicated I am as a critic, this has allowed me to see a development in your work - and your most recent tour was on a slightly smaller scale than usual. Is this going to be more like your earlier work - or where does it fit into your progress?

Ewan: In that there’s a slightly larger company of 5 performers, yes, this piece is closer to our earlier work. Stylistically we think it’s quite different - we’ve been really surprised and delighted with the material the company has created.

Anna: It’ll be interesting to hear how you place it in a larger trajectory! For us, The End of Things is the natural development from Invisible Empire and Seven Hungers. We learn things as we go, and each new project is fed by the discoveries of what went before.

Ewan: So The End of Things is definitely shaped by our earlier pieces. But it is also a product of our current fascinations and obsessions which change over time - although intimacy and the ways it can go wrong seem to run through most of our work to date. In the case of The End of Things, one of the things we wanted to look at is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the world, each other - our dreams - and how they can be born and die.


I know this is a real stereotypical question - and I have probably asked it too often - but how do you feel your work meshes with manipulate's particular identity?

Ewan: One of the things we have in common with many of the artists that perform at manipulate is an interest in non-linear storytelling. We aim for our work to be a space to dream, both for ourselves and for the audience, and that means not closing down interpretations, not making shows where there’s a ‘right answer’ to what’s going on.

Years ago, I remember going to see the amazing circus Archaos somewhere in Glasgow and being transported by the show. But what struck me most was when I looked over at a guy sitting on his own a few seat over on those wooden bleachers. He was dressed like an office worker in suit and tie, the last person you’d expect to see at a punk French circus night. And he was openly weeping, tears streaming down his face. I felt then that somehow that show gave this guy the space to experience something he deeply needed. I hope our shows can do the same for someone, sometime.

It’s also true that manipulate is programming more and more Scottish artists from the physical and visual performance scene here, people like Al Seed, Sita Pieraccini, Melanie Jordan, Tortoise in a Nutshell. Though our work is very different from all of these artists, there are also shared interests and points of contact.


When I am talking about abstract modes of performance, I often end up dancing around the point, so here we go with a direct question: do you have a particular story to tell with this show?

Ewan: Yes and no. We were interested in endings, and in the fact that really, endings only exist because stories exist. There are key points in our lives - the beginning of a relationship, a divorce, a death - these are stories we tell and retell to try and make sense of them. Things only end from our perspective, from the perspective of the universe, matter forms and reforms, things change, but nothing ends.

It’s only from our point of view as story-making creatures that things end. We also wanted to look at how these stories, these dreams of how the world is, can themselves die, or break, or fail. Some people think that we’re in a time where the cultural stories we tell ourselves - that we’re progressing towards a better and better world for example - are failing and need to be replaced. Is that a yes? Probably not. There aren’t any stories told in the show, but it is saturated with stories, and the worlds of stories. Is that an answer?


How would you describe the 'training process' for the cast?

Ewan: We do a lot of individual and group work to free our bodies and imaginations simultaneously, so that the impulses of the imagination can move us without the rational mind getting in the way. We do this work through the body and through the voice. The devising of a show is also in itself a kind of training - in working together.

We improvise daily so that we trust each other in the space and can play together well. The aim is that we can, both individually and collectively, go to places we’ve never been before. I sometimes think about the training as learning to drive the mind offroad. As in, at some point you have to turn the wheel into the jungly undergrowth and you need to learn to take the bumps and potholes and trust yourself and your partners that you’ll be ok.

What kind of music can we expect?

Anna: The sounds of dreams, the sounds of space, unconscious sound, deceiving sound, the sound that exists between people - the unheard music that lives in the space between people.

I know that you have a background in Polish theatre, but does Company of Wolves have a Scottish aspect to their work?

Anna: Absolutely. We live here, so it’s inevitable that it will seep into the work. For this show particularly, we were really struck by Glasgow as a city: the grit and the old grandeur, abandoned buildings and boarded up windows amidst thriving communities… It’s the city that’s finding its way into our work, it feels. The city, and also the space. The hills, the islands. We’ve been lucky to do a lot of travelling around Scotland in the last couple of years. And every time we head out, we’re both struck by how stunning this country is, and how vastly different the landscape is from region to region.

Last time we were out together, we ended up stumbling into the Assynt peninsula. That place is unlike anything I had ever seen. And then just up from there, you end up in total wind-swept desolation on the northern coast. Crazy, crazy beautiful in such different ways. And then there’s Glasgow. Totally down-to-earth city. Gritty, human, alive. We love it here. Over time, these things are starting to feel like they have a stronger hold on us than the Polish landscape.


Ewan: Also the Polish artistic tradition that gave rise to the laboratory theatre companies is quite different than the tradition here. There’s hardly any Scottish polyphonic tradition except the Gaelic Psalms of Lewis for example - but the folk tradition is based around storytelling songs. The theatre landscape in Scotland is heavily dominated by new writing. These things seep into our artistic consciousness, both as things to appropriate aspects of, or things to react against. Since we set up the company in 2012, it feels like the shape of our approach to making work and training has changed profoundly through our engagement with Scottish landscapes, both literal and artistic, but if you asked us to put how it’s changed into words, I don’t think we could. Maybe you could?

TOUR DATES





PRODUCTION CREDITS
Cast: Robin Hellier, Beth Kovarik, Jonathan Peck,
Emily Phillips, Liz Strange
Director: Ewan Downie
Set & Costume Design: Ana Ines Jabares-Pita
Initial Lighting Design: Lex Burnhams
Tour Lighting Design: Alberto Santos-Bellido
Sound Design: Anna Porubcansky




Company of Wolves is a groundbreaking laboratory theatre company based in Glasgow, formed in 2012 by Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky. We use elements of theatre, dance, music, and improvisation to create performances that shed light on what it means to be human.

Ewan Downie (Director) is an award-winning director, writer and actor, working worldwide in experimental theatre and performance. Ewan was a member of Poland’s renowned Song of the Goat Theatre from 2006-2012, devising and performing in Macbeth (2006-2012), The Crucible (2010), and Songs of Lear (2011-12), for which he won both a Fringe First and a Herald Archangel. Recent projects include Achilles (in development), A Brief History of Evil, The End of Things, Seven Hungers, and Invisible Empire for Company of Wolves; Cruzadas (National Theatre, Portugal); Hidden Birds (La Virgule, France).

Anna Porubcansky (Sound Designer) is a musician and performer whose training includes classical and choral singing, natural voice and vocal anatomy (Kristin Linklater, Roy Hart Theatre, Alexander Technique). She works as a music director, voice coach and live sound designer, blending traditional song and experimental electronic music. She also holds a PhD in ensemble theatre and the creation of community from Goldsmiths, University of London. Recent performances include Song Cycle at Scot:Lands (Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2015); Chemikal Underground's Duke Street Expo (2014); Cruzadas (National Theatre, Portugal) and for Company of Wolves, Seven Hungers and Invisible Empire.
The End of Things Trailer from Company of Wolves on Vimeo.


The End of Things by Company of Wolves is supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland in association with CCA, The Work Room, and Platform. This performance is part of manipulate Visual Theatre Festival produced by Puppet Animation Scotland.