Working with Babeworld on inaugral Digital Routes programme
6th October 2021
Kellerman, made in 2007 and premiered in its full version in 2008, was ITD’s first large-scale work. Looking back, I am amazed how ambitious we were given that we did not have a reputation for making work that might tour to middle scale venues, nor the infrastructure to actually get venues on board to show the piece to audiences. It was our second show with Pete Brooks, who had co-written and directed Hotel Methuselah with me two years earlier. Key to the project was our designer Laura Hopkins, who had completed all the design work for Hotel Methuselah and founder member and Co-artistic Director, Simon Wainwright, whose focus on creating the digital video aspects of the project would force him having to drop out of playing one of the central roles. In fact, Kellerman, was the last time that Simon properly performed for the company, playing the double of Harry Kellerman, but more on that in a moment.
So, Kellerman’s massive set, a thirty foot wide and 15 foot high box of tricks, with moving panels, a hidden revolve with a running machine, front and back projection and a proscenium-like moving front mask that could close down the space entirely, meant that we had to abandon the studio touring circuit that we had come to love and rely upon over the previous nine years and seek out new venues and perhaps new audiences. Looking back, I think we were only partially successful in that we did not tour to many venues in the UK, but Kellerman, for all its challenges, and there were many, marked a significant change of direction for the company.
We were lucky in that we got a pretty large ACE Grants for the Arts for Kellerman and Laura came up with a wonderful and evocative design. In many ways, the design pursued some of the scenographic approaches that we had developed in Hotel Methuselah, and Laura produced a whole raft of watercolours and drawings that Simon blended with other material to create the visual world within which we could tell our story. Our sources were graphic novels, time travel films and Lars Von Trier’s The Element of Crime (1984). An eclectic mix that created the paranoid and distorted world of Harry Kellerman. It was not an easy rehearsal period and we created two versions after we had to postpone the show because the set did not actually work mechanically. There were illnesses too and at one point it felt like the production was cursed to fail. But it didn’t. The show kind of worked for all its grandeur and ambition. I have great memories of performing it at Bristol Old Vic as part of MayFest, of putting it on in St Etienne during a fierce winter and then in Taiwan for a digital arts festival a couple of years later.
Kellerman marked a significant moment for the company in so many ways. It’s strange but we could not do such a piece of work these days – it would be too risky, financially, for sure and the middle scale just would not put it on because they would say it would not sell. Kellerman was made in a different time – before the financial crash, before David Cameron, before Brexit. It was a show in which I think we grew up as a company and although Hotel Methuselah went on to tour to many more venues it remains one of my favourites.
One of the things certain people did not like about it was the fact the performers lip- synched to the projected soundtrack. This technique was a product of its time – we could not make the video and sound track any other way. Now, of course, we could do all the dialogue live and I think this would make quite a difference, lessening the sense of alienation that lip synching inevitably produces. I’d love to go back to this show. I’d love to see Simon perform again. All the work since Kellerman has been haunted by its aesthetics and we carried on working with all its cast for several years – Morven Macbeth, Adam Nash, Laura Atherton, Anna Wilson-Hall, Alice Booth and Tony Guilfoyle who performed on the video track. The tech team was great as well – Andrew Crofts, Ian Ryan, Laurence Reekie and Dave Jay. Twelve years ago, but it still stays with us.
Kellerman was not easy to write. Maybe it was something about the narrative and Harry’s descent into his paranoid world where he thought he could travel through time. Maybe it was the mix of genres. I remember a vital week in Aegina, a small island just off the coast from Athens. Pete promised me sun, time and Retsina. It rained the whole week I was there. And what rain it was. Hard and relentless. But there was Retsina and squid and a lot of writing was completed. We solved the problems of the show then and it cemented the way Pete and I collaborate as well.
6th October 2021