Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
Aug 3-16, 18-29 13:30
As a boy, Jack was surrounded by monsters and invisible guardians, as he fought to protect the people he was destined to rule. Now grown, his life on the streets of London is less fantastical. But when a ghost from his past turns up, Jack must harness the power of forgotten myths to defeat her.
After the sell-out success of The Fantasist, Theatre Témoin return, using mask, puppetry and physical theatre to navigate a haunting, mystical world inspired by real-life stories of homelessness.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
In short, homelessness. There’s an epidemic in this country at the moment of more and more people finding themselves in situations where sleeping rough seems to be the only option. There’s are stories here that are not being told enough. But "homelessness" isn't really a plot for a play is it? Really what I wanted to explore was the individual stories of people who happened to be, among many other things, homeless, and crucially what was happening inside the heads of these individual people, people who had gone through traumatic experiences. In 2012, I worked in Rwanda with a group of ex-child-combatants turned poets, and witnessed an incredible relationship between poetic, creative, mythological thinking and the ability to bounce back from the darkest of traumas.
When we began to work on The Marked, a similar relationship with the poetic and mythical began to surface, where people that we spoke to who had gone through incredible traumas had developed an almost mythical language to speak about the world. This is what I wanted to explore in making this play.
We ran creative workshops for 18 months with people who had experienced homelessness, and explored individuals’ personal mythologies, and the role they play in our lives.
At the same time we came across a collection of interviews called Myths Over Miami, written by an anthropologist working with Miami street youth. The kids that she interviewed had developed an “urban mythology”, an incredible collection of legends and “truths” about how the world worked. It was this hybrid belief system that borrowed from urban legend, adult religions, and childish magical thinking to produce a kind of map to make sense of the experiences they were having. The Mythology included stories about how God had to run away from Heaven in a UFO, and how this allowed demons to infiltrate earth and control people to do bad things, and how there were angels fighting to stop them, but that the angels would always lose. The children believed when they died they would join the angels in their losing battle. I mean, this is like, Viking stuff. It sounds like Valhalla. But it makes sense when you think about it - everything about these myths was a way of making meaning out of the often harsh experiences in the lives of these street kids.
We had two workshop participants who came on-board as script consultants. One, Sarah MacGuire, is a talented poet and help shaped a great deal of the narrative and language. She also named the show. Our other collaborator has asked to remain anonymous but he provided inspiration for a lot of the spirit of the show, particularly the character protagonist, as well a lot of practical detail.
These experiences, and the urban myths we uncovered from Miami, started shaping into an early version of what The Marked has become today.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The team gathered itself. Will, Dorie, Patrick and I have been working together for years, and Will was doing a PhD in Mask and Myth at the Central School of Speech and Drama when this whole thing kicked off. Mask also has a way of turning the invisible into visible and turning the banal into epic, so mask became the obvious material language of the piece. After we had done a lot of workshops and knew more of what we were after, we held auditions to flesh out the team, we were looking for people who were elegant movers but also honest, vulnerable, gritty performers. It's two big asks in two traditionally divergent styles, so we held a lot of auditions. We're so lucky to have found Tom and Bradley, they're both incredible performers.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I was in a touring theatre company of kids aged 8-15 in my hometown that did cut-down Shakespeare plays called The Company of Little Eyases. Well I say touring, we toured the local libraries where we held free performances. But those are my very best memories from childhood. We had a set that we'd install and once it was up we were totally on our own; the directors - the adults - were in the audience and no matter what happened, the show had to go on.
I remember in my first season (I was snout the tinker, aged 8), 9 year-old Quince got food poisoning, and 13 year-old Hermia was holding her hair back as she got sick into the prop box. I heroically took over the ringing of the fairy-entrance bell. I still remember the thrill of that, and the pride! The show went on
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I'm a devising director so the process changes every time with every new team. We keep a fundamental philosophy of "take your time, immerse yourself in a subject, engage with new people, and see what comes out". I try to listen as much as I can and allow people’s stories to emerge naturally, and balance my attempt at spontaneously reacting to what happens in workshops with my natural tendency to want to plan plan plan.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Well it's an adventure story, right? Overcoming your demons (especially if they're so present in your life that they haunt you to the point where you end up on the streets) is an epic, heroic task. I want the audience to experience the same thing they'd experience watching any adventure epic.
I think people can mistake what kind of play we're presenting when they read the word "homeless" on the flyer. A few years back we brought The Fantasist which was a puppetry piece about a woman with bipolar disorder, and people saw "bipolar" on the flyer and thought it was going to be some kind of clinical kitchen-sink issues play. But I'm interested in the visual whirlwind that can be created by a subject. The subjective experience of bipolar disorder is an absolute visual and emotional feast; it's huge! And we wanted it to be huge onstage. As is the subjective experience of surviving trauma. And, if you like, the subjective experience of "homelessness". It's a helluva ride.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We like to create playful worlds onstage, and with The Marked we set out to create a wonderland. Jack’s life on the streets is mirrored in the fantastical world of his childhood imagination. There’s plenty in the story of a boy who’s homeless that is dark and brutal and honest, but we try tell the story with a magic flare, and make it visually and emotionally enticing. We show its vibrant colours. Mask and puppetry can have a tendency to suck the audience in – it’s a space where your imagination can run wild, and we want our audience to come in with a dreaming mind.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?Oh god, I always feel like other people are much better placed to make this call about our work than I am. They're outside of it and can see it more clearly in the context of the landscape. Most of us are Lecoq or LISPA trained and you'll see strong influences of that language in the work if you know what you're looking for, but it's very much a starting point, and we've very much gone our own way with it all. We like fantastical images and real situations. We're trying to turn the collective eye towards the things that are hardest to face and say, "Dare yourself to look. We think there's beauty here." I think a lot of people are doing that, in their way. I think we probably overlap with a great many traditions.