Monday, 23 July 2018

Dramaturgy Blooms: Patrick Morris @ Edfringe 2018

Menagerie Theatre Company 
presents

bloominauschwitz
Leopold Bloom breaks free from Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ to travel through history and re-discover his Jewish roots
Winner – Best New Play Award, Brighton Fringe By Richard Fredman,
Something is going very wrong for Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s great novel ‘Ulysses’ and a worldwide phenomenon.

He is plagued by visitations from the future, ghosts from the past and the burning question ‘Who am I and where do I belong?!’ His only clues lie in the 24 hours of life he occupies on 16 June 1904, as written for him by Joyce.

So to discover the answers, his answers, Leopold escapes the pages and confines of his famous book, embarking on a rampage through the storm of 20th century European history. Bounding back and forth through time and crossing Europe he attempts to discover his true identity and his Jewish roots. In doing so he bumbles into the dark heart of the 20th century and the dangers that lurk within.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration for playwright Richard Fredman was twofold: a visit to Auschwitz in the same summer as he first read 'Ulysses' by James Joyce.  As a playwright, he was fascinated by Joyce's central character in 'Ulysses', Leopold Bloom, a man of indeterminate identity whose father had been Jewish and who had come to Ireland from Hungary following pogroms in the 19th century.  

His father converted and had Bloom baptised 3 times.  However, Bloom holds on to these distant memories, and is often referred to as Jew by other characters in the book - even though, he's not Jewish!  So Richard, our intrepid playwright, was inspired to bring these two experiences together to create a piece about how we construct identity, about how we remember and forget, and about belonging: all highly contemporary concerns, and clearly ones which have an enduring appeal.  Bloom is at the centre of our play, as a man divided between his self from the book (set in 1904) and his future self from 2018 - between the two lies the European Jewish experience of the 20th century.  

Menagerie, our company, commissioned Richard to create the play and we have been developing it for the past 4 years, with the same creative team at the heart of it - Rachel Aspinwall, director, and myself as the performer, both working with Richard to evolve the script and its realisation on stage.

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

Performance itself does not 'discuss' ideas - at best, it distills them into the stories, the characters, the bodies and the fictional worlds that we create for the stage.  Sure, the aftermath of any performance worth its salt should be brimming with ideas - we know that 'bloominauschwitz' is crammed with ideas, often competing with each other.  It is a piece inspired by a great novel, which was itself inspired by Homer's Odyssey, so it comes from good heritage!  I would like to think that the piece makes old ideas new - ideas about migration, about home, about family, as well as the themes mentioned above.  

Performance can often seem like a space for playing out personal neuroses - nothing against that in principle, but it's rare to find a play/performance which really digs into ideas which matter, which play into people's lived experience.

How did you become interested in making performance?

It's almost too long ago now - it's such an accretion of influences, experiences and chance events.  From experiencing the first thrill of the live interaction as a teenager, to getting first few meaningful audience experiences such as the Market Theatre's 'Woza Albert', or seeing Dario Fo's performance of 'Mistero Buffo', to my own development and unpredictable route as a performer & director, my interest has so many roots.  

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

We are dealing with a script which is complex, deep and constantly revealing itself to us (Rachel and me) even after 4 years.  We made some early decisions which have stuck - such as seeking inspiration for the set, and therefore for the mode of storytelling, from Joyce's book.  The piece requires so much from the performer that it doesn't resort to just one approach - there are elements of vaudeville and music hall, there's comedy  there's horror, there's epic drama, there's audience participation.  

The role requires me to play up to 16 different characters, yet within the rehearsal process we have to remember that it's really about the one character of Bloom, and the voices, the demons, the angels, and the ideas, that he is entertaining.  

In one way, it reaches back to the ancient storytelling tradition that Dario Fo - him again - employs in 'Mistero Buffo'.  The subject is deadly serious, yet the play employs comedy as one of its weapons.  And that comedy is often cheek by jowl with tragedy, being fought out in the body of Bloom as he seeks out his true identity and what that actually means for him as he experiences the 20th century. 




Does the show fit with your usual productions?


Menagerie always creates new work - our choices of production are dictated by our responses to writers' ideas and work.  If there is one thing which runs through our work, it is a deep concern with asking questions about contemporary human experience.  There isn't a  'usual' stylistic or aesthetic approach, at least not one which is articulated.  What 'bloominauschwitz' does is appeal to my own senses of what theatre is best at doing: reaching deep inside our individual and collective experiences to join us together in a fictional experience which resonates with our lives both in ways we can articulate and in ways for which we have no words.  More than any other play I've worked on, it creates its own world so completely and so convincingly.  It is the most difficult play I have ever encountered as a performer, partially because it is for a solo performer - but also because of where the story takes us.  

We are bringing some very sensitive historical material to the surface - it is not documentary theatre though.  Quite the opposite - as I said, it creates its own world, its own rules, which transport the audience on a journey that constantly surprises.  It takes joy in its fiction while holding out a hand to real life.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I would like them to experience the heart, guts and brains of the play.  There is an overwhelming quality to the play - I don't want to say anything more about that, except to approach it with an open mind.  Some might hear that it's a play inspired by James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and immediately be turned off.  But as I said above, its greatest quality is that it creates its own rules and its own world, and whether people have read Joyce's novel or not is immaterial within the first ten seconds.  I do not wish to impose a particular experience on the audience - it will be what it will be.  

But I believe that the performance has the capacity to create strong reactions from audience members - it has the capacity to awaken all the body's emotions, sometimes simultaneously.  What can I say?  Take a look at the title: 'bloominauschwitz' - simply put, it will not be what you might expect from that title.  It will be so much more.


A celebration of defiant open-heartedness, bloominauschwitz is an explosive piece of theatre that confounds audience expectations mixing clownish antics with high drama, rich text and powerful imagery. As Bloom confronts his chief antagonist – his future self from 2018, it resonates powerfully with the current migrant era and the rise of xenophobic nationalism in parts of Europe.

‘Theatrically on point and cleverly written, this play has the potential to be a huge hit’ Younger Theatre
New writing specialists Menagerie return to the Fringe for the first time since 2014. Their own Patrick Morris delivers a Herculean performance as Bloom in this brilliant new play written by Richard Fredman and directed by Rachel Aspinwall. bloominauschwitz won the Best New Play Award at the 2015 Brighton Fringe.
In addition to the Brighton Fringe and selected UK dates bloominauschwitz was invited to play the DSB International Festival in Czech Republic. It will perform more international and UK dates following in 2018 and into 2019.

Menagerie Theatre Company is the leading independent new writing theatre company in the East of England. Based at Cambridge Junction the company has been creating theatre for over eighteen years and enjoys a regional, national and international reputation for the development of first class new writing for the stage. They seek out and support talented writers in order to develop and produce innovative new theatre. As well as touring widely, they run workshops, writer development courses and produce the annual Hotbed Festival of new writing in Cambridge. bloominauschwitz was created and developed at the Hotbed Festival in association with Cambridge Junction.

‘charming, funny, and heart-warming theatre’ Everything Theatre on Menagerie
www.menagerietheatre.co.uk

Listings information: bloominauschwitzVenue: The Just Festival @ St John’s  (Venue 127)   
Dates:  3-25 Aug (not 5, 12, 16, 19)
Tickets: £12 - £10 (preview 3 Aug £6)
Time:   17.10 (80 mins)   
Box Office: 0131 226 0000
Online: www.edfringe.com 
    

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