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ITD at 21: Pete Brooks looks back at making ‘The Train’

29th August 2019 by Morven Macbeth

Our 2014 tour of A Farewell to Arms had been a big success.  However, the size of the set meant that we couldn’t take it to many of the smaller studio venues which had up until that time been at the core of our touring circuit. A strategic decision was made, to make next a smaller scale show that we could tour easily. Well, as T. S. Eliot wrote, ‘between the idea and the reality falls the shadow’.

We had an idea for a piece which was based on the opening speech from our earlier show The Zero Hour, which was itself an idea very influenced, if not actually stolen, from Juan Luis Borges’ great short story ‘The Library of Babel’. The idea was that of a train which is effectively the universe, endlessly long and travelling at 50 mph in an arc of infinite radius. Immersivity has never particularly been our thing.  We are always too concerned to control the trajectory of the narrative, but in this case we wanted to create a kind of immersive intimacy.  We started out with the idea of a limited audience in a movable auditorium, on tracks and able to revolve, effectively to act like a camera, able to track, pan and even after a fashion zoom in and out.

Laura Hopkins’ set was fantastic, a longitudinal cross section of train which was continually projection mapped (using 13 projectors) and which facilitated the illusion that the audience was moving along a line of train carriages many times longer than the space they were in.

This was the world of the piece and in it a woman who in another reality (maybe ours) is dealing with the death of her husband looks for her lost child. It was psychoanalytic dreamscape meets hard science fiction; early Lars von Trier meets Iain M. Banks.

Unfortunately, it was also enormous, both physically and in terms of complexity. The show ran successfully for a month in Italy but was only performed in 2 UK venues. The set however is still in storage and if and when we make a lot of money on a West End transfer we fully intend to give it another outing.

The show contains one of my favourite moments. The two protagonists sit in a carriage looking out at the lights of what is obviously a city and speculate on what they might be:

The Man: Ever wonder what’s out there?

Amy: Not anymore.

The Man: As a child I found it fascinating. The lights, those large, whatever they are… structures? Vertical as opposed to our horizontal world. Stationary, perhaps. Whereas on the train we are always moving. As a child I was sure that there were people out there. Civilisations beyond the tracks. We only see the fleeting moment outside the window. There, gone, there, gone. There, gone. That’s the great mystery. We can never go back and see it again. It’s interesting how we hurtle forwards. Time unfolding. Piling up. Before us. And in the face of this endless forward movement we find some solace in repetition, in the cycles that make up our lives. Like a child coming into the world and then its leaving. Even with all the pain that accompanies its arrival. But you know all about this?

Amy: Do I?

The Man: Our desire for progeny. As if it might give us some stability in the constant rush towards what? Our ending? A different beginning, but the same journey that is always going onwards? The pen scratches the start of a new sentence and whatever arc it describes across the page we inevitably end at the full stop. And in between all we have is a little… punctuation.

Pete Brooks
August 2019

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