Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Theatre under the Motorway

When Nobody Returns - Iman Aoun and David Broughton-Davies

When we first presented This Flesh is Mine, back in 2014, we used all three spaces in ASHTAR Theatre's lovely Ramallah space, and a fabulous London venue called Testbed 1.   We always knew that Testbed would be a one-off: the bulldozers moved in back in January, and it's doubtless well on the way to becoming a set of desirable dwellings.  So we've been resourceful again - and found a space under the Westway, just along from the bar where Elliot Tupac painted his extraordinary mural during Origins 2015.

The bay under the motorway is large.  You can see the concrete slabs that are the foundation of the road above your head.  Our set, which uses two raked stages facing one another, looks as if the road has fallen in and smashed in the space.  Cladding is ripped and incomplete.  Everywhere there is a sense of wreckage and of provisionality.  The perfect space, in other words, for a pair of productions about war and occupation.  Palestine too is a space with far too much wreckage, and a space where everything is provisional and nothing stable or secure.

The great bonus of a found space like this is that it allows us to play to the epic qualities of Brian Woolland's Plays of Love and War at the same time as being very intimate with the audience.  There are some scenes that take place at height and distance - there are others which happen within touching distance of an audience that is never more than four rows deep.  This is fantastic for the thematic concerns of the plays, which move constantly between the personal and the political, as they explore the impact of war and violence on the lives of fragile individuals caught up in the power of global forces.

When Nobody Returns - Bayan Shbib and Andrew French
As well as being large, the space is also unforgiving in terms of sound.  The Westway itself doesn't make much noise - amazingly - but the area around sometimes does, and the concrete space doesn't resonate at all for voices.  So we have had to develop a sound design solution, and actually this too has become a contributor to meaning.  The actors have been brilliantly miked by Hannu Kuosmanen, and Dave Carey has created an almost continuous soundscape into which their treated voices are injected.  Often you don't even realise there is artificial sound - but there is enough to counteract the motorway and to generate an ambience that supports the voices.  Hannu's mixing of the quadrophonic speakers allows the vocal sound to seem to be coming directly from the actors' mouths, even when they are very close to you.

The space is full of challenges of course - but challenges are often what lead to brilliant creativity and to exciting solutions. The audience and the reviewers have certainly loved this space.  In fact - I find it very hard to imagine how the plays could be done in a conventional theatre....

More info and booking links here!

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