Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview Theatre Interview

Patrick Collier: The Marked

By | Published on Thursday 13 October 2016


Theatre Témoin first came to our attention via the Edinburgh Festival, where they’ve staged a number of shows, and it was great to hear that they’d be bringing their 2016 show ‘The Marked’ to Ovalhouse this month.
The play, a blend of physical theatre and poetry, focuses on a story of being homeless in London. To find out more, I spoke to creative producer Patrick Collier.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the show? Who are the characters and what is the story?
PC: ‘The Marked’ follows the story of a boy called Jack, and jumps between his present day life on the streets of London, and the people he meets, alongside flashbacks to his past, presented as a fantastical world of childhood monsters and demons.

CM: What made you decide you wanted to focus on homelessness?
PC: We began talking about what home means. This is something that everyone can relate to – what it means to feel “at home”? What kind of head space the notion of home provides for you? This is particularly relevant for people who have moved to London, and from that grew a consideration of what it would mean not to have that space.

Homelessness has gone through a shocking increase in the UK in recent years and the problem is only getting worse. We wanted to share this experience, to tap into what it feels like to have to run from things and people that are supposed to keep you safe.

CM: Do you want the show to raise awareness of homelessness? Do you think theatre can make a difference in this way?
PC: Yes absolutely, though it’s perhaps too simple to say this is an “awareness raising” play. We’ve built this show from personal experiences, and the experience of homelessness is not something that people empathise enough with. As with all of our work, we wanted to create a fantastical space where the inner workings of our character’s mind were made physical on-stage. We hope that people will connect with this.

CM: What research did you do before covering this topic, and who did you talk to about it?
PC: Témoin go through an extensive period of R&D for every show. With ‘The Marked’, we worked for 18 months running creative workshops with people with experience of homelessness. We find that this shared creative experience is much more enlightening and much more useful than interviewing people. From these workshops, ideas are formed and stories appear. We then take on paid creative consultants with experience of the subject that we’re talking about. They come into rehearsals, give feedback, and help to create a nuanced experience on-stage that reflects a lived experience.

CM: You devise the content of your shows. Can you tell us a bit about how that process works?
PC: The process always starts with us embedding ourselves with the community that we’re talking about. Our actors and creative team spend time really getting to know the issues around the piece. Then, in the rehearsal room, characters begin to emerge through improvisation. The process usually divides then between tabletop scripting work and physical play, so that physicality and the potential for physical storytelling stays at the centre of our work. Usually we do a few R&D performances, come out hating everything we’ve done, and continue to reshape it until opening night! With devising work, it always amazes me how much of an impact the process of ‘tweaking’ can have, and this continues right through a performance run.

CM: Can you tell us more about the company? Who runs it? How did it come together? What are Theatre Témoin’s aims and ambitions?
PC: Témoin is run by me and Ailin Conant. The company was founded by Ailin and Julia Yevnine (she’s now moved to Chile!) back in 2007, with a drive to use physical theatre to present unheard voices onstage.

We are oth are trained in Lecoq / LISPA methodologies, and we collaborate with a broad ensemble of actor/devisers. In the last few years the reputation of the company has exploded, starting with the runaway success of ‘The Fantasist’ in 2013. It was amazing to go back to Edinburgh this year, in a big theatre, and to have so many people know us and have booked ahead to see us.

We also have a passion for getting into the theatre the people who would not normally buy a ticket, and in 2014 began working with the wonderful Ciara Brennan as Participation Producer. She works tirelessly to build bridges with vulnerable communities.

CM: Do you have the same physical theatre approach with all your shows? Do they always involve puppetry?
PC: Physical, yes. Puppetry, not always. We look for the best way to tell every story. Usually we feel the potential for the body to share experience and tell stories is underused in theatre, so our work tends to go in that direction.

CM: The company has been in operation for nearly a decade, hasn’t it? What would you say your highlights have been?
PC: Edinburgh has always been a treat. When we took ‘The Fantasist’ there in 2013, it was completely booked out in advance. Bringing ‘The Marked’ there this year was an incredible experience as it’d been a while since we’d produced anything there, so it was deeply flattering and relieving to know we still had an audience at the Festival.

However, I think our biggest wins have been in the conversations after performances with people who’ve been deeply touched by a production, and who’ve seen their own experience related in it. Whether that was conversations about mental health after ‘The Fantasist’, or conversations with soldiers about PTSD on army bases after performances of ‘Nobody’s Home’, or more recently about alcoholism and ideas of home after ‘The Marked’… these conversations remind us of why we do this in the first place!

CM: As you say, ‘The Marked’ has already had a run in Edinburgh – what happens after Ovalhouse? Does it go into retirement or are there touring plans?
PC: We’ll be touring! We go straight to Everyman Cheltenham Theatre at the end of October – they co-produced the show and are a home away from home. Next year, we’ll tour the UK, and have a few far-flung international dates booked in. Watch this space!

CM: What’s coming up next?
PC: Ah – the most exciting question! Off the back of ‘The Marked’ we’ve started a partnership with The Lowry in Manchester to support the development of a new show. It’s very early days yet – we’re in that beautiful period of just throwing around ideas, for now. We’ll also continue to tour our other show ‘Nobody’s Home’ to military audiences and hope to spark some discussion around PTSD in the military, alongside the tour of ‘The Marked’. So it’ll be a busy year!

‘The Marked’ is on at Ovalhouse from 13-22 Oct. See the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.

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