Heart of Darkness @ Tron

HEART OF DARKNESS

By Joseph Conrad

Retold by imitating the dog

Adaptation and Direction by Pete Brooks and Andrew Quick

Projection and Video Designs by Simon Wainwright

Design by Laura Hopkins

Lighting Design by Andrew Crofts

Cast: Laura Atherton, Morgan Bailey ,Keicha Greenidge Morven Macbeth and Matt Prendergast

Keicha Greenidge as Charlie Marlow -Photo by Ed Waring -HOD-Birmingham-FINAL-PRINT-071-211691

 

imitating the dog, one of the UK’s most original and innovative performance theatre companies are set to bring their unique theatrical vision when they stage a bold retelling of Joseph Conrad’s extraordinarily influential and timely novel – Heart of Darkness.

Written more than 100 years ago, amid the optimism at the turn of a new century, Heart of Darkness is a tale of lies and brutal greed and of the dark heart which beats within us all. Now retold as a journey of a Congolese woman through war torn Europe, the play explores a forsaken landscape lost to the destructive lust for power and emerges as a tale absolutely for our time.

Negotiating race, gender and the themes of exploitation, violence and nationalism, imitating the dog’s Heart of Darkness is a searing parable for our times, created at a moment when versions of Britain’s colonial past seems to be being held up as a golden era and when our relationship to Europe is being severely tested.

Heart of Darkness will tour from the 5 March – 11 May.

Matt Prendergast and Morgan Bailey- Heart of Darkness - Photo by Ed WaringHOD-Birmingham-FINAL-PRINT-041-221500Interview with Andrew Quick: Co-Artistic Director of imitating the dog: Heart of Darkness Tour 2019

 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Heart of Darkness is a novel that we have been coming back to in rehearsals of other shows for many years.  You know, saying things like, “Yes, it’s just like Heart of Darkness” and a lot of our main characters confront Kurtz like figures in our pieces. This was especially true of The Train, which we made in 2016 and was based on a journey narrative and also in Six Degree Below the Horizon a couple of years earlier.  So, it has definitely been knocking around in our heads for some time.  Plus, Pete (Pete Brooks: one of the other Co-Artistic Directors of ITD) and I like the novel and it made a great impression on us when we read in our late teens.  And then we were searching for a novel to adapt after the success of our version of A Farewell to Arms (2014) and we kept coming back to Conrad.  

 

When we started to look at the novel, we realised how challenging staging it would be.  It’s a great narrative but it presents us with many difficulties, especially around its representation of race and also by the fact that it is almost entirely a story about men.  But rather than rejecting the novel we tried to face these challenges head on and this compelled us to re-think it as far as our staging was concerned. So, we set the main narrative in a war-torn Europe and we had our protagonist journey from Kinshasa in Africa and we made our Marlow a woman.  Once we worked out these parts of the staging the rest followed on pretty quickly. Of course, Apocalypse Now haunts our version, as do other adaptations, such as Nick Roeg’s TV adaptation made in 1993.  The problems of adaption became an important part of our story as well and we started creating a dramatic version of the many discussions and dilemmas that we faced while making this piece.  Our staging is not only the heart of darkness of the novel but also the heart of darkness of its making that we went through. Look, this makes it all sound a bit heavy but at the core this is great story, one that we think grips the audience and moves them.  The piece is created out of a live green screen environment in front of the audience and I think it’s beautiful and compelling. Yes, there are ideas explored here but it’s always through the story – the story of the novel and the story of our adaptation. It’s always about the story with us, in the end.

The Cast of Heart of Darkness - Photo by Ed Waring HOD-Birmingham-FINAL-PRINT-011-1675

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

Yes, but like I said, it’s always through the story.  I think this is our most political work. The piece attempts to meet ideas face on, like Conrad did.  Notions of empire, of colonial exploitation, of what happens when Capitalism goes unchecked. We did a great deal of research while making this piece.  One of the key books for me was Sven Lindqvist’s 1993 book, Exterminate All the Brutes, which is a line from the novel scrawled by Kurtz in a paper he was writing about his experience in Africa.  In this book Lindqvist argues that the colonial exploitation and evil perpetrated in Africa was a rehearsal for the horrors that Europe unleashed on the itself and the wider world in the twentieth century, in the First and Second World Wars.  

 

And one of the impetuses for us adapting the novel is that some of the ideas of Empire and Capitalism and ‘free trade’ seem to be back on the table again, especially in England. And we wanted to challenge this. So, in a way, yes, we want to stimulate discussion, to provoke our audience.  And I think there is a role for discussion in theatre. Performance is always political in one sense or another. Ideology is always ghosting in the places of its happening. I thinking exploring this notion of politics more directly than we ever have before has been liberating for us.

The Cast of Heart of Darkness - Photo by Ed Waring HOD-Birmingham-FINAL-PRINT-086-211708

How did you become interested in making performance?

My mum and dad.  Taking me to some great shows when I was a kid.  Seeing Alan Howard do the Shakespeare’s Henry plays in the mid 70s, being enthralled by San Quentin Jail company’s version of Beckett’s Endgame, which I saw around the same time, not really understanding it but marvelling at its effect on me.  Seeing Impact Theatre and Hesitate and Demonstrate while at University. I was always interested in writing but always traumatised by deadlines. With performance there’s always a deadline you have to meet.  It forces you to be creative. You have to produce. It’s stressful but compelling.

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

The core of our adaptation is the live film making element.  It creates a very specific dynamic on the stage and a very specific look.  It is cinematic, theatrical and also resembles a graphic novel that is continually re-arranging itself.  We made the show over several months – not all in one go, we never do that. We went down one particular track for a long time and then changed direction, re-ordering the material and then we put the final version together as a group in Italy in late October early November last year.

 We always make the work with our technicians and performers – Simon Wainwright, who is the video designer and also another co-director is key to this. But this is also true of the people designing the lights and sound. All these elements are integral. We don’t have a tech week – all our rehearsals are technical.  The technology is in the room from the beginning.

 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In some ways I think it does but in other ways it’s quite different.  I think it is more up front with the ideas and the staging of our process of creation, although it’s still fictional, is a first for us.  The use of the live green screen is new although it’s formed out of approaches we have used in earlier shows, but never like we pursue in Heart of Darkness.  For those who know our work, I think they will recognise it as one of ours.  Our signature is definitely on it in bold lettering. For those who don’t know our work, I think it’s pretty open and accessible – they will have a good time watching it.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they get wrapped up in the story and delight in the way we are telling it.  Of course, you want the audience to get involved in the emotions and the tensions of what you are presenting – and I think they do in this piece.  They seemed to have been engaged so far. And yes, you want them to connect to the ideas that Conrad was exploring and that we have re-worked in our adaption.  How that happens, it always remains a mystery to me. But as I said a little earlier, I think the politics of this piece is important and I hope that the audience are touched by the concerns we are obsessed by here.  It’s why we do this.

 

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