Monday, 6 June 2016

The Inevitable Dramaturgy of Gavin Plimsole: Sharklegs @ Edfringe 2016

Pleasance Dome (10 Dome), 1 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AL Wednesday 3rd – Monday 29th August 2016 (not 16th), 13:40

Winner of Les Enfant Terribles Award 2016, The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole prompts us to consider our own lives and how we make the most of our heartbeats.

If you knew you had a finite number of heartbeats, how would you make each beat count? Gavin feels a flutter in his heart and is given a life-changing diagnosis. In the time between the beat before this revelation and the beat after, he assesses his entire life; what has he done with those beats? Which has he thrown away? And how many did he lose when she broke his heart?

Gavin Plimsole is hoarding his heartbeats in the shed at the bottom of his garden; he may not have enough heartbeats left, so he may need to borrow some of yours... SharkLegs will measure audience members’ heartbeats using state of the art fitness heart rate monitors during the show. These readings will be projected onto the set and will influence the action and experience of the production every single performance. Through a partnership with ActivioFitness (the forerunner of heart rate group training), the company have created a new way of engaging with theatre.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
As with most creative thoughts, it came out of an idea whilst sitting on a sofa, although I cannot confirm or deny if it was whilst wearing giraffe onesies and drinking wine... 

We were watching a documentary about hoarders and hording, chatting about deep questions: How do people fill their lives? What do they choose to mark the passage of time? (Is there more wine?) Why do things become important to us? Why can't we let things go? (Are you going to get more wine?) Do we need things to remind us of the moments in our lives, or are the moment enough? (Fine, I'll get it.)

We were talking about the strange things that you could hoard. Memories, perfect moments, your perfect comebacks, and finally moved onto how cool it would be if you could store heartbeats and if you could, what would you do with them?  People are measuring their lives in more ways than ever before with FitBits, Health apps, pedometers and '#Gains' pictures on Instagram so the idea grew and  voila, The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole had its first heartbeat.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

SharkLegs, Kezia and Rich, have been working together for 3 years. We have worked with Rhys Lawton on two previous shows and love how his wacky brain matches ours. As the idea developed, it became clear that Rhys was the ideal actor to come on board and to help us create the character of Gavin Plimsole.  We are currently casting for another female actor and cannot wait to meet the awesome person (whoever she might be).  

We have loved the work of Kinetic Sculptor Jim Bond for a while now having come across his work with Faulty Optic and were uber excited to get him on-board to make our responsive marble run that measures the audience's heartbeats throughout the show.  It’s really a question of finding people whose work you love, people who take an idea and run with it and people who bring their own special kind of magic to the table. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

Growing up in a little town in the middle of nowhere in Wales, Richard went to the theatre and saw astro-turf on the stage, for the first time. Needless to say his mind. Was. Blown. He was 100% certain that you could not ever put grass on the stage of a theatre. He was, of course, wrong. 

Blown mind in hand, he went to discover what pictures, ideas and vegetation could in fact be put on the stage.   Kez is fascinated by that moment when the world turns, the tipping point on the edge of the cliff, the moment of no return. So together we chase the moment we can re-see the world and it is this moment which keeps us looking for the idea, the picture and the game that will make the audience realise that something which was impossible could perhaps be possible...

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

Yeah - we made this show in a typical 'SharkLegs-y' way.  We will develop the ideas, narrative, themes and concepts and build this into a "working script". However when we get into rehearsals and start working with the actors we throw the script out of the window having torn it apart, stamped on it and tried to make a rudimentary origami Dragon from the pages. 

We encourage the actors to say anything other than what was initially written down. This makes the process one of discovery for us all - finding characters as well as mood, emotion and images that resonate with the ideas, concepts and most importantly the experience of the show. We never know at the start what will appear, how it will be formed  or what the end product will be - Terrifying and the most exciting thing in the world (aside from the Origami dragon which was clearly a great idea...)  

 What we love most is creating a show that emerges from the brains of the whole company during a rehearsal process. We are not there to tell people where to stand and how to feel, but to work creatively with other creatives who all bring their experience, joy and mischief to the work.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
The aim of all of our shows is to send the audience out to see the world in a new way - to look at a cardboard box and see the robot it could be... For Gavin this is particularly relevant; whilst it is about a man confronting his quickly diminishing life span, we want the audience to step out of the show ready to experience each moment of their lives.

It is not about telling people how to live their lives - who the hell are we to do that?! 

We are professional pretenders -  But the idea we keep coming back to is that is that it is fine to spend 4 hours scrolling through Cat Videos on YouTube as long as you are present, and aware you are doing it - so much of our lives pass almost without us noticing that it is sometimes important to turn our attention on to the moments we experience.

We want the audience to take an hour with us and experience their hearts beating during the show, sharing each heartbeat with us.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We are using heart rate monitors during the show which will measure the audiences' heartbeats. They will then be projected onto our set so each audience member will be able to see their own heart respond to each moment on stage. 

The collective heartbeats will be totaled and used to make decisions about what happens to Gavin, what scenes we experience and importantly if Gavin will be drinking chamomile tea or red bull throughout the show... This strategy directly connects the heartbeats of the audience with the performance which is created in front of them, turning their attention on to the time they have chosen to spend with us. Each of their moments is essential to the creation of our moments in the theatre.  

This strategy may sound cold, technological and like we are stealing your heartbeats to sell to PPI Cold Callers however, our approach is surprisingly Low-Fi. We are in Gavin's shed at the bottom of his garden, he has built us an awesome marble run which keeps track of our passing beats and he has been storing his own heartbeats in the musty, soggy moving boxes he meant to throw out four years ago. The mixture of High-Tech and Low-Tech opens up the experience by placing our heartbeats literally centre-stage, allowing our audience to see and experience something that they rarely even notice but is with them every second of every day. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
It sits in the very broad contemporary tradition of Visual Theatre as we play with visual metaphor, using puppetry, object manipulation  and that thing that happened to be in the rehearsal room because somebody left it behind after their contemporary dance class... We beg, borrow and occasionally steal from high and low art, swinging between popular culture and not so popular Fighting Fantasy Book references. 

With puppetry, three actors, a toy pig and a marble run, The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole brings a surprisingly low-fi approach to some very hi-tech equipment. It takes a stab at answering three important questions; what do we do with our lives, how do we make each moment count and how does bungee jumping make anyone happy?


SharkLegs are committed to creating work for the creative audience. The company have been working together for three years and are Associate Artists with The Point Theatre, Eastleigh. 

Before this Richard was an actor, physical performer, puppeteer and stunt man whilst Kezia worked as a freelance Director and Project Manager - which makes Richard sound much cooler... SharkLegs is a visual theatre company that makes work to encourage the audience to see the creativity in their own lives - to see the robot in the cardboard box, to see the puppet in the scrunched-up newspaper or the life in the taxidermy diorama.


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