Thursday, 22 June 2017

The North! The Dramaturgy!: Christopher Harrisson @ Edfringe 2017

The North! The North! 

Demonstration Room, Summerhall, 4 - 27 August 2017 (not 3 and 14), 17.50 (19:00), 14+

Written and performed by Christopher Harrisson | Directed by John Walton

Physical storytelling and animation merge in this dark, contemporary myth about Britain, identity and personal trauma from the writer of Edinburgh Fringe sell-out 64 Square. 

Presented amidst Brexit and the rise of extremism this surreal solo performance looks at how we mythologise where we live, the bad things that happen to us and the stories we make up in response. 

A graphic novel brought to life, The North! The North! takes its influence from Christopher Harrisson’s relationship to the north. Born in Yorkshire, Christopher had lived across the UK and is currently based in the south, in Bristol. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

It’s been rattling around in my head for quite some time. To begin with, I wanted to make a show about the north of England. I grew up in Huddersfield, left to go to university when I was 18 and haven’t lived there since. I’m intrigued by the idea of regional identity, and the idea of being ‘Northern’ wasn’t really present until I went to university in the Brighton. 

I’m a bit obsessed with mythology and magical realist literature, so I wanted to see if there was something in the exploration of this theme through a mythic lens. With the EU referendum, I noticed there were lots of ‘Britains’ being talked about, specifically lots of ‘Englands’: the England being lauded in London was not the same as that being mourned in Barnsley. 
It’s hard to make a compelling and dramatic story about a theme on its own so in exploring narrative building as a response to trauma – personal, social and economic- came the story of a young man, exiled from the north, making sense of historic, traumatic events by constructing a huge and mythic narrative.

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

I think there’s something important about a shared space, and the immediacy of performance encourages an emotional engagement with the discussion at hand. I don’t know if many people are convinced of a diametrically opposite view to what they already hold, but by placing big concepts in a very human realm, it possibly goes someway to opening up the possibility of other views, thoughts and experiences.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have been interested in performance and storytelling since childhood. The drift into the world of theatre-making (as opposed to acting or directing as a discrete discipline) came at university and continued to germinate at the Lecoq school in Paris, where I trained for two years. 

My specific interests in the massively broad field of ‘performance’ shift frequently, but one of the things I’m most excited about with it is how multi-disciplinary it is. I feel like I become newly interested in making performance on a regular basis.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

In contrast to other shows I have worked on, the main story and bulk of the show’s content were pretty fully formed in my mind early on in the process. I wrote a version of the script and engaged some other artists for an R&D period, before launching into the show proper. 

I like to work collaboratively and so many of the production elements are totally the work of the creative team around me. If I had a particular approach, it was probably just to trust in their brilliance.

It’s important to me to put work in front of an audience at multiple stages of its development. I had a showing of the R&D, and have been touring a version of the show that is developing with every performance. I find this is the best way to fully see what a show is and take it into its final stages of rehearsal and development.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

My background, like many Lecoq graduates, is in collective devising. I used to be co-artistic director of Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and our shows were always a collaboration between the people in the room. 

Individuals would sometimes have a different aspect they would concentrate on - writing, or movement for example – but the story and creation of the production would happen slowly, organically over time. 

It’s a style of working I like, though on The North! The North! it was quite refreshing to have a story and script to work on with a creative team. So it’s new, and I haven’t used multi-media much before, let alone created illustrations and animations like this, so it all feels quite refreshing.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I want them to join me on a trip into a strange, dark world. It’s a world that’s recognisably ours, yet different, and the characters within it may be wild and odd, but they have very human desires and flaws. I hope the audience will enjoy and engage with the story and be moved by it. Ultimately, I want them to have the feeling that they’ve experienced something a little magical.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Formally and aesthetically, the show takes a lot of its influences from cinema and graphic novels, with lots of changes in location, perspective and so on. It’s still theatrical, and much of the storytelling in narrator-led description, but all the pieces are working together to create an immersive whole. I think that’s essential in engaging an audience, sweetening the pill of the more difficult material (the darker themes, and the more ‘out-there’ magical elements). 

Content-wise, as well as the mythological lens, revenge thrillers are a structural touchstone, so there’s a sense of narrative momentum and the uncovering of a mystery. The magical/surreal elements are often surprising, unbalancing narrative assumptions a little, building to what seems like the inevitable conclusion in strange and unexpected ways.

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