Saturday, 15 July 2017

Sandman Dramaturgy: Adie Muller @ Edfringe 2017

Adie Mueller presents


by Adie Mueller and Mike Carter 

at the Edinburgh Fringe

At ZOO, Aviary, 17-28 August

Sandman is a compelling and visceral adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic gothic story ‘The Sandman’ for a solo performer, fusing high-energy storytelling with physical theatre and puppetry to immerse its audience in an intense and thrilling nightmare world. It’s a show about childhood fears, growing up and losing one’s grip on reality.
Sandman tells the story of Nathaniel, a student, whose childhood trauma, embodied by the creepy figure of the Sandman, continues to haunt him in his adult life. When he falls in love with a woman, who isn’t all she seems, no-one can prevent his life from spiralling out of control …

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Our inspiration was E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 19th-century classic gothic story “The Sandman”. We were really fascinated by the richness of its themes and motifs, some of them universal, such the child’s dread of the dark, the eyes and the fear of losing one’s sight; some more bound up with fantasy and science fiction, such as the creation of sophisticated humanoid robots, sexual politics and surveillance. 

The story seems to be asking whether what we see is objective ‘reality’ or whether our perception is influenced by our subjective fears and desires. All these ideas were always at the back of our minds when working and we tried to feed them into the text and the actions. We translated them in a contemporary context, taking account of the existence of digital technology and online environments.

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

Yes, it definitely is; and it’s very powerful, because it appeals to intellect and emotions. An engaging performance will leave traces and memories in people’s mind, something they will relive and think about long after the performance has ended. However, it would be good to provide more opportunities for debate and discussion among audience members. And obviously theatre only reaches relatively small groups of people; so its effects are not necessarily heard and felt across large groups of the population.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Probably when I was nine or ten and I watched a school play and thought, “That’s what I want to do!” I auditioned for drama school but wasn’t successful, so opted for a theatre studies degree. We were encouraged to experiment, see ourselves as innovators and create work that didn’t exist. So that got me really excited about making work! And as a teacher I continued instilling these ideas into my students.

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

There are never any recipes; every collaborator brings their ideas and experience to the table and few people have a structured approach. We created the show through a process of improvisation and writing. 

I would improvise and Mike would write text in response, or Mike would bring a scripted scene we would then workshop in performance. I started by translating words or phrases from the story into movement and sound, and then Mike began writing in response. So we slowly developed a movement vocabulary we could draw from. 

The beginning is always slow and it takes time to create some sense of the world of the play. The biggest challenge, however, was finding the right form for the material. We wanted to tell the story with one performer only; and we wanted it to be unnerving and slightly disorienting, like the original. 

It took us a while to arrive at the non-linear structure we developed in the end. In our adaptation the story is told by the characters that feature in it, each of them offering a different perspective on the events. However, the story moves backwards and forwards between past and present, so the audience have to piece it together in their minds.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
It’s our first collaboration and my first piece as a solo performer; but it definitely fits in with work I’ve previously been involved in. There’s an emphasis on physicality and the visual aspect of performance, and set and props become integral to the staging.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I am really interested in the direct and immediate relationship between performer and audience, where one can almost feel each other. I once did this show to an audience of three and we were so connected that I could feel every little reaction, and it started informing everything I did. We were in some kind of unspoken dialogue with each other. So when I’m on stage, I’m trying to give my all whether there is one person or one hundred, and I find that people really appreciate that.

Apart from that, the show has many facets; it’s shocking, crude and funny. It also has many themes, and it sometimes moves into absurd or fantastic territory. I would hope the audience latches on to the things that speak to or touch them. Someone who has seen it a few times said that she focused on different ideas each time. In any case, I would like them be engaged from beginning to end and to keep thinking about it long after it has ended.

Theatre makers Adie Mueller (performer) and Mike Carter (director/playwright) were fascinated by the richness of Hoffmann’s timeless story, which inspired opera (Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman), ballet (Delibes’s Coppelia), music and film (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner)Their take on the original explores contemporary themes, such as relationships in the digital age, surveillance, artificial intelligence and the development of sophisticated humanoid robots.
Sandman was selected for the London Horror Festival 2015 and toured in Spring 2017. Mueller has received unanimous praise from critics for her “outstanding” performance. Sandman will play at the Edinburgh Fringe at ZOO, Aviary from 17th to 28th August at 4.20pm.
Some strong language and adult content. Not suitable for children under 15.

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