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New Year New Projects and thoughts on the end of the autumn tour

10th January 2015 by Morven Macbeth

Whenever we tour shows to other countries, something that interests us most is how audiences respond to the work, what they take from it, how they experience it. If you take the view that people are essentially the same the world over and work from there then it’s the little differences I suppose.

Coming to Italy with A Farewell to Arms, we were prepared for audiences to be more vocal perhaps than we were used to having performed the show in the UK for the last 2 months. All of our recent work has used a ‘frame’, a physical mask that literally frames the stage, with each show becoming more ‘open’, revealing more of the live actor. Performing Hotel Methuselah, in which the actors played behind a solid mask with a central 18’ aperture cut out of it, revealing only from our shoulders to their knees, we became quite used to gauging how an audience was responding to the show by the quality of the silence. Or not, as we discovered when we took the show to Turin in Italy and Baku in Azerbaijan in particular.

Of course the best way to find out what an audience made of the last 75 minutes of their lives is to talk to them. Touring outside the UK we soon learned that often theatres don’t have a bar in the building so as soon as the performance is over the audience disperses and the opportunity to have a chat to people is therefore almost always lost. Being in Ancona for a few days with A Farewell to Arms meant that we bumped into audience members in the street who’d seen the show the night before which was great. People were very generous with their feedback and if we get the opportunity to go back to Italy we’ll certainly be taking comments made on board.

Personally I am a great believer in the value of post-show discussions. Obviously some are more interesting than others but at their best they can be hugely illuminating, creatively useful and actually thoroughly enjoyable for everyone taking part. In Ancona we were asked to hold a pre-show discussion on the third performance day – a first for us admittedly – but it gave people who had already seen the show the opportunity to come and talk about their experience and also anyone about to see the show to ask any questions that they felt may aid their understanding and (hopefully) enjoyment of the work. I’ll never, ever forget the post-show discussion we had in Beirut following a performance of Hotel Methuselah which was invited to be part of the Beirut Spring Festival in 2012. Almost the entire audience stayed to join the discussion. It was honestly an evening that will stay with me as someone who makes theatre, as a human being, for the rest of my days.

Thoughts are now turning to the next two imitating the dog shows, one smaller one slightly bigger no doubt, and to the other projects we’ll be involved with in various ways in 2015. Looking forward very much to working with Oldham Coliseum again, this time on The Mist in the Mirror whilst other members of the company will be in Batumi, Georgia in January and February working on a new version of The Zero Hour with a Georgian theatre company, directed by Giorgi Tavadze at Batumi State Musical Center.

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