Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Andrew Westerside: The Audit

By | Published on Wednesday 7 March 2018

You might already be aware of producing company Proto-Type Theatre, whose acclaimed previous production ‘A Machine they’re Secretly Building’ was on at the Edinburgh Festival last summer, and subsequently in London in the autumn. They’re bringing a new piece, ‘The Audit’ to Artsdepot this week.

To find out more about the show, I spoke to Andrew Westerside, writer and director of the play, and co-artistic director of the company.

CM: Can you start by telling us what kind of show to expect? How would you define it in terms of its genre?
AW: The Audit is a two-hander that weaves together text, music, film, animation, and a little spoken word into an angry bundle that unpacks and reflects on the fallout of the 2008 financial crash, as well as our wider cultural relationship to money and power. In terms of genre, I’d call it contemporary political theatre. It speaks directly to the world that we live in, and asks us to think about our place in the bigger political and economic picture.

CM: It sounds like there are lots of different elements to it – what are they, and how do they gel together?
AW: They key elements of the show are the performers, the projection, and the sound. We think about the sound and projected images as ‘performers’, too – so that sometimes the sound is centre-stage, sometimes projection, sometimes the performers. The balance of how those three things are interacting at all times is how the show finds its rhythm, and how we tell our story. In the big ‘storm’ section, for instance, it’s the performers and the sound fighting to be heard, in the opening sequence, it’s a dialogue between a single performer and the images projected on the screen.

CM: What is it about? Does it tell a story? Or does it examine ideas and themes?
AW: The show follows the story of Eva, a young Icelandic woman at the time leading up to and after the crash of 2008. We see the global banking crisis unfold and unravel through her eyes, and it’s from her perspective, and the perspective of the performers that narrate her, that we also see the political and economic stories that are at the heart of the piece: the great depression, reckless investment banking, corrupt ratings agencies, tax evasion, austerity, personal responsibility and collective power.

CM: What are the primary themes of the show?
AW: For me, although there are many, the primary themes of the show are greed, humanity, and our real desire for change and to imagine something else, something better. Eva’s story is our, collective story of being caught up in the neoliberal machine – we’re so tied up and so complicit in all of it that it’s impossible for us to see a way out of it, partly because we’re told so often that there is no other way.

Contemporary UK politics is a great example: yes, Labour and the Conservatives hold different values at their heart, but neither of them want to radically change some of the underlying power structures that govern our lives; there isn’t really a viable political party that does, and I guess that’s because we don’t really know what that alternative would look like – that’s part of the problem. So absolutely, the show is about money, and economics, and greed, but it’s about us, and our future, and where we might (collectively) go from here.

CM: What inspired you to tackle this particular subject?
AW: Making our last show, ‘A Machine they’re Secretly Building’, lots of our conversations turned to money. Who has it, who needs it, how it moves, who is moved by it and why. When we came back to the studio at the start of 2017, those nagging questions about money (and later, economics and finance) hadn’t been shaken off, so when we went down to Artsdepot for a residence in January of 2017 we started with a really simple question: what is money? As you can imagine, that gave us an enormous amount of ground to cover. From gold shortages in Tiberius’ Rome to corporate tax avoidance in the 21st century. Of course, we couldn’t ‘do’ all of it – so we spent much of our early process looking for a story or an angle that we felt could encapsulate or express our frustrations.

CM: It’s obviously political: what intentions do you have when you approach something like this? To make people think? Effect change?
AW: More than wanting people to think, we want people to know. So much of contemporary life, especially with regard to politics, business, and finance, is either too complex for non-specialists to understand, or shrouded in layers of media spin. As a writer and director, the films of Adam Curtis have been a huge inspiration – there’s something angry and cynical about his work, put together with a beautiful flow that feels theatrical. Like our last show, A Machine they’re Secretly Building, this is absolutely about awareness. You can only be empowered once you’re informed, and we’re trying to find ways to tell complex (and sometimes incredibly dense) stories in ways that make people want to engage with them. In ‘The Audit’… I hope we do that through a mix of outrage and empathy.

CM: How do you put a show like this together? What’s the creative process?
AW: For this show, lots of thinking and lots of talking. It took us a long time to find the ‘centre’ of this story, and there could have easily been other things we focussed on. Once we’d hit on Iceland as the heart of the show, it’s then a process of writing, drawing, animating and composing, seeing how that looks, feels and sounds in the space, and then going back to make refinements, edits, clarifications. That process sort of ‘loops’ itself over and over until the show builds like a snowball, and you can start to sense a rhythm or a beat that carries the material. Once that bigger shape’s there, you can start to refine and really focus on particular moments, movements and deliveries.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Proto-Type? How did the company come together, and what are its aims.
AW: Proto-type have been together in the UK since 2008 (although the company goes back to 1997 in the US). At the moment we’re interested in making theatre that speaks directly to the world and lives of our audiences. We’re trying to find ways to tell stories about really big, really complex ideas. Last time, that was state-sanctioned surveillance (which is then also about privacy and rights), and now money (which is then also about individual and collective power and responsibility). We make contemporary theatre, so we’re always trying to think in interesting ways about what theatre is and what it can do in the twenty-first century.

CM: Does the company have any particular ambitions for the future?
AW: Right now, I think we’d really like to take this show to Iceland! It would be an incredible experience to present that story back to the people that inspired it and the actions that shaped it. More broadly, I think we just want to keep connecting with our audiences in meaningful ways – whatever shape or form that comes in. We’ve been talking for a while about these political works as a potential trilogy – so there could be a third and final part coming in the next couple of years (watch this space!).

CM: What’s coming up next after the date at Artsdepot?
AW: After Artsdepot we go straight up the M1 to Leeds to perform at the HUB on 11 Mar (a really great venue run by the fabulous Slung Low). It’s a really interesting space to perform work like the HUB, because it has a bit of a bunker-like feel to it, so you get a vibe of being at a secret meeting. Perfect for us when we’re feeling rebellious! After that we’re off to Lincoln Performing Arts Centre on 13 Mar, and then Oxford Playhouse on the 14 and 15 Mar. We’re on a little break then, as we take our last piece (‘A Machine they’re Secretly Building’) to Settle Stories festival, but we’ll be back on the road later on in the spring.

‘The Audit’ is on at Artsdepot on 10 Mar, see this page here for more information and to book.

LINKS: | |

Photo: Adam York Gregory