Heart of Darkness – Steve Pratt interviews co-artistic director Andrew Quick
Why is imitating the dog staging Heart of Darkness?
‘First of all, it’s a novel that we have often referred to when making our work. And what’s interesting about the novel is how much it has influenced other novels, and films – Apocalypse Now, for example. And the figure of Marlow, the man telling the story in Heart of Darkness, he appears in detective fiction as well. So, it’s a very important and influential novel but there are real problems with it, especially in its representation of Africa and the people who inhabit what was then called the Belgian Congo. This makes it a challenging novel but one of the ways we have approached our adaptation is to make our own struggle with Conrad’s writing a crucial part of the staging.’
What are you taking from the novel for your production?
‘It’s a period of time that we are very interested in. I think an important strand of our work has been making a series of contemporary history plays but the focus to date has been on the period around and just after World War Two. So, looking at an earlier part of British and global history has been a new development for us. We are taking some of the historical context from the original but re-imagining from our particular point of view. We take Conrad’s story of the river journey and reset it as a road journey across a devastated Europe and our Kurtz is not in the depths of the rain forest but in a bombed-out building on the edge of London. Our Marlow is not a sailor but a private detective from Kinshasa, and she’s a black woman, not a man. So, we are reversing or creating as parallel version based on Conrad’s original. We keep some of the plot and tone, but it is a radical re-imagining. And this story, which is used to create a live film which is projected above the stage action, is framed by our struggle to deal with the Conrad, a kind of witty and condensed version of our actual process – our journey into our heart of darkness, if you like, – the heart of darkness of its making.’
How is imitating the dog approaching Conrad’s novel?
‘Well, as you can tell we are not being too reverential. But we are being respectful in many ways. Look, I think I can speak for the others when I say we like much of the novel but there are real problems in how it represents the victims of the colonialism it describes. It does not give them any kind of voice. And this is a profound problem that we have to deal with. On the other hand, Conrad seems to predict much of the horror of the twentieth century and observes how Europeans tested out their version of devastating capitalism and exploitation in the colonies before turning the lessons of this exploitation on themselves in the Europe and indeed in all other part of the world. So, we are dealing with the novel in a radical way, but one that we hope engages and entertains our audiences. I mean, we tell a great story and those who know the Conrad will see how it connects and those who don’t will hopefully go to the novel, if they’re interested, to see what the connections are. But you don’t have to know the novel to enjoy the show – you’ll just have a different experience.’
Will people recognise it as an imitating the dog production?
‘Yes, I think they will. It looks amazing and tells a vibrant, exciting story that will hold your attention. And the show deals with ideas – discusses them, which is another kind of storytelling. It uses live filmmaking and uses projection so it has our stamp on it, but I think it’s also taking us in a new and exciting direction.’
Who are imitating the dog’s audience?
‘We tour to mid-scale venues and are very aware that those audiences are very interested in the company. Because of our use of technology, we obviously appeal to a younger audience and students, but people my age – I am 58 – we are really interested in this age group as well. That’s what is exciting about middle scale touring – you can reach such a wide range of people. We want people to see our work because we feel that we have something important to say – I mean, why else would be doing it?’
Others have tried to translate Heart of Darkness to stage, film or television but not succeeded. Has imitating the dog cracked it?
‘Yes, there have been numerous attempts to adapt the novel. And many have been considered failures. So, we are aware of this history. It would be very arrogant to say we have cracked the novel because, well, it’s a very difficult novel to crack or indeed, pin down. All I can say is that I think we have been honest in our dealings with the novel and we have re-imagined it in a really exciting way. I look forward to seeing how audiences react to it.’