Thursday, 1 June 2017

Dramaturgy: A Phantasmagoria: Michael Daviot @ Edfringe 2017

1917, A PhantasmagoriaA new solo show by Michael Daviot, the actor-playwright of 2016’s five-star reviewed, twice award-shortlisted Nosferatu’s Shadow. 

A hundred years ago or yesterday? Strange and distant events, or strangely familiar? Feminism, Art, War, Pop Music, Revolution, Detective Fiction, Independence, Racial Violence, Lovesick Poets, Protests, Scientific Wonders.

What was the inspiration for this performance?    I was wondering how to mark the centenary of my mother's birth. At first I thought I would just dedicate a new play to her, but then decided to have an in-depth look at 1917 and quickly realized what wealth of material it presented.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
      Yes, because a theatre audience participates in the event, whereas watching TV is essentially passive; however, live theatre is once again a far too predominantly middle-class pursuit. So, there is the constant concern that one is playing to a narrowing demographic.

How did you become interested in making performance?
       Saturday afternoon movie matinees, watching extraordinary performers like John Barrymore and Charles Laughton.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
       I tend to make things after much the same pattern: idea, title, imagine/loosely write a beginning and an end, research-research-research, fit the jigsaw puzzle together - what goes where? I always have a strong essential image and tend to collect sound as I go along; but, after that, it's about working the piece in rehearsal with a director and seeing what happens.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
      Not really. My solo shows are usually biographical, but this one is a mosaic of an entire year, in which I will morph from character to character and event to event.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
     An occasionally unsettling, sometimes amusing, always thought-provoking awareness of 'plus ca change' combined with a realisation that, no matter how slowly, things can and do change for the better.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
     I considered using projection, but decided that was the easy option, so now it's up to me, the text, the sound and lights to make the audience see the wildly various people and events depicted.

From Baker Street to Paschendaele; from Yeats pining in his Tower to a lynching in Tennessee; from the storming of the Winter Palace to the stylings of Harry Lauder; from Dadaism to the visionary genius of Nikola Tesla, let the Spirit of 1917 be your guide on a quirky and surprising tour of a watershed year.

Often satirical, occasionally harrowing, always thought-provoking, this new piece is dedicated to Michael’s mother, who would have been a hundred this year. Thinking about how to commemorate her led to a deeper exploration of the year of her birth and the making of this phantasmagoric ‘docu-play’.

Woven through the show, giving it a semblance of a narrative spine, are short passages from Gustav Meyrink’s novel of 1917, Walpurgisnacht.

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