Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Spying on Dramaturgy: Mata Hari @ Edfringe 2015

“We have all heard of wars. The Boer War, the Great War, but have you heard of the war of tights? No, I thought not”

Using her own words where possible, this is a biographical portrayal of a compelling woman. 

Feminist with a small ‘f’… shot by French firing squad in WW1 for being a spy… or, more insidiously, for having no shame? 

Notorious as the world’s first femme fatale - was she actually a scapegoat to boost French morale?

Her upbringing in Holland, life in Indonesia, her disastrous marriage to Scotsman Rudolf McLeod, infant death, re-invention in Paris, and rivalry with Isadora Duncan…

A spy? That would be like Madonna being a covert CIA agent. No anonymity! Ridiculous!
Acting, dance, in a physical theatre style with an original soundtrack/design from Composer Danny Bright, this is Katharine Hurst’s first return to the Fringe since 2009, in a previous critically acclaimed production The Other Side – also directed by Gavin Robertson.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Gavin Robertson: This show came about for two reasons: Firstly, as a Producer, at the time I was looking ahead to 2014 as the Centenary of WWI and I knew there’d be a plethora of shows from Oh What A Lovely War to Journey’s End and I wanted to be able to offer venues something different. 

Coinciding with that was the fact that Katharine Hurst who plays Mata Hari in the show, was looking to take a break from producing and ‘just’ act. So we talked and I offered to make Mata Hari-Female Spy, in effect, specifically for her. I’d already decided I didn’t want to compete with all the other shows popping up featuring soldiers in trenches, so I wanted a woman’s story. Mata Hari was it, especially as the more I researched (as the writer) the more convinced I became that she was actually framed for something she never did. 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
The Edinburgh Fringe is as we all know, the biggest Arts festival in the world. Edinburgh is a trade fair for us to display our wares and hope someone sees value in the work. Yes, I want to emotionally touch audiences and even more so in places I might not usually get to. With this particular show I also really want as many people as possible to see a strong female role, and a strong actress in the spotlight. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
It’s biographical, which is a first for me as a writer. That entailed research of facts and chronology and a degree of accuracy, even though I take some liberties by putting words in her mouth, although wherever possible I use her actual own words from letters or interviews. So, it’s not a history lesson, though I chart her upbringing right up to her execution. But she speaks to us from beyond the grave and of course that allows some brevity with hindsight, and some wit about certain events.

I think what an audience gets overall is the story of a woman who was a survivor by and large in difficult times; she was inventive about her own origins, but determined. In one scene she states that she ‘was shot for having no shame’ but she says it with defiance. It’s an absorbing portrayal by Katharine, of an intriguing woman in history, a scapegoat for the French, and a feminist with a small ‘f’.
There’s also a movement precision, a grace and an economy of presentation in Katharine’s fluidity and acting style. I think that is a subtle element but really gives an authority to the show.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Specifically with this particular show, I didn’t apply my otherwise oft-employed technique of playing with the timeline. It was tempting, but I wanted to make a linear story, so as to make more clear the events around her and their effect on decisions she made. The only concession to that was to have her in three ‘prison scenes’ which aren’t linear and remind the audience where she ended up, as we move through her life story. As I also use sound and music as underscore, like a movie, it also adds a certain style to the impact of the story overall.

It also means we can set our protagonist sympathetically within her own narrative, which in part is about the fact that she was framed, so- having her shot at the end actually BE at the end, is the greatest cathartic moment we could have earned. It’s all about the effect.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition? 
I think now I definitely have my own way of working, processes within that, and a certain style in the way I present the information to the audience. The biggest single influence has been film, and the language of film; underscores of sounds and music, edits, long shots, close ups, dissolves, jump cuts, flashbacks. Without doubt that’s where I’d say most of my way of thinking stems from. I always talk ‘film language’ in the rehearsal room and through the devising process.

I’m definitely from a tradition of ‘physical theatre’ though so
economy of movement, even if it’s not ‘mime’ per se, a certain grace and precision features I hope, as Katharine moves the set around to create different environments. I like to think I deliberately give an audience say, 30% of an image, and with her acting, music underscore, the audiences’ imagination provides the remaining 70% - and I use that deliberately in the creating process. It’s like taking an audience member’s brain and knowing I can manipulate it to ‘see’ onstage what I want it to see. It’s not a happy accident!

I don’t know about ‘tradition’ as such. I’d be on the ‘veteran’ list probably by now, and younger creators have now got digital tools as well as the traditional ones so they’re re-defining some rules anyway.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
It usually starts with an idea OR a theme; they’re interchangeable to me, and then gets refined to a framework wherein I can implant characters and situations that affect them. With Mata Hari being a real person it was a different challenge. I had to define to myself as the writer what I wanted the audience to come away with, otherwise it’s just a history lecture. 

That’s the same question I asked Nicholas Collett when he asked me to direct his show, Nelson. It was a gift to discover the flimsiness of the evidence and events that led to her being executed and that gave me my angle; she was framed. I’m actually intrigued as in 2017 all the documents should be released and we may discover more…

There’s always collaboration. I’m probably a benign Fascist in the ‘process’.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
Hmm … I suppose I’ve decided my angle in the writing of the piece so I’m not asking them for a verdict, but I AM asking them to sympathetically view someone who was painted as the world’s first Femme Fatale, even a stripper, and re-evaluate that opinion, at least in terms of her guilt as a spy. 

So I guess I’m asking them to understand her humanity in the context of her changing circumstances. I actually think she was rather brave. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Perhaps to ask whether every show has the same approach – to which the answer is ‘no’. Sometimes there’s a clear storyline that just requires scene breakdown and ‘the text’ the character(s) speak; at other times it can be written as we literally go from one scene to the next; sometimes – like ‘BOND’ or 2010 A SPACE ODDITY we’re parodying a film genre so that might be more about typical plot-lines or references and getting our own references right on the nail in relation to the source material. Or it can be about making movement sections or interacting with the set that moves the narrative along with zero text whatsoever.

“Robertson is an eloquent writer” KANSAS CITY STAR
Zoo (The Sanctuary) Venue 124 VENUE B/O 0131 662 6892

AUGUST 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25 2.20PM (3.40PM)Tickets: £12/£10

No comments :

Post a Comment