Thursday, 16 June 2016

Scorching Dramaturgy: Claire Coache @ Edfringe 2016

Zoo Southside, Studio, 5 – 39 Aug 2016 (not 15 & 22), 3.30pm (4.30pm)
Based on the life of his grandfather, writer Lisle Turner presents the story of a World War II veteran whose self-tattooed body reminds him of his past as dementia erodes his memory. In 1991 Jack reigns from his armchair, a decorated veteran of Tobruk, former river warden, boxer, horse whisperer, boat builder and charmer, but his mind drags him back to 1941 when he chased a German prisoner of war for two days across the scorching sands of the Sahara desert.

Claire Coache – (Director) – Scorched, Open Sky
What was the inspiration for this performance?
This is a really personal project for our writer Lisle Turner. His grandfather Jack was one of life’s true characters and a powerful male role model in his life. Jack never spoke about his experiences in WW2 but one summer suddenly started to tell these stories. Lisle would sit by the river with him, near Jack’s home in rural Northumberland and they’d talk for hours. 

Sadly this was in fact the onset of dementia and would lead ultimately to Jack being hospitalised and dying soon thereafter. The stories were so raw and powerful they needed to be told. Jack’s stories have been combined with other true stories told by veterans and stories from Lisle’s own experiences to provide the source material for our work.

For myself as director I have been leading drama sessions in care homes with elderly people, many of whom live with dementia, for the last eighteen months. I've been struck by how very elderly people are invisible in our society. We have an aging population but many of them are tucked away out of sight. 

We are so preoccupied with youth and beauty, we are in denial about our own inevitable decline. I have been humbled by the magnitude of people's lives. Telling Jack's stories was also a way of sharing some of the experiences that I’ve learned from.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Lisle and I have collaborated on all our theatre work and in our personal life for the last 20 years so that was a no-brainer. Robin Berry has worked with us on two other projects: From Newbury With Love and Cold (in development). Robin is such a joy to work with, a lovely cheeky chappy in real life and on stage a powerful presence. He also has the unusual combination of visceral physicality and great command of text. 

Making work is hard enough, so we are always looking for team mates who say 'yes', who take risks and are willing to jump off with us into the unknown. As a company we’re keen on building a network of professionals near where we live. This had led to new collaborations with production designer Purvin, one of the founder members of Pentabus, Ben Hughes our lighting designer who is a lecturer in technical theatre at Worcester University and costume designer Juliet Blamey who we met socially and has designed for Paines Plough and the Manchester Royal Exchange.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I was lucky enough to be involved in collaborative theatre making from a young age with the Birmingham Rep Youth Workshop. I have always enjoyed the process and how, if it's successful, we create something greater than the sum of our parts. I watched The Street of Crocodiles when I was in my first year of University. When the actors emerged out of piles of books and walked down the stage walls I was hooked. I wanted to create something magical too. 

My two years at Lecoq in Paris developed a performance-making reflex that I can only describe as compulsive. Every week we had to make something from scratch and now, eleven years after leaving, I still feel that kick from within that it is time to make something.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
We've worked in this way several times now. Lisle undertakes huge amounts of research and then writes prose fragments of action within a larger narrative framework. The descriptive and poetic prose provides fuel for the creative team and we find all kinds of images, movement scores and text in the space. When all those ideas surface we work collaboratively on them. 

I ask the actors, musicians and designers to respond in their own medium and then watch for that flicker of magic. When it’s there we tease it out and join it together until the story unfolds. Lisle then edits, writes any further dialogue and guides the structural shape of the final piece. It is a labour intensive way to make work but we find it gives a depth of feeling and a complexity of imagery that is difficult to achieve from a scripted dialogue alone.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they will get a sense of Jack’s personality, the futility of war and its impact on those we send to fight. There is also a deeper comment within the piece about masculinity and how we shape men in our society. I've been very moved by my work with dementia sufferers and I hope we manage to communicate the reductive nature of this condition. I also hope the audience can reflect on the impermanence of our own existence as they watch Jack's mind and body disintegrating. We’re not here forever and should probably be kinder to each other in what time we have.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We find that our most important strategy, in fact our only strategy, is to be emotionally honest in the work. There’s an expression used sparingly at Lecoq which is “C’est juste”. It means something feels right or true or real. As an artist if it feels like that to you it will probably feel like that for the audience. There are moments in the theatre when something simply rings true and if we feel this resonance collectively we develop it and build on it. You have to follow your heart and then fix the practical problems with your head. If you can make an audience feel, they’re motivated to think and thought can lead to positive action. Hopefully this is how as theatre makers we can contribute to society.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
We are definitely shaped by my training at Lecoq so sit within the European theatre tradition. Lisle is a film-maker and brings a sense of the cinematic to his storytelling. We both practise meditation and themes of compassion and impermanence underpin our work. I'm also a mother and female artist. I am defining and defined by that emerging movement of women juggling these roles. 

Now we live and work in rural Herefordshire we often perform in non-traditional spaces. We turn up, create our world and tell our stories like countless minstrels and mummers before us.

ZOO Southside, Studio, 5 – 29 Aug 2016 (not 15 & 22), 3.30pm (4.30pm)

1 comment :