Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rachel Briscoe: Fabulism at Ovalhouse

By | Published on Thursday 8 October 2015

I love magic realism. So much so that pretty much any time I choose a book for my book group, they end up reading something that falls into that category. So of course I pricked up my ears when I heard that the autumn season at Ovalhouse has a magic realism element at its core.


Keen to find out more about the season, which goes under the name ‘Fabulism’, I put a few questions to the venue theatre director, Rachel Briscoe.

CM: Tell us what Fabulism is/means…? What kind of stuff can we expect from the shows under this banner?
RB: For me, Fabulism is about the combination of extraordinariness and ordinariness. It’s the incredible in the everyday. Our vision for Ovalhouse was to make it somewhere that really big ideas could be explored in fantastic ways, but also somewhere really down-to-earth. The artists in this season are showing that the two things are not mutually exclusive.

CM: Why did you want to focus on this particular style of work? Are you a fan of magic realism?
RB: How did you guess…?

CM: What made you isolate such a distinct theme for your whole autumn season? Is this the way you always do things?
RB: When we looked at the shows in the season, we were struck by how they were all so different – in subject, form, audience experience – but there was something about all of them which felt both reassuringly familiar and excitingly peculiar. This combination, this fabulism, is central to what Ovalhouse exists to do: combine an acknowledgement of how things are with a playfulness around how they could be if we turned the rules inside out. We may be a small theatre in south London where the internet goes at snail-speed when it rains, but the artists we’re working with are magic.

We don’t always have a theme for our seasons; we’d never want to shoehorn artists’ work under an umbrella that didn’t fit. But I really like it when a theme does emerge so clearly – I think it adds an extra element to the way audiences experience the season.

CM: So, can you tell us a little bit about each of the shows involved?
RB: OK, so we have 5 ‘finished’ shows and seven First Bites (works-in-development). Let’s do the ‘finished’ shows first.

First up is Selina Thompson, who is presenting ‘Dark and Lovely’, which is about Black British Female identity; we’ve been wanting to work with Selina for a while now, so we’re really thrilled she opens the season.

Susannah Hislop’s ‘How a Snake Sheds its Skin’ is a one woman show featuring Marilyn Monroe, Virginia Woolf and Margaret Thatcher (who invented Mr Whippy – I bet you didn’t know that).

fanSHEN’s ‘Invisible Treasure’ is an interactive digital playspace where audiences co-create the show; no actors and instead some cutting edge sensor and projection systems, courtesy of a collaboration with digital technologists Hellicar&Lewis.

In savagely humorous ‘Me and Mr C’, actor, improviser and comedian Gary Kitching is heckled by a vicious ventriloquist dummy.

‘LEAP’ is fantastical journey through a story whose teller becomes its unintentional heroine, by Newcastle-based artist Laura Lindow.

Now the FiRST BiTES… Leigh Obolewicz & O’Connor’s ‘Something Else’ is a post-digital Bonnie and Clyde; Tatty Hennessy’s ‘All that Lives’ is an alternative black history about a woman whose cells outlived her; Nick Field’s ‘Work Play’ is office-based cupcake-fuelled realpolitikking; ‘Here’s Hoping’ by Accidental Collective is about trying to have hope in the face of everything being pretty depressing; TFIU’s ‘Still’ is a performance and technology piece inspired by the life of photographer Vivian Maier, Xavier de Sousa’s ‘Saudade’ is about longing and belonging; and Amahra Spence’s ‘Abuelo’ is about a young woman’s legacy from her allotment-loving, story-telling grandfather.

CM: Is there anything you are especially looking forward to?
RB: Am I allowed to choose the show that I’m directing?! ‘Invisible Treasure’ is probably not like anything you’ll have experienced before. It’s a cross between a game, an installation and immersive theatre – I think it might feel like being inside a computer. It’s a piece about agency, human relationships and power. In the visual arts, and in music, it really feels like artists are embracing all the new tools that we have to play with, but -on the whole- theatre hasn’t done that yet.

‘Invisible Treasure’ is a collaboration with Hellicar&Lewis, who are perhaps most famous for the ‘Hello Cube’ project they did at Tate Modern. We’ve worked together to create a structure within which the audience author their own experience. Oh yeah, and there’s a two metre high rabbit with laser eyes!

For more information on the Fabulism season, which runs until late November, see this page here.