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Kaleider is an Exeter-based theatre organisation that it would be reductive to call simply a production company; working in collaboration with a diverse range of groups from theatre companies to universities to the Met Office, it commissions and produces an explosion of innovative theatrical experiences. I spoke to Emily Williams, its Executive Producer, about the company, and to Alice Tatton-Brown, the writer of its next production, Ariel.

When I call Williams, she has just come out of meetings about the company’s projections for 2015, which speaks volumes about the company’s hyperopic view into the future. “I have to switch brains,” she says, “Which year are we in?” She explains that Kaleider (from the idea of different people ‘colliding’) aims to develop emerging artists and organisations, with a keen focus on the modern world: “We’re not trying to run a campaign, but it’s important to us to acknowledge we’re living in a world of change with an impending future ahead.”

I ask Williams about Kaleider’s commitment to developing artists and she tells me that although Exeter University’s drama department came top in The Times’ university rankings, most graduates migrate elsewhere because Exeter can’t offer them the opportunities to match their ambitions. Such graduates formed the companies Punchdrunk and Forced Entertainment, which flew the coop to London and to Sheffield after finishing. Kaleider wants to fill that gap; to make graduates, in Williams’s words, think, “I can stay?!”

Exeter forms an important part of Kaleider’s identity, and its work largely takes place outside the theatres, around the city itself. “We sat inside theatres and realised that the audience probably makes up a tiny percentage of people in Exeter, and there’s a massive percentage who will never walk through the doors. We thought, how can we get high quality performance into their everyday? There’s also so much space outside the theatres that hasn’t been used for performance yet, creating another theatre in Exeter wouldn’t make any sense.”

Williams is keen for the work not to be necessarily “boxed as theatre”, and indeed many of its projects are more about playful experiences than rehearsed narrative. Its project, Where to build the walls that protect us will be tours of Exeter led by various ‘experts’, culminating in a re-imagined interactive model of Exeter being built and unveiled in an empty shop. Running Out of Time will be a collation of videos by female parkour artists from around the world, which use video coding to synchronise their movements at various moments. And its exciting upcoming production, Ariel, is part audio-tour, part photography installation and part performance, at Exeter’s Central Library.

“It’s the first piece that I’ve ever been the project leader on,” says its writer, Alice Tatton-Brown. “It’s quite a big step, but I’m really enjoying it.” She tells me the fascinating story behind the piece: she came across a collection of 400 photos in the private collection of a junk shop owner. The albums contained photos of one woman (nicknamed Ariel in the captions) and spanned 40 years of her life, from 1902 to 1942. “I had an instinct that the photographer was her partner or her husband – they’re really intimate, there’s a sense of collaboration and of knowingness. I read it as a gift to her, or a homage.” The owner wanted to sell them individually, as each picture was very beautiful in itself, but Tatton-Brown thankfully succeeded in acquiring the whole collection. “There’s something extraordinary about it that’s beyond words. They bewitched me.”

She then embarked upon over three years’ research, using the places in the background of each photo and the captions on the back, to trace the mysterious couple. She scoured visitor books from places where they had been, heritage websites, number plate registries, passenger lists, even costumes that Ariel wears in the photos, cross-referenced with reviews from the date they were taken, but all to no avail. “Eventually I gave up, they wanted to keep their secret.”

However, on a visit to London, she took a chance on the name of a street that was mentioned in one of the captions. It turned out that there was only one Oakley Street in London, and upon visiting it, she identified the very window where the photo was taken. Using the 1926 census, she finally found her couple. “It was the strongest sense of arrival I’ve ever had in my life, when you actually find this thing you’ve been looking for for three and a half years.” In our digitised age, where information is cheap and mystery is rare, there seems to be real theatrical value in an unGoogleable quest like this.

Another exciting element to the story, which brought it right into the realm of the modern world and thus into the scope of Kaleider, had to do with a ground-breaking prediction made by the photographer that came true many years later. “The show is not just a nostalgic trip into past” says Tatton-Brown. “It has a lot to say about our modern relationship with photography, with technology, the internet, and democracy.” She judiciously stopped short, however, of revealing the prediction itself to me, and so this secret remains a tantalising draw for the production.

Ariel runs until 26 October at Exeter’s Central Library. Tickets are available via Kaleider’s website.