Thursday, 1 June 2017

Dramaturgy Paradise: George Mann @ Edfringe 2017

Translunar Paradise
Theatre Ad Infinitum’s breakthrough smash-hit returns to the Fringe for their 10th anniversary
Written and directed by George Mann
Pleasance Courtyard, Fourth, 2 – 28 Aug 2017 (not 9, 15 & 22), 15.45 (17.00)
First seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s multi award-winning, wordless tale of life, death and enduring love returns to the Pleasance following years of extensive international touring amassing nine awards. 

Original performers George Mann and Deborah Pugh are joined by Sophie Crawford to retell with precise gesture and touches of humour the story of widower William who escapes to a comforting world of fantasy and memories rather than confront his grief. From beyond the grave, his wife Rose returns to help him let go. 

This poignant, life-affirming tale uses intricate and lifelike hand-held masks – created by Madame Tussaud’s senior sculptor Victoria Beaton – to travel back and forth through William and Rose’s relationship, wordlessly conveying a lifetime of memories in 75 minutes. Translunar Paradise returns to the Fringe alongside Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Odyssey for the company’s 10th anniversary.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I had been trying to find a way to understand and deal with grief. My father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer – after the initial shock two things happened.

Firstly, my father didn’t die in 4 months as we had been told; he fought the disease for another five years. This left my father and I time to resolve some of our long held disputes and disagreements (though not all of them!) and grow a little closer. Secondly, I found that I was grieving his death before he had even passed away, but I didn’t know how to grieve. Our nation and culture don’t do grief very well at all, as I discovered. 

We don’t know how to speak about it, what to do, or how to deal with the natural process of grieving that lasts for a variable number of years. So I embarked on finding a story, a style and a play that could evoke a space in which the audience could share in the feelings of love, loss and bereavement – rather than feel alone or isolated. 

Translunar Paradise was that play, a non-verbal production that expressed everything I had hoped to communicate – without words. This seemed fitting to me, as my experience of grief for the most part, involved not knowing how to speak about it – but feeling so much.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I think its one of the best spaces. Theatre can evoke the kind of visceral, passionate debate that can only come from having seen a live performance. It needs to be encouraged, but if an audience are invited to speak, to discuss and interact about something they have just watched, it often results in a very fulfilling conversation. 

There’s also something unique about this type of debate in that it captures a feeling of community so often lost nowadays – whilst you can express your individual opinion, you are acutely aware of the collective of people who experienced the same show, yet may have different points of view – and this naturally challenges everyone present. Social media, TV – even cinema, often involves the expression of ideas in isolation from one another, ideas and opinions that are not necessarily informed by other peoples views – that create a feeling of wanting to be heard or read or seen, without necessarily having to truly engage or interact with another persons viewpoint. 

The nature of debate and being impacted and learning from other people’s insights is lessened. Or reduced to angry exchanges on twitter in which 140 characters cannot properly express or capture the human interaction born of profound communal debate. Of course that’s my point of view and I invite anyone reading to disagree and debate this with me…

How did you become interested in making performance?
For a long time I was torn between painting, music and song writing, and theatre. But I found that theatre captures all of my passions – directing is like the collaborative composition of a live and constantly moving painting, all theatre that we make involves music and song, musicality and rhythm, and theatre itself is the art form of the imagination and therefore limitless in its possibility – which I love. 

Having always loved theatre since a young age, a few moments converged that convinced me it was what I had to do. Seeing Complicité’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and Theatre O’s The Argument –discovering Jacque Lecoq’s pedagogy and physical theatre making school in Paris (and deciding I had to train there) – and understanding I didn’t have to define myself as ‘actor’ or ‘writer’ or ‘director’ as you’re encouraged to do in the UK, you could play all of these roles and more!

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
For me and for Theatre Ad Infinitum we set ourselves the aim of making something completely different each time we begin creating a play, and we usually always devise and make theatre through improvisation. This is very exciting, each time we’re entering into the unknown, but its also terrifying, as it’s a risk. 

With Translunar Paradise I had never made a mask and mime show before, and making one about grief definitely raised a few eyebrows – I didn’t know if it would work, it was an instinct I was following. Not only that, but although I had trained in mask at the Lecoq School, I had had an idea about the masks being hand-held so that we could easily remove them and put them back on again as the story (which moves in time from an 80 year old couple in the present day back to the past and stories of their 60 year marriage together). 

There was no examples of such a mask I draw from, so we had to understand, discover and find out how to play such masks and tell a story with them from scratch. Its very challenging, but I love it.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
As all of our shows strive to be completely different, it fits perfectly in that its nothing like any of our other shows to date!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, the honest answer to this question is: I hope that the audience will be moved – to think about grief, the impact of death, the joy of life and how important it is to love without the fear of loss. Love and loss are a natural part of life, as is learning how to live with these facts, its something I’m still learning how to do.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I always focus on the story I’m telling and finding a style that can tell the story in the most powerful and effective way. We never take our audiences for granted and always put our plays through a vigorous process in which audiences are invited in to the room/theatre to watch and give feedback on the performance at roughly three stages, sometimes more, of our staggered 12-15 weeks of rehearsal (usually we’ll make work in period of 4-5 weeks finishing with a showing, take a break and then continue). 

We ask for honest feedback and tell them not to hold back – as we see it as such a valuable way to learn how the play is perceived. Do the audience see what we hope they will see? If not why? Does it work? What bits are awful? Did the audience understand – or – what did the audience understand? 

These are some of the questions we ask, and we take many notes. Then after a period of time in which we digest this information, we make plans and go back into rehearsal. Of course, even this process doesn’t guarantee the outcome, its success or enable any true control over shaping an audiences experience – but it keeps our feet on the ground, keeps us humble and stops us forgetting that theatre is both for an audience and unable to exist without one.

The production won multiple awards in the UK and abroad, including Mervyn Stutters’ Pick of the Fringe, the Brave New World Award and Audience Award at the Sarajevo MESS Theatre Festival in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Best Theatre Direction Award at ACT Festival Bilbao Spain, The Argus Angel Award, Brighton Festival 2012, The Netherlands’ Wijkjury First Prize Award 2014 and The Observer Iron Man Award for actress and musician Kim Heron.

George Mann said, “I'll never forget the first performances of this piece and the response of audiences. Translunar came from such a personal impulse - my father was dying of lung cancer and I felt that I was living in a country and a culture that didn't offer me a way to deal with my grief - the grief I felt knowing he would die; the grief I felt when he died. From this feeling I set about making this show of love, loss and letting go. Sadly my father passed before we completed and premiered the production. But the response was heart-warming - the show created what I can only describe as a communal space of grief - a place in which people could share in a feeling of loss and profound love. It was extraordinary. As were the stories audience members shared with us after every show. It was a humbling and unforgettable experience and I look forward to sharing this show once more.”

A company whose work shifts in style as they explore each new subject, Theatre Ad Infinitum are showcasing several of their hit productions this year for the company’s 10th anniversary. Odyssey also returns to the Pleasance at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, following the return of Light to Battersea Arts Centre in June. Bucket List, the company’s new production for 2016, garnered critical acclaim, a Spirit of the Fringe Award, and enjoyed a London premiere at BAC where it was nominated for an Offie for Best Ensemble before an extensive UK tour. Co-Artistic Director George Mann also directed Medea at Bristol Old Vic in May.

Theatre Ad Infinitum is an international ensemble of theatre-makers based in Bristol, UK, that develops new and original theatre for diverse audiences. Led by Co-Artistic Directors, Nir Paldi and George Mann, the group has been creating and touring critically acclaimed, award-winning productions for 10 years. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s mission is to create theatre that examines social and political themes through innovative storytelling and bold experimental styles, making something completely different each time. The company has recently become and Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic and is an Associate Artist Alumni at Bush Theatre (2011-2013) The Lowry (2011-2017) and Redbridge Drama Centre (2009-2017).

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