Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Matthew Lenton - Into Tomorrow With Vanishing Point

Things change when you get older. Just look at Tomorrow, the latest
theatrical meditation from Vanishing Point, which plays its only
Scottish dates at Tramway from this weekend following its premiere in
Brighton and follow-up dates in Brazil. In the company's Glasgow
rehearsal room, a largely youngish cast from Scotland, England, Russia
and Brazil convene under director Matthew Lenton's guidance to go
through a scene in what, despite only makeshift scenery, conjures up
the slightly derelict feel of an old people's home.

As the cast assemble, their natural ebullience seems to slow as they
ease into character. When they cover their faces with tight-fitting
latex rubber masks, the transformation is complete. Only when one or
other of them breaks into their natural stride do things jar.
Otherwise, it's as if time itself has caught up with them in an instant.

“I was interested in doing something about care,” says Lenton. “I had
this image of having a cast in their eighties or nineties, but to have
one young actor hidden among them wearing this realistic age make-up
like Kate Winslet had in Titanic when she became the old lady. I wanted
to have this really slow piece of theatre where almost nothing happens,
but then in the last ten minutes one of them begins to do things that
should be physically impossible for them to do.

“Then I had this idea of using a mask somehow, so we bought one to try
it out in a development week, and it became apparent really quickly
that, as good as masks are, as soon as you put them next to an old
person on a stage, they're not convincing. Once we realised that wasn't
going to work, I thought, well, let's reverse it, and see what happens
if you have a young person in a mask, so the mask then takes on a much
more metaphorical quality, because the audience can see what's
happening, and you're asking them to buy into the metaphor, as they
watch someone becoming old in an instant.”

As Lenton explains himself, what he says becomes as close an
approximation as you'll get to the instinctive nature of Vanishing
Point's methodology, which occupies a dreamier, more magical-realist
landscape than more straight-ahead theatre companies. Despite Lenton's
observations too of Tomorrow as “a chamber piece, much more intimate
than a lot of other stuff we've done lately, which has been big and
visual,” as the play lurches into other worlds, there are recognisable
Vanishing Point tics that come through in a typically expansive
co-production with Brighton Festival, Tramway and Cena Contemporanea in
Brasilia in association with partners in Sao Paulo and Moscow as well
as Platform in Easterhouse and the National Theatre Studio in London.

While several plays have looked at ageing over the last few years by
way of the effects of alzheimer's disease and euthanasia, the subject
has crept into Vanishing Point's other work almost subliminally. Both
Interiors and Saturday Night have featured characters in need of care,
while the second half of the company's last show, The Beautiful Cosmos
of Ivor Cutler, focused more explicitly on the late poet and singer's
fading health in his later years.

But beyond the aesthetics of Tomorrow, there there are some pretty
serious questions being asked in what sounds like a very personal work
for Lenton.

“It's about who cares for people and how you care for them,” he says,
“and whether vocational care is better than care by nurses who do it
for the money, and whether at the point of delivery whether one is any
better than the other. That all comes from the simple idea that we'll
all need care one day if we're lucky and we're not hit by a bus before
then. There's not much choice in being cared for, because we'll all
need it, but there's a much greater choice in deciding to care for
someone, how you do that, and what limits it pushes you to as a carer.

“All of these ideas are  rich to me in the piece, but I wanted them to
be embedded, and I wanted the piece to be like a poem. I'm very
interested in stuff these days which invites an audience to make their
meaning for themselves, so we create something that has all these
things in it, but an audience has to look for what they take out of it.”

Tomorrow, Tramway, Glasgow, Oct 3-11.

The Herald, September 30th 2014


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