Monday, 5 June 2017

The Dramaturgy On The Moor: Max Dickins @ Edfringe 2017

15:00 (16:00)
3-27 August
2-4-1 on 7th * 8th August

On 12th December 2015, the body of a man was found dead on Saddleworth Moor. Train tickets showed he'd travelled 200 miles from south-west London, apparently just to die. Despite a national media campaign, he remained unidentified. 

This is the story of what happened next. Written and performed by Max Dickins of last year's critical smash-hit The Trunk, this one-man play looks at how people come to disappear and the impact on those they leave behind.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration was the amazing true story of the man on the moor. In December in 2015 a man was found dead at the top of Saddleworth moor, near the northern edge of the Peak District national park. He was carrying no form of ID. Train tickets in his pocket showed he’d travelled 200 miles from Ealing in South West London, apparently just to die. Despite a national media campaign he remained identified for almost 18 months.

This is a one-man play that tells the story of who this man was and how he came to disappear. I tackle this story from the perspective of a man looking for his own missing father. This has a precedent in the real-life case. In January 2016, the son of Hugh Toner, who had vanished from a hospital in Northern Ireland in 1994, approach the police believing that the description of the man on the moor matched that of his father. The Greater Manchester Police were contacted by 40 other people trying to identify missing relatives, although none has provided a match. All of them looking at the same photo and concluding it was their loved one.

There were 200,000 reports of missing people in 2015 alone. 95% of missing people are found within a week. But every year 2000 people go missing and never return. The man on the moor was the 42nd unidentified body found in the United Kingdom in 2015. This show is my attempt to tell the story both of the missing and the left behind, to try to understand the psychology of both.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I think it is the best space for the discussion of ideas and more essential than ever. The main reason being: how often in the modern world do people take time out to immerse themselves in thought? To reflect on their lives, uninterrupted by the constant buzz of their phones or the dopamine drops dealt out by social media. Further, in a time where society feels more divided than ever, when people’s ideology and viewpoints are so polarized, performance performs another crucial function. By suspending disbelief and immersing yourself in a story, you expand your imaginative capacity. You get empathy for opposing viewpoints not through logic, but through your natural emotional engagement with a character. Thus theatre has the power to change how people think. It is more effective and far less combative than simple rhetorical debate.

How did you become interested in making performance?

As a young man I was always in awe of the power performers had over their audiences. Of their capacity to make people feel things that seemed to boil down all the best and most dramatic parts of life into heady dollops available to order. Laughter, sadness, hope, nostalgia and more. All created, crafted and delivered into your heart.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
For me the secret to a good show is getting as much feedback as possible, from the most knowledgeable people as possible, as early and as often as possible. Feedback can make you look like a genius if you are brave enough to seek it and wise enough to be changed by it.

I try and learn something new with each new show I make, so I am stretched into expanding my practice. Therefore I will seek out people with different skills, strengths and background to me. Then it is a case of getting them involved as early as possible in simply discussing my ideas, giving me script notes, or attending read-throughs.

But it’s not just artsy people you should involve in the process. Ordinary punters are crucial too. Because they will tell you when they are bored or confused. They don’t give a shit about your vision or your ‘controlling idea’. They just want to have a good time, to be invested in a compelling story well told. That’s why I have a read-through of the first draft around Christmas time, months before the first previews. I know that the punters I invite, by telling me what they found most engaging about the script, will help me identify what the show is really about.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
It does to an extent. I am experimenting with much more video however. And I think I am taking bigger emotional risks with this show compared to my last, ‘The Trunk.’

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

This is a compelling story that will keep the audience gripped in the best traditions of true crime dramas. Further I hope they’ll be moved and shocked by the stories in the show of the ‘left behind.’ It’s my ambition to raise awareness of this community of people. 

Finally, it’s provocative. It poses the question, ‘Is it ever possible to really know someone? Are we all living with strangers?’ Audience members might just think a bit differently about the person sat in the seat next to them. They might ask, how well do I really know this friend or husband or brother?

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Theatre is all about making an idea real. What would this concept look like if it was tangible? As an example of this, because a central idea is the limitations of human perspective, I tried to find a way to represent this visually. The idea is that we only ever see someone in one context and so judge the contents of their character from within these boundaries. In short, we only see fragments of people. So, when I filmed the video elements in the show, we filmed them in a cubist way. So that the image could be reassembled in a way that looks like a human, but with certain fragments emphasised. A bit like a Picasso portrait. The result is not as pretentious as I make it sound!

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