Sunday, 2 October 2011

Saturday Night - Another Quiet Night In With Vanishing Point

By the time you read this, Vanishing Point theatre company will have
almost finished the premiere run of their new show, Saturday Night, in
three Portuguese cities prior to opening in Glasgow next month. Back in
Glasgow rehearsal several weeks beforehand, and what's possibly the
biggest touring set in the world is waiting to be dismantled and
shipped out to foreign climes. For now, it's two-tiered expanse we're
allowed to peek into through full-length perspex windows holds court to
a series of private moments performed by half a dozen actors from three
different countries. The next day, however, this imitation of a
flat-pack ideal home des-res will be demolished, so there's nothing
left but a rehearsal room gap-site waiting for something as yet unknown
to replace it.

Behind the perspex, a pregnant woman attempts to turn a house into a
home. Upstairs, another woman moves in hypnotic motion in a rocking
chair. Back downstairs, the roof springs a leak, while a possible
intruder barges in as if he owns the place. As Vanishing Point director
Matthew Lenton directs an improvisation in a mix of French and English,
another quiet night in onstage looks set to be noised up by a set of
rude intrusions that will make up a companion piece of sorts to the
behind-closed-doors peep show of the company's 2009 international hit,
Interiors.

“We're making a dream play with dream logic, with actors who don't
speak my language, performing behind glass so no-one can hear, so its
nothing if not ambitious,” Lenton laughs as he attempts to qualify the
making of Saturday Night. “We're using a sort-of similar technique that
we used in Interiors, but it's a very different show. With Interiors we
discovered had a self-generating scenario that fed itself, where you're
essentially watching a group of people being intimate around a dinner
table. Saturday Night is a very different creature, because you have
three different rooms.

“So whereas Interiors is about zooming in on people, this has more of
the panoramic view. It's about coming out, and being able to balance
out different events that happen in different places at different
times. So if something big happens here, something tiny might happen
somewhere else, or just a door might open somewhere else again. We have
to decide whether that's all too much to take in. It's not like there's
any hard or fast rules. Some things that work one moment don't work the
next, so it really feels like we're discovering things literally moment
by moment.”

Lenton talks as he directs, stressing his points with force, but going
round the houses to get there, discovering what he's about as much as
anything. Such apparent lack of control goes some way to explaining the
process of making a show that was never intended to happen. Vanishing
Point had originally planned a piece provisionally called Wonderland,
developed from workshops run by Lenton at Ecole des Maites, an
international residential programme that puts directors of note with a
group of actors from different countries.

Wonderland was put on hold, however, after one of the company's
international partners, the Naples Theatre Festival, postponed its own
operations following a change of political administration in the city.
Rather than allow such an inconvenience to dampen their ardour, Lenton
and his team thought laterally. Saturday Night, co-produced with
Tramway and three Portuguese theatres in Porto, GuimarĂ£es and Lisbon,
is the result.

“Ideas had been bubbling away for some time,” says Lenton, “then when
Wonderland was put on hold they came to the fore. There was a desire to
explore further what we did in Interiors, and a curiosity to find out
what happens if we have more than one space and tell a story that goes
from one place to another. I'd had a feeling about doing something
about a house as a shelter from the outside world, but also as an
investment for one's future.

“There was a general fascination with houses and homes, and what makes
a home, how we live in them and whether they can protect us. All the
things you hope for and expect to have, nature can interfere with. You
want to have a nice home, you want to be in love, and you want to be in
control of all these things, but in the end, nature being this chaotic
force, it can have a terrible impact on your life. That's a really
important force in this show, those non-rational things that can change
everything, and I wanted to tell that story through images and
atmosphere.”

In keeping with such visual inspirations, Lenton cites American
photographer Gregory Crewdson as an influence. Crewdson's elaborately
constructed studies of small-town American living rooms themselves look
to David Lynch's film, Blue Velvet, and the paintings of Edward Hopper.
For Lenton, it's the moody ambiguity of all these that appeals; the
feeling that anything could happen if it hasn't done so already.

“As a viewer you have to put your own meaning on these images,” Lenton
observes. “If you look at a Gregory Crewdson photograph of a child
lying on the floor, a mother on a sofa and a man behind a window with a
torch, you have to work to find a meaning for it. You have to dream,
and write your story about the events you see. They're very clear
images, but you have to ask yourself what's going on in this world, why
they're there, why they're sitting in the way they are, and what's
going on out of shot. I'm really interested in making something like
that, where the audience have to work rather than being told what's
happening, and I know some people won't like that. For me, it's not
about work. It's play, and I want people to be beguiled by what they're
looking at.”

As an example of the sort of theatrical dream-state he's aiming for,
Lenton cites Breathe, a dramatic installation inspired by Samuel
Beckett's life and death miniature, Breath. Breathe appeared in
Edinburgh in a specially constructed space backstage at the Royal
Lyceum Theatre.

“There was nothing,” Lenton remembers, “just four letter-box shaped
movie frames, a thin film of water, and the sound of breathing. The
lights would come up and down, and every now and then there'd be a puff
of smoke. I sat there absolutely hypnotised, because I dreamt all my
own stuff. For me, there were little people in there, there were
creatures, and I totally went into this dream-world. I was so excited
by that, and I suppose there's some of that in what we’re trying to do.
You can either sit back and not engage, or you can dream about what
these people might be talking about, or what they're relationship is,
and put all these pieces together yourself.”

Despite such a willingness to lay his work open to interpretation, a
very singular vision remains.

“I always think of it as falling in love with something,” Lenton says.
“You have a love affair with an idea that won't go away, and that's the
thing you work on next, even though you might not necessarily
understand what it's all about.”

Saturday Night, Tramway, Glasgow, October 7-15, then tours.
www.vanishing-point.org

The Herald, September 27th 2011

ends

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