Alex Hughes – The De Nova Super
ALEX HUGHES is a film, television and theatre actor and veteran of Secret Cinema. Alongside fellow theatre, clown, film and movement aficionado Will Palmer he has crafted THE DE NOVA SUPER, a cinematic, visually compelling and emotionally challenging space odyssey. Ahead of performing the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Alex chats to Gareth K Vile
This first question is kinda two parted. Actually, it is two questions: what attracted you to science fiction as a genre, and what makes it a good one for live theatre?
Firstly, genre was not intentional at the outset, it just ended up being an interesting answer to the question – where are these characters and where is this story taking place? Deep space.
Science fiction is often about the near and not too distant future, like slightly bending the truth of the present. Creatively this creates vast room for ours and an audience’s imagination.
In the opening shots of Ridley Scott’s Alien, the camera roams the apparent emptiness of the Nostromo. The ship is very much the star of the show, it is the protagonist of the story in some respects. It is also a moment in cinema where the production design and art direction are given centre stage. We want the De Nova Super to be the protagonist, but we do this by painting that picture in the audience’s imagination.
The live theatre expect is about the performance space. If we really think about it, the theatre can create anything, any place and any situation with light, sound, space and atmosphere. Anything. So why is it almost always used to look into the past and present? Why not the future? Why have I not been sold the idea of a spacecraft in the theatre, as many times as in cinema?
Often, science fiction is a comment on the present disguised as futurology. I notice, you have a dystopia in the show. Does that speak to any contemporary anxieties?
I feel like Futurology and Science Fiction are in a relationship and there is a big dynamic. Futurology is a rational, serious personality and Science Fiction, a colourful, loud and eccentric one. They clash often but ultimately can’t live without each other. I suspect presently they both share anxieties about the future more than they have at any other time.
My grandmother passed away just over a year ago and I now think of her as a time traveller. She had experienced so much change in the world, but I bet she would have read 1984, found it disturbing, but never actually thought we would get to that place. That’s because what happens in George Orwell’s book didn’t eventually come true in 1984, but those ideas are more real in 2019. There is an acceleration in the ideas Science Fiction presents today. The fiction my Grandmother was presented with must have seemed so far away, but the new generation are now living in the Science Fiction of my childhood. Only two decades ago we sat in cinemas laughing at the idea of Biff ruling over America in Back To The Future part two, and now here we are.
The De Nova Super does subtly note a dystopia, but that dystopia is geographically far away as opposed to chronologically. the characters of our show are living the result where society ends up, again proving that all fear lies only in the future.
How did you approach the integration of the various influences of clowning, film and the physical aspects of theatre?
The cinematic element of the equation comes from cinema having a greater sense of genre than the theatre and as I said before Science Fiction was a missing genre. Both Will and I have spent a number of years working with Secret Cinema making theatre based around films. The projects are based around the screening of a movie, but create a world of that film for the audience theatrically.
Again, we see more theatrical influence in cinema than the other way around.
We also wanted to structure the show more like an album: a concept album more than a play. It’s all about remixing. It’s all about saying why not? Why can’t we mix this all up?
The physical aspect comes from the silent era of cinema or moody 70’s auteur cinema where nobody speaks, this leaves you with no choice but physicality.
Ultimately how we approached it is presented within the show. You’ll just have to come and see.
Do you draw out – or provoke – any philosophical discussions – and how effective is theatre as a place for these kinds of conversations?
We must always discuss things and we must sometimes force ourselves to keep our minds open and this is made easier or harder by how we choose to stimulate ourselves.
I think that with so much incredible television to choose from on platforms like Netflix, we really should consider ourselves lucky as to how much culture we can experience. Theatre is even broadcast online in places. Everyone now has excess to films, television, music, writing and podcasts that we can genuinely feast on like never before. The difference now though, is that all these things are being enjoyed in a far more singular way.
People will always gravitate to a more collective shared experience because there is a warmth in that, but also because we like to know what other people think too.
We definitely endeavour to provoke emotion and discussion, but sometimes we do that by not always answering the questions the show asks. There are mysteries for the audience to solve, as there are in life.
Theatre is good, in that other people’s reactions give others permission sometimes to feel and experience. There is a great universal love to be reminded of by sharing a space with others and revealing yourself. So yes, theatre can give people permission to discuss and feel things they might otherwise not have allowed themselves to.
The De Nova Super is on 31st July until 26th August (not 12th or 19th) at Assembly George Square, TheBox at 3pm. Tickets and more information: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/de-nova-super