Ewan Downie: Achilles on tour

achillesWhat 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 – 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 series of powerful images and, like great film, the story is in the cut, 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 the snuffing out of life, by how we can one day just not be anymore. I tried to imagine what it would be like after I didn’t exist. This idea possessed me for several years as a teenager and resurfaced in the making of Achilles. Since then I’ve known and been close to two other young men of around the same age who have died by falling. This suddenness, a death that cannot be fought, 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 in Wolves is always that the real performance takes place in the minds of the audience rather than onstage, and we hope 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?


A space to reflect on how the beauty, violence, suffering, tenderness and mortality of life are interwoven in an inextricable knot. Without darkness, there no light, and the intensity of the darkness counterbalances the strength of the light.

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