Friday, 10 June 2016

Cutting Dramaturgy: Duncan Graham @ The Vaults

Having taken the 2015 Adelaide Fringe by storm, Duncan Graham’s CUT is making its London premiere at The Vaults in July.

Set against a black backdrop with unsettling moments of complete darkness, a small audience is sealed in an atmospheric Vault under the Waterloo railway arches.

A woman prepares for work. Pursued by a man, she is hunter and hunted. CUT is a total work of art. A Lynchian dream that transports an audience deep into the heart of 21st century fears - the psychological equivalent of extreme turbulence. 

Part installation, part theatre poem, part noir thriller, prepare to be sealed into this intimate and unforgettable experience.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
CUT is a one-woman piece of work. It was inspired by several things, all of which collided in the making of the work. Firstly, I was inspired by the idea of watching one person on stage. I wanted to see the many voices, and the many aspects of our persona living and breathing in one moment, competing for a version of reality; I wanted to see reality itself straining to contain what it is to be present in the mind of a person. We know that life is not as concrete as we imagine. 

We can be inside and outside of it, we can manipulate it and it can have its own influence on us. I was also interested in the relationship between women and violence, and the way it's represented both in the theatre and in society at large. I was inspired by the Greek figures of Clytemnestra and Medea who took Fate in their hands and acted violently to change the course of a reality dictated to them by men.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Hannah Norris - performer and producer - approached me to make the work. It was a text I'd written some years before and she'd wanted to perform it. She gathered most of the team around her, people she thought would collaborate well together. As it turned out, she chose well. The work started its life in the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2015, but the makers were gathered from all around Australia - Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. 

The work was made in the spirit of true independence. We all wanted to try things out that we'd not been able to do inside the confines of our work within major companies. It's under these conditions that I most enjoy making theatre. You never second guess yourself and seem to work more instinctively. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
I came to the theatre by default. I started my adult life wanting to
be a doctor of all things. But I found that I was more interested in art than science, well not that there's that much difference between the two actually. We live in a time of such false separation in practice. This wasn't always the case. Our society is so specialised. So in this case, CUT is the dissection of a woman's psyche - her relationship to trauma, death, violence and vengeance. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I don't have a typical way of making any work. Speaking as the playwright, I just know I am following a knot of ideas, voices, images, impulses that I want to get down. In disentangling them, something arrives. At that point, depending on their form and content, a new approach has to begin: how to stage it so that it has maximum clarity and impact. Rehearsing a one-person show is very intense and demanding. There isn't anywhere to hide from each other - director and actor. You meet head on. Hannah and I took each section of the text apart and she'd bring a raw and unbridled approach to it. That would begin a dialogue between the two of us which I relished. It was about trying to shape something that honoured the complex changes of persona that occur, while always attending the thriller aspect of the story.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will experience extreme tension and disorientation. But that's impossible to guarantee. We just didn't want to make something that pacified an audience. It was about making them break through the fourth wall and be present in the same room as this woman. We have built a set and lighting system that drops the audience into a world of deep blackouts and then into lucid LED nightmares. But...! 

That's what's so thrilling about the theatre. You can try for one thing and end up getting another. An audience can never be told what to think and feel. And I never want to try and dictate terms to them. I want to lead them willingly, allow them to participate as fellow conspirators in a new reality. That's all you can do. They need to do most of the work, you just provide a certain framework in which this can happen. 

I never see the theatre as the suspension of disbelief, rather as a conspiracy of imagination and event between performer and audience. We all know we're in the theatre, let’s face it.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
My main strategy is both the admission of the reality of the theatre; and then story. The first relieves the audience of any false assumptions of place and purpose; the second is the invitation to follow us somewhere emotionally and psychically challenging. Everything else - sound, lights, performance - has to come in around that. We also have very deep blackouts. They're fun. They are really disorientating, cracks in reality which we send the audience through.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
The work is very much influenced by a number of traditions. The Greeks are at its base. There are echoes of Beckett and Sarah Kane in the work. But it's in no way an imitation of their work. In the wake of their work are spaces for theatre that I'm interested to discover. Then there are some basic thriller tropes that we enjoy playing with. 

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