Image credit: Susan Luciani

The classic 1918 Japanese story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa Hellscreen, which follows an artist’s descent into a world of hellish greed and obsession – accompanied by his daughter and a collector – provides the basis for a new adaptation of the horrific tale by Firehouse Creative Productions and Double Barrel Productions, set in the contemporary London art world. Not only does it feature renowned performer Jonny Woo who is famous for comedy and bringing drag to a mainstream audience, but also a design that fuses many mediums such as film, animation, music and immersive design. The latter, representing the forefront of a huge shift in the way that theatre is presented to modern audiences.

To investigate this engaging concept, I interviewed Ana Ines Jabares Pita, who has been working as designer for the production. Pita says that she has never wished to specialise in a certain art form, “so a project like Hellscreen is a total dream”. To fully amalgamate the various elements of modern theatre, Hellscreen ensures that every aspect fully supports the others in perfect harmony, which, with many people working to create their own part of the performance, can sometimes be synonymous with difficulty and complication, but not in the case of Hellscreen.

Pita finds the challenge exciting, and says that “teamwork is one of the most important things in theatre”, especially so with the nature of Hellscreen, “the members of the team need to be perfectly blended to make the piece work”. One method employed to make sure that this happened was to confirm that the entire creative team shared the same vision within design, something that Pita hopes will go on to make a fantastic show that the audience can fully immerse themselves in!

In Hellscreen, Jonny Woo’s character of Frank Holt concocts experimental art that needs an equally quirky venue to host it. “London is the perfect city for contemporary art lovers as there are so many different places to go”, says Pita, giving the contemporary London theme of the play a very strong support. Pita herself is a lover of contemporary art, often visiting galleries around the city in her spare time (some of her favourites include the Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery, RA and Somerset House) giving a unique insight into Hellscreen‘s set of an unusual art gallery – chosen after conversations between Pita and director Rachel Parish. Whilst Frank Holt’s peculiar works may not conform to the expectations of other artists, Pita finds London “the perfect city to find collaborators and like minds to work with”, paramount to creating a piece of theatre whose creative team share the same perception of a stimulus like the work of Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

With Jonny Woo’s strong background in comedy work and drag in London and around the world, I was also interested to ask Pita about how well he has adapted to performing a horror story, very different to his previous work, including works such as Gay Bingo and Bistrotheque. “He is chameleonic”, she enthusiastically comments, telling me about his outstanding versatility as an actor, with Frank Holt having to switch between a father to his daughter and a “God-like artist” in a struggle between his self-esteem and ego. “I can’t wait to see his performance on my set”, one that promises to be sensual, exciting and terrifying!

Hellscreen is on at Vault Festival Feb 25 – March 8. For more details please go to their website.