How to survive – and make a show! – in an old unsused warehouse near Tower Bridge.
By the director Emily Louizou
Hamletmachine has definitely been a very challenging piece to direct. An orgy of deconstruction as I’ve liked calling it. When I first decided I wanted to direct it – about a year ago – I would give the script to friends to read. Everyone’s first two reactions were always: “is this going to be a 10-minute show” – and “what the hell am I supposed to understand of it?” And both reactions are absolutely logical, first because the script is only eight pages long, and second because it is made of five fragments/scenes of no dialogue, broken syntax, and with lots of nonsensical and absurd stream of consciousness. At least this is what it seems to be when you first read it!
I chose to direct such a piece because I felt fascinated by its fragmentary structure, its striking language and visceral images. I thought Müller’s genius – who is the most important German dramatist after Brecht – was being underestimated as a writer in the UK. The timing felt just right for Hamletmachine, as with it Müller speaks of individuals and of a society in crisis, of personal and mass revolutions, of a world who is falling apart.
At some point just before rehearsals had started, I experienced a moment of terror, wondering whether I had taken the right decision: I felt scared of the text I was just about to direct. And this was a brilliant feeling! It made me feel so much out my comfort zone which invigorated me. For the three weeks I was in rehearsals I felt I was being constantly challenged by a piece which is so much bigger than me. No day was easy or chilled. I would go home feeling like I was constantly rediscovering this text. And thanks to an amazing group of actors I was privileged to have, we would keep pushing beyond our limits, exploring new ways of unlocking it.
The second invigorating challenge was our venue! As if we did not have enough challenges to face with this text, we decided to stage it in a huge old factory on Tanner Street, and we could not have found a better space to create the industrial and vacant wasteland we were going for. Working on a site-specific production has a huge amount of difficulties – problems varying from the ceiling leaking every time it rains, or not having enough power sources – but it also offers the great joy of creating a whole world through which the audience is invited to walk.
Finally, the moment when it all comes together, when you see this old warehouse coming to life is what I call the magic of theatre! About 200 people came into this factory during the two days we performed. We invited them to walk through the pieces of a falling world, to experience crisis, and to escape the comfort of a seat in an auditorium. One of the best things that an audience member told me after the end of a performance was that he felt present throughout the performance. This is exactly what I believe theatre should make you feel: alert, present, alive.
As I was watching the show I could see some people being unnerved, others being unsure of what they should do or how they should react – some were confused, and others would disarmingly follow the dream. It was exciting to see them experiencing the crisis from such proximity.
I feel proud of having embraced the surrealism of the piece and having created a performance which I consider challenging and bold. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing people commenting on how ambitious this group of young artists were in tackling a difficult text and making a theatre which is different and daring.
Find out more about Collide here: http://collidetheatre.com
Find out more about Emily here: http://emilylouizou.com