Thursday, 11 January 2018

Ewan Downie @ Citizens and Manipulate 2018


Tue 23 Jan – Sat 27 Jan, 7.30pm

Scottish theatre makers Company of Wolves have announced their staging of Achilles – a passionate and energetic new solo show from Ewan Downie – at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.

Achilles tells the story of the greatest hero of the Greeks during the Trojan War: how his best friend is killed by the champion of the Trojans, his desperate grief, and his terrible vengeance.

The production is being mounted in the Citizens Theatre’s Circle Studio, and then crossing to Edinburgh as part of the manipulate Visual Theatre Festival 2018. 

Previous productions by Company of Wolves include Seven Hungers  and A Brief History of Evil “Sinister yet playful… sympathetic and witty despite the undertow of horror” (List).

What was the inspiration for this performance?

A number of different desires come together in Achilles.

I've been fascinated by the Greek myths since an early age and have looked for a way to approach mythic material in a performance context for many years - this is hard because in theatre often realism of some sort is the default mode and myth is distorted by being treated as realism. Myth tends to be built out of a series of powerful images and, like great film, the story is in the cut, in the space between the images where our mind fills in the gap. 

I've tried, in my approach to Achilles, to leave gaps for the imagination. The piece has been made in layers, laid down like sediment over time, and although the layers relate to each other, they don't necessarily give the same perspective on the story as each other...

I've also long wanted to make a performance in which words and movement coexist and strengthen each other. Often in physical performance the text is weak or non-existent, and in text-based performance the converse is often true - the body is absent. I wanted to find a way to combine the body and words.

When I was 11 my uncle died by falling off the Finnieston Crane at the age of 27. I became fascinated by death, the snuffing out of life, by how we can one day just not be anymore. This idea possessed my mind for several years as a teenager and resurfaced in the making of Achilles. And at other times in my life I've known and been close to two other young men of around the same age who have died by falling. This suddeness, a death that cannot be fought, cannot be resisted, coming early and cutting off so much life, became somehow woven in with the myth of Achilles in my mind. So that's in there too. In a way this piece is a requiem.

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

Some performance is. A lot of performance seems to present a view, to give answers rather than asking questions. Our aim in Company if Wolves is always that the real performance takes place in the minds of the audience rather than onstage, and that that process continues after they've left the theatre. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I made my first pieces of theatre in the basement of my parents house when I was 8. In some ways I've moved on from that, in some ways it's taken me 35 years to get back to where I started.

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

I wrote both the text and the physical score for the piece and these interacted in unpredictable ways so I would write a draft, then work on the physical material, which would alter the text, which would in turn change the physical score. I played this loop many times before the piece began to settle down into its final form.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The physical and song work in the show does, though they develop the ideas in previous productions in new ways. The text is a departure - Company of Wolves - haven't worked with a piece of storytelling before and that's new. I've worked with text extensively myself - I was a text based actor for many years - but the combination of text and movement is new to
me too.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that their imaginations will be engaged, that they'll fill in the picture with their minds, that the piece will lodge like a fragment of glass in their hearts. I hope that the piece might provoke some new thinking about rage and grief, especially in men.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Although the piece is a linear narrative I wanted to make sure that there were non-linear elements (text, movement, song) that break the flow and open a space for interpretation, so that the audience is invited to fill in the gaps with their own associations, feelings and thoughts.

Ewan Downie said of Achilles: “I've been fascinated by the Greek myths since an early age, and in particular by the story of Achilles. His rage at the killing of his best friend, his failure to face his grief, and his bloody revenge have always struck me as deeply disturbing and at the same time deeply human.

“We live in a time where the public display of rage is a daily sport. Achilles shows us where this particular rabbit hole goes. When we snuff out our empathy and give primacy to our hurt emotions, each one of us is capable of great destruction.

“The piece has been made in layers, laid down like sediment over time, and although the layers relate to each other, they don't necessarily give the same perspective on the story. I've tried to leave gaps for the imagination, for the audience to fill in their own versions of the story.”

Company of Wolves is Scotland’s
only laboratory theatre company and is led by co-Artistic Directors Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky. Their work is based around rigorous ongoing performer training and exists on the border between dance, theatre, live music and improvisation. Its roots lie in the artistic directors’ lengthy immersion in Polish laboratory theatre and their training in theatre, movement and improvisation.

With each performance the company consciously explores new themes, new stories and new areas of performance practice, aiming to make theatre that speaks to all of what we are, theatre that is raw and irreverent and sublime.

Tickets are £14.50, with concessions available from £2 and the preview priced at £10. Tickets are available from the Citizens Theatre Box Office – 0141 429 0022 or

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