Incoming Festival preview: Remote Control Theatre

DonnaRemote Control is not afraid to suffer for its art. It is a company that uses theatre as a means of probing into the darker recesses of human nature. This was evident at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe with La Donna e Mobile, an intense yet mesmerising exploration of madness, sexuality and identity. Remote Control has a singular vision of theatre as an art form; the worlds it puts on stage have been compared to the films of David Lynch, while the fierce uncompromising nature of the performances echo the work and ideas of Artuard’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’. With La Donna e Mobile, the company wanted ‘to work with madness and explore what it means to be ‘mad’, and the result was a performance the group describe as “a dissection of women”.

For La Donna e Mobile, theatre makers Emily Wachter, Ingrid LaVigg and Petra Cassele retreated to Norway, taking with them a collection of photographs, and begun improvising a number of dramatic scenarios in response to this stimulus. The photos were taken in the nineteenth century at the Salpetriere Hospital, and reveal hysteria patients in the throws of convulsive episodes. These images stoked their imaginations and provided the inspiration for the dark and disturbing universe of these violent and paranoid landscapes: “We delved into ourselves to explore questions of what it means to be a woman”, explains Wachter, in a process that involved going beyond an intellectual examination of the subject matter, and grappling with something more instinctual and visceral.

With La Donna e Mobile, the audience is submerged in a surreal and utterly transfixing world of womanhood in peril. The images are provocative and haunting, and mix together the apparently familiar with the absurd. The overall effect is hypnotic and disquieting in equal measure. As LaVigg explains, the aim is to encourage audiences to explore their own feelings and instincts in relation to the piece, and to be open to being challenged: “It’s definitely active. We want to bring out questions. Sometimes it can be challenging for them, but that’s what we want. So they can ask questions, and be provoked and feel surprised.” Indeed, in some cases the company found themselves surprising each other, particularly when it came to the devising process: “It went to places that we didn’t know it was going to go when we started it”, says Wachter. “We sort of had to follow that journey and go where it lead us. In some moments we’d get to a place where we’d think ‘what does this mean, what does that mean?’. It needs its own life, lets go with it. We’re very glad that we did this.”

Remote Control combines aspects of both dance and physical theatre, and its performances ooze a sinister and dangerous intensity. The on-stage atmospheres they create have the furious energy of a fever-dream, yet it is difficult not to become transfixed in the disturbing beauty of their imagery. When I ask them what the rehearsal process entails, Wachter explains it’s about not being afraid of exploring all possibilities: “Even if it’s just one sentence that we find, when you’re working physically, that sentence can become any number of things. That’s why it’s so brilliant to work in that way because it is an endless universe of possibilities. Studying something as specific as hysteria and being able to explore that physically is very liberating because you connect to the feeling of something rather than thinking about it a theoretical way. There’s an immediate connection you can click into.”

It is clear from talking with them that Remote Control share a deep trust and compassion for each other. This mutual understanding and affection serves as the bedrock for their creativity, a collective sense of ownership for exploring difficult territory and challenging each other as performers. Despite the limitations of the ensemble members living in different countries, the company developed La Donna e Mobile over an intensive period whilst living together at a retreat in Norway. This combination of working and living in close-quarters and the nature of the climate directly affected the work they were making: “Because we’ve all been in different places, it’s meant that it’s been difficult to get together as a group. So we’ve been forced to go away, live together and be together for 24 hours a day. That’s a huge part of it. We’re all very good friends, so the living together, chatting together and eating together is as much a part of the process as creating theatre.

When Remote Control returns with La Donna e Mobile in May, audiences can expect to be enthralled by the potency of its imagery and challenged by the fearlessness of the performances. It is a piece that confronts us with an immersive and conscience-splitting theatrical experience; as disturbing as it is illuminating.

La Donna e Mobile will be at the New Diorama Theatre on 20 May as part of A Younger Theatre’s INCOMING Festival. For more information and tickets, visit the NDT’s website.