Four actors, one show and the entire twentieth century. It may seem like an insurmountable task, but that is what you would expect from a true Epic, which Foster & Déchery have attempted with their show.
A mix of multimedia platforms bring this production to the stage. The concept grew out of conversations its creators, Chloé Déchery and Lucy Foster, had with their grandparents, who themselves appear in Epic, thanks to the use of video. Added to this are dramatic scenes designed to interact with the video and themes of the past.
“For me, and it’s quite true for my whole generation of French people,” says Chloé, “Growing up is surrounded by the legacy of the 1968 student protests. You can see that even now in the politics in France. It’s less so in England. I find it really interesting – the relationship English people have with the peak of WWII and how much is coming back to everyday discussions.”
“Whereas with my dad,” adds Lucy, “there wasn’t one focus like that. It was mostly about music, which makes sense from a British perspective. So we set out to want to look for the history and the connections, but as the process went on it ends up becoming as much about not finding those intersections with the really big history. Or – in the case of Chloé’s grandfather – just missing out on all the big histories. My grandfather just missed out on 1984, the miners’ strikes – he retired too early for that! And then our relationships to the past, how much we’re in thrall to it or actually not that interested in it.”
“My grandfather joined the French army towards the end of the war,” continues Chloé, “but all he talked about was the food he had during the occupation and it ended up being mundane and trivial. We set out for something epic and didn’t quite get there – most of our memories are about being on the periphery.”
Developed through scratch performances at the Battersea Arts Centre, the team were given the chance to try new concepts in front of a live audience – a key indication as to whether ideas can work in reality. Luckily for the ensemble, this seems to have been a crucial element in the show’s success.
“I don’t think there’s anything we’d really change,” muses Lucy. “But the show is changing and evolving all the time, that’s the nature of performance. We’re learning as we go along, even now.”
The project has been partly funded using a new way of funding – crowd sourcing via We Fund. £5,000 of the show’s budget came from donors, who were offered perks such as free tickets to performances and drinks with the cast.
Whilst philanthropy is a necessity to keep the arts alive, it is a worrying trend that smaller projects have to rely on the generosity of their peers (Foster and Déchery admit that most of the donations came from people they already knew) in order to survive. With the arts particularly hard hit and cuts across the board only just starting to resonate, perhaps we are seeing the start of one of the twenty-first century’s biggest stories: Your Theatre Needs You.