Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Emily Louizou: The Coral

By | Published on Friday 30 September 2022

Opening at Finborough Theatre this week is a production of ‘The Coral’ by renowned expressionist writer Georg Kaiser.

Written in the early twentieth century, it’s part of a trilogy of plays about different members of the same family.

Helming this revival, which is produced by her company Collide Theatre, is Emily Louizou. I spoke to her to find out more about the play and the playwright, but also about Emily and her career.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative and themes of the play? What story does it tell?  
EL: ‘The Coral’ is about the struggle between a millionaire and his two daughters, who want to change the status quo.

The millionaire – an autocratic boss of a number of factories – is desperate to run away from his traumatic past, trying to make as much money as possible in order to distance himself from his unhappy, poverty-stricken childhood.

There’s lots of family drama, but the play at its heart is a political thriller and a parable for capitalism’s weaknesses! 

CM: It’s part of a trilogy – can you tell us more about that and how this play fits into it? 
EL: Georg Kaiser wrote ‘The Coral’ in 1917, before knowing that he would then move on to write ‘Gas I’ and ‘Gas II’ in the following three years.

He called them all the ‘Gas Trilogy’, but in reality, they are self-contained plays which each feature a different generation of the same family. All three plays have this incredible sense of dark humour and philosophical undertones.

My favourite one is ‘The Coral’ because it still depicts the younger generation as hopeful and strong enough to escape the miseries inflicted on them by the generation of their fathers.  

CM: The play was written more than a hundred years ago. What relevance does it have for contemporary audiences?
EL: There’s always a real sense of discovery when you read something written a century ago. You start reading it, and you keep marvelling at the fact that people have the same questions and conflicts still.

I love old plays, because it’s eye-opening when you realise how mankind has just gone round in circles and that in essence – as human beings – we don’t change. I grew up in Athens, so studying and watching the ancient Greek tragedies significantly informed my fascination for older plays.

I think the relevance for contemporary audiences can be tremendous, and the impact quite big. But of course, it is the director’s and creative team’s responsibility to not treat these plays as ‘museum pieces’ but as ‘living organisms’ which need to be re-introduced to a contemporary audience.

I still remember the first time I read ‘The Coral’ and how vividly its themes of family trauma, inequality and greed spoke to me. We’re looking forward to sharing it with an audience!  

CM: It’s an expressionist play, isn’t it? Can you explain what that means in relation to a stage play?  
EL: Yes, it is indeed! The play was written during the German expressionist movement which roughly lasted from 1910 to 1925. The movement originated as a response to the newly formed smoke-filled towns, brought about by the industrial revolution. It was mostly during and after the chaos of World War I that the movement really flourished.  

So, what this means in relation to ‘The Coral’ is that its themes are related to this movement: a stark rejection of the past, the haunting presence of one’s past choices, the realisation of the inadequacy of existing values and ideas which leads to a conflict between the old and new generation.  

An expressionist play can also mean a rejection of naturalism. This is something that my work with Collide always aims to achieve: to aesthetically break from realism and to depict a dream-reality.

Indeed, expressionism as a movement pushed for abstraction, distortion and the grotesque. Without rejecting psychology – this was the time of Freud’s psychoanalysis after all – it dives deep into the alienation and isolation of the individual in modern, urban society, also reflecting the crisis of the modern ego. In a nutshell, expect the nightmarish feel of a Kafka story and a Bacon painting!  

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?  
EL: Georg Kaiser was one of the most influential writers of German expressionism. He was born in Germany in 1878 and he soon became the most frequently performed playwright of the Weimar Republic.

However, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, Kaiser’s works were forbidden: his books were burned, and in 1935 he was stripped of his German citizenship.

In 1938 he went into exile in Switzerland, where he died. The Nazis’ ban on his work was detrimental to his future writing and career. It is fascinating, though, to see how much Kaiser has influenced Brecht’s work – Brecht himself has recognised him as an inspiration.

Kaiser was a great ‘Denkspieler’ – a player with ideas – a visionary social critic, an introverted subjectivist and a nihilist! 

CM: What made you want to stage this particular work?
EL: The themes of the play really spoke to me. I belong to a generation which has inherited a world full of problems and crises.

Growing up in Athens, Greece at the time when the economic crisis was at its peak, has implanted a lot of insecurity and fear in me and my generation about how we are supposed to live in a world which is inherently corrupt and confused in its values.

I am a big fan of expressionism – both in terms of film, theatre and visual art. I love when artists draw inspiration from the subconscious and from dreams. It is such a rich reserve of how complex our mind and psyche is.  

CM: Can you tell us about Collide Theatre? What prompted you to form your own company and what aims and ethos does the company have?  
EL: I was still an undergrad student at UCL when I felt the need to explore international plays with artists from diverse creative practices. The first two productions we created were site-specific and promenade, very visually creative, staging two pieces that had informed my theatre practice massively: Heiner Müller’s ‘Hamletmachine’ and Sarah Kane’s ‘4.48 Psychosis’. 

Seven years later, Collide has worked with more than 50 British and international artists – counting dozens of nationalities in our rehearsal rooms! – and lots of inspiring people. Our aim remains to experiment with text, live music, dance and storytelling. We choose to speak through old myths, fairytales and classics from across the globe – and to produce work which pushes the boundaries of realism.  

CM: And what about you? How did you come to be working in the arts? Was it always what you wanted to do? What steps did you take to begin/further your career?   
EL: I always knew I wanted to work in theatre! I wrote my first play at the age of ten – and kept writing plays and short stories throughout high school.

At some point I thought I wanted to be a dancer, then an actor, and it was only at university – studying English Literature – that the penny really dropped, and I saw that directing was what I wanted to do. I then trained on Birkbeck’s MFA in Theatre Directing where I met some of the most amazing artists, mentors and directors.

Since graduating, I have been working on developing Collide further, and have worked in some great organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company.

During the COVID period, I was invited on an Opera Directing Course run by the Royal Opera House and led by the incredible Katie Mitchell. It was a real eye-opener and I am really looking forward to delving deeper into the opera world soon!  

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?  
EL: Directing and adapting Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ in 2019 was a real highlight. It has been a story of alienation which has always fascinated me – and Kafka has been consistently such an incredible source of inspiration.

The project was initially supported by Home in Manchester which hosted and funded our research and development in 2018, and then it was supported by the Arts Council and VOILA Europe Festival for a one week run at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden in 2019.

We were then invited to be part of the Incoming Festival by the New Diorama – featuring the best emerging theatre from across the UK.  

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?  
EL: In an industry which has lately received so many blows, I genuinely wish and hope to be able to continue telling stories with groups of exciting and talented individuals.

Making theatre – and telling stories – has always been a fundamental part of our communities. I would hate for this to become a privilege that only the few of us can afford.

So, my ambition for the future is that theatre-making and theatre-watching can remain accessible to all and can continue to bring together groups of people from all walks of life. I think that sharing experiences, sharing stories and sharing emotions is the key to not losing our humanity.  

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?   
EL: I am very excited to continue working on a great one-woman piece that we first started developing last year. It is called ‘The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree’ and is inspired by the Greek myth of Daphne who was turned into a tree in order to escape from a male god who was obsessively chasing her.

The play is written by Swedish author Lisa Langseth – who is such an inspiring woman – if you haven’t watched her ‘Love & Anarchy’ series on Netflix, then I highly recommend it! – and I am looking forward to spending more time with her.

The piece is really a witty exploration of a young woman’s loneliness and mental health. It will be on at the Omnibus in Clapham in April 2023!  

‘The Coral’ is on at the Finborough Theatre from 4-29 Oct, see the venue website here for information and to book.

LINKS: | | | |