Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Shifting Dramaturgy: Jonathan Holloway

Following successful productions in London and Edinburgh in 2013, acclaimed director and playwright Holloway now delivers his own ambitious staging in association with Hong Kong’s international touring outfit, Chung Ying Theatre Company. 

Dr Jekyll is here cast as a fascinating and dangerous female scientist, who comes to England from the Balkans. Clearly tormented by unspeakable horrors in her past (resonances of Balkan conflicts and ethnic cleansing), she conducts bizarre scientific experiments as she seeks safety by becoming a man. Using her own body as her laboratory, physical self-­harming mirrors the psychological damage she has endured. This Jekyll tears out the heart of the issues it explores – gender, power, identity, self, freedom and individuality. Jekyll & Hyde is a visual feast that merges Weimer cabaret with a creepily melodramatic aesthetic underpinned by a stunning live audio score and soundscape that cranks up an atmosphere of claustrophobic hysteria. 

Red Shift and Chung Ying’s innovative cultural exchange (four UK actors and two from Hong Kong) has enabled collaboration between an extraordinary team of established theatre-­‐makers, encouraging them to bring their visceral energy and innovative creativity to Jekyll & Hyde. These include Olivia Winteringham (artistic director of performance ensemble KILN) as Jekyll and Graeme Rose (Co-­‐founder of Stan’s Café and Red Shift Company Member).

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Jonathan Holloway: I'm a bit of a one-man band. I usually write, direct and light my own shows and some time ago used to act in them as well. I can see all the reasons for getting another brain in to dramaturge the work, but it's not something I have engaged. 

I am a ruthless editor of my own work, and I also try to resolve issues re: staging as I am actually writing. Also, back in the day, I attended those early messianic Robert McKee International Story Courses, where I got the story structure message as channeled from Aristotle via Hollywood, and that has always been the standard template by which I measure the efficacy of my storytelling.

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?
My most beloved junior school teacher was a Russian Jewish exiled Communist. I grew up within a strict working class South London Irish Catholic family. My earliest years were infused with the macabre imagery of martyrs and the crucifixion. 

We pilgrimaged to Italy where we stayed at a monastery on the outskirts of Rome where dried monks were hung on the walks and the light fittings were made of human femurs. I went to mass celebrated by Padre Pio who bore the marks of the stigmata. Later, around age eleven, stranded in Malta summer after summer I traveled the Island alone on buses watching Italian exploitation horror movies in tiny village cinemas. 

Having got the theatre bug in my teens, my tastes were defined by a visit to the Edinburgh Fringe where in 1972 I became sexually mature, saw Berkoff in his own Fall of the House of Usher and Lindsay Kemp in his Flowers. Hardly surprising then, I am most at home in a theatre delivering highly stylized, atmospheric visions of the grotesque infused with sex and basic egalitarian politics!

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?
I have always been an auteur theatre-maker. I make the work to entertain myself and hope someone else might also enjoy it. So, I write, direct and light my own shows, and indeed I might even be in the next one. My scripts usually develop in parallel with the notion of how they will be staged, and the two things interact throughout the process. 

I have never really felt secure with the 'please submit a script and we'll take a look' way of doing things. I consider the script represents one layer of 'text', operating alongside the performances, the music and the design. I also work best with performers who have a multitude of skills and have often built their own working contexts and companies, because they 'get it'.

I don't tend to cast to character, but rather create a team who can tackle the show. I have just bought the rights to make a theatre piece out of Peter Ackroyd's novel Hawksmoor. Inevitably some people say to me, 'that sounds great - please send us a script', to which I reply 'there isn't one yet ' - because how can there be a script if you don't know where, when and to whom the show will be delivered?

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I am at heart an entertainer who makes shows that pull together innovation, artistic aspiration, surprise, philosophy and politics. I had my own version of Dostoevsky's The Double out on tour some years ago, and in Brighton I was standing in the queue behind a couple of young men. 

One said to the other 'I haven't got any idea what's going on, but it's great!' I have never been good at networking and have largely ignored the intense atmospherics of the independent theatre making scene. I address myself straight to audiences who share my taste - The Gulbenkian Foundation once said I 'make the shows people want to see'.

Writer-­‐Director, Jonathan Holloway, comments; This production of Jekyll & Hyde is a rebirth of Red Shift’s much-loved signature style. A favourite with audiences, venues and critics for nearly thirty years, it has been lost to London since 2008. Now Red Shift returns in a genuinely unsettling re-­‐imagining of a popular classic created in association with Hong Kong’s Chung Ying Theatre Company. We begin as a curious manuscript of obscure origin changes hands. It tells the tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde -­‐ a story of desire, destruction and dastardly experimentation. 

Henry Utterson, an upstanding lawyer, discovers a connection between the alleged murderer Hyde and the respectable yet mysterious, Dr Jekyll. Utterson meets the elusive doctor – who is not at all as he expected. The narrative follows their relationship as their alliance progresses; he becomes increasingly entangled in Jekyll’s dangerous involvement with blackmail, murder and transformative medication. 

This disconcerting world swirls about an uncompromising central performance that charts Tajemnica Jekyll’s disturbed efforts to turn herself into a man through self-­‐medication and brutal self-­‐surgery. This is a tale of desire, psychological torment and desperation at its most extreme. Different in scale to the Edinburgh and London 2013 runs, this production has been given a spectacular design, something akin to a laboratory crossed with an opium den. Holloway’s startling re-imagining of Jekyll & Hyde opened in Hong Kong in April 2015. Ching Yung has recruited Jonathan Holloway to realise ambitious international touring productions in spring and summer of 2015 and 2016, supported by UK designer Neil Irish and composer Jon Nicholls. For once the phrase “a theatrical experience unlike any other” is actually true.

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