Innovation often provokes a great deal of praise when we are reacting to theatre. Rarely, though, does a company challenge the norms of artistic form as strikingly as Ockham’s Razor, whose fusion of circus and theatre offers an unusual approach to the mechanisms of storytelling. Charlotte Mooney reveals that their latest touring production, Not Until We Are Lost, promises to be their most innovative yet.
The show’s title draws upon one of Thoreau’s reflections: “Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves”. “It’s six short scenes,” explains Mooney. “One of them looks at when you’re emotionally lost and how you may need a connection with a person to bring you out of that. Some of them are more literal, about physically becoming lost. Some of them are about overcoming obstacles in your life, where you think there’s a barrier that means that you can’t progress, but by climbing into the unknown and pressing against the barriers in your life sometimes you can push through, discover new things, find something new about yourself or about your situation.”
There’s no spoken dialogue in the piece, which is built upon movement and clear physical relationships between the performers. “It’s closer to silent films; it’s very clear what’s going on in the action, but it’s looser than beginning, middle and end.” The big change for this new piece is that the audience will be experiencing the show differently – it’s an interactive, promenade production. This is a first for Ockham’s Razor. “When we’ve made shows in the past we’ve had pieces of equipment that when you lie on the floor underneath it’s far more exciting,” says Mooney. “You can see the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands, and you get a much stronger feeling of the height and the danger.”
This is really drawing upon what sets Ockham’s Razor apart form more traditional circus performances, distancing their work from the idea of superhuman tricks and strength, and focussing on both the excitement and individual vulnerability of the performers. “You really see the muscles working, the people holding on; you really feel how vulnerable they are. When it’s staged very far away from it, it’s very much a spectacle that you’re distanced from, whereas when you’re closer to it you can see the human in it.” It’s a concept very much in line with the themes of the production: “the disorientation of being lost just seemed to fit better if the audience had a physical experience with it, if they were moving through a space, if they had a journey.”
One of the most striking images from the company’s previous production, The Mill, is of a giant hamster’s wheel made from wood and steel, which the performers could scurry around and lift themselves onto. Not Until We Are Lost sees the return of more exciting, beautiful, pieces of set, including a 4 metre high Perspex box, and a 6 metre swinging steel wall. “The audience can stand all the way around the tower and view the performance from all angles,” reveals Mooney. “Really we’ve transformed the whole theatre. It’s a bit like an installation; we use the ceiling of it, and the balconies.”
Adding to the immersive experience is live music performed by harpist Ruth Wall and a local choir from each location. “Because the audience are going to be surrounded by the movement, we wanted them to be surrounded by the sound too. We’ve always had pre-recorded music before, so this is really exciting for us.” Wall’s music is no ordinary harp affair. “She does a lot with a loop pedal, and so it sounds very beautiful as it slowly unfolds, but it’s also electronic . She can make her harp sound wildly different.” The choice to source the choir from each area they visit wasn’t purely musical, either: “we get to meet people who are local, we can build a bond with the area, and they can show us where all the good pubs are!”
Although the company share a great deal in common with their “straight theatre” counterparts, the devising process often seems counterintuitive to those whom Mooney terms “theatre people”. “As a company we tend to start out with a general idea; we knew that we wanted the audience to be on stage, and we were trying to find the interesting elements of that. After we get the bits of equipment, we just play on them! We went to a big barn in France and made tons and tons of material, and filmed ourselves. Then we watched that, and looked at the stories, relationships, and the narratives that seemed to emerge from the images and the playing that we’d done. Then we weaved those into stories and scenarios and then once we had lots of different scenarios, quite late on, we looked at how the whole show would structure itself together.” Mooney’s phrasing is revealing – the art is given primacy, the production creates itself. “We look at the physical possibilities and the movements and the images, start from a very open place, and then hone down until we find what the germ of the idea is within that.”
As a form, the blend of circus and theatre that Ockham’s Razor creates allows for an open, emotional re-evaluation of the usual spectacle of acrobatics. “It’s important to us that the work is accessible and that it’s very physical and it touches you. If someone does something that’s thrilling, there’s a very immediate emotional reaction to that.” They have developed an art which strikes a challenging and skilful balance between exhilaration and poignancy.
Not Until We Are Lost is on national tour until 2013 and will arrive at Dance City, Newcastle on 11th October. For full tour dates and more information about the show, visit www.ockhamsrazor.co.uk.
Image credit: Ockham’s Razor