Monday, 13 April 2015

Suzanne Andrade - 1927, Golem, The Magic Flute and Beyond

When the 1927 company won a Herald Angel in 2007 for their debut show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, its spooky mix of cut-glass spoken-word vignettes, pasty-faced vintage-styled cabaret and atmosphere-soaked animation was one of the major hits of that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Eight years on, the company co-founded in 2005 by writer, director and performer Suzanne Andrade with animator and illustrator Paul Barritt look set to return to Edinburgh this August. Rather than appear on the Fringe, however, the company will form part of Fergus Linehan's inaugural programme as director of Edinburgh International Festival with their collaboration with Australian enfant terrible Barrie Kosky on a version of Mozart's The Magic Flute.

This week, however sees 1927 transfer their most recent show, Golem, to the West End following a successful outing at the Young Vic, who co-produced the show with the Salzburg Festival and Theatre de la Ville in Paris.

Based on the Jewish legend of of a being made out of clay who was brought to life, Golem has clear resonances for a company such as 1927 whose use of animation is central to their aesthetic.

“Paul and I read Gustav Meyrink's novel, Der Golem,” Andrade explains on a break from rehearsals for the show, “and thought that this image of a man who makes this other man out of clay was something that might be fun for 1927 to explore. We knew we were going to do it as a show one day, but we didn't know when.

“Then after we did The Animals and Children, I started looking closely at the original Jewish myth, and at the same time I began reading a lot about artificial intelligence and cloning, and looked at my friends and how we're all becoming dependent on technology. Out of that I started thinking about these ideas about control, and about how, with mobile phones and computers, you think you're in control, but you're very subtly being controlled by your own Golem.”

While Andrade started writing a series of monologues for what would become Golem, it was only when 1927 were on tour in America that the show's other facets started to fall into place.

“There was this insane street,” says Andrade, “that was full of these old vaudeville theatres and lots of homeless people, and we took lots of pictures, and Paul started drawing that world. We knew that we had to set the piece in a city where there as no anarchy or chaos, but where it was completely controlled.

“Technology is pervasive in ways we now take for granted, and I spend my life trying to resist it. I don't have an iphone and I don't use Apple, and sometimes my friends look at me and go, Aww, why is she making her life more difficult, but I think we need to question whether technology has to be so pervasive, and just now and then try and take a step back from it.”

For all the company's retro stylings, given the extent to which 1927's own work relies on technology there's an irony to Golem's preoccupations which Andrade remains fully aware of.

“We're completely dependent on technology,” Andrade happily admits. “the technical aspects of 1927's work are just as important as the music and the performances, but Paul is an illustrator, not an animator, and the language that comes out of his mouth when he has to try and deal with new technology is choice to say the least. We're constantly trying to make our work look old and knackered, and digital is a dirty word.”

This was something a party of Americans couldn't quite get their heads round when they saw the show during its initial run in 2014 at the Young Vic.

“They got really confused,” says Andrade, “and kept talking about how the medium was the message. They couldn't get the idea that you could use technology to say something about that technology. So it's an interesting dilemma. When we first did between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea we ran it off an old laptop and an old DVD player, but with the shows we do now we can't do that anymore, but rather than making a big leap it feels like a natural progression.”

1927 were formed after Barritt heard Andrade on BBC Radio 3's much missed late-night showcase of left-field music, Mixing It. Andrade was performing spoken-word pieces that would go on to form the basis of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and Barritt contacted her to find out where he could buy them on CD.

The subsequent success of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea saw the company tour extensively, taking in dates at the Arches in Glasgow before following up with the more expansive The Animals and Children Took to the Streets. That show appeared for one night only at the Manipulate festival of visual-based theatre at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and went on to tour internationally.

The Magic Flute was first seen in 2012 at the Komische Opera, Berlin, where Kosky is artistic director. While Andrade and co have undoubtedly put 1927's stamp on the story, it remains the only piece the company haven't devised from scratch.

“It's probably the most camp show we've done,” says Andrade, “but it's still The Magic Flute. It's been challenging in all sorts of ways, and already having the music and story helps, but nothing's ever as challenging as devising your own works. The Magic Flute is something I hope everyone from eight to eighty year olds can enjoy.”

Prior to Golem, 1927 presented The Krazy Kat Projekt, a staged music and animation show based on George Herriman's anarchic comic strip, Krazy Kat, and which used music by iconoclastic composer Harry Partch and others.

Following Golem's West End run and the EIF dates for The Magic Flute, where 1927 go next is something Andrade remains philosophical about.

“We're just rolling along the same as we ever did,” she says. “We still have the same core team, but we're at the stage where we're thinking what to do next. Do we do big shows on the one hand, and then do smaller experimental works as well? Doing more politically motivated work is important as well, and work with a community aspect to it as well.

“It's great performing to an opera crowd, but it's not the same as doing Stratford Circus in front of an audience of teenagers. So I guess we've got to try and not disappear up our own bums.”

Golem, Trafalgar Studios, London, April 14-May 22. The Magic Flute, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, August 27-30.


The Herald, April 13th 2015

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