Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Matthew Lenton and Vanishing Point - Revisiting Interiors and The Destroyed Room

Matthew Lenton's view of the city is immense. High up in what looks from the outside like a Brutalist office block, but which has been converted into flats, the theatrical visionary behind Vanishing Point theatre company can peer through floor to ceiling length windows and watch Glasgow's throbbing heart in motion.

It's a city Lenton loves, and which has provided endless inspiration for his series of impressionistic everyday epics that concentrate on visual and sonic poetry as much as any words spoken. Perched somewhere between several of Glasgow's more iconic artistic institutions, even such geographical markers seem loaded with symbolic weight.

It's hard not to stand besides Lenton's window without thinking of Interiors, Vanishing Point's internationally acclaimed show first seen in 2009, and which is revived this weekend for a short run at Edinburgh International Festival. The production will be seen alongside the more recent The Destroyed Room, which premiered in February this year.

In Interiors, which was originally inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck's nineteenth century piece of 'static drama', Interior, a woman watches through the windows of a big house where a dinner party is being prepared. As events unfold from room to room, the woman's words are the only ones heard. In The Destroyed Room, which takes its title from American photographer Jeff Wall's iconic image, another social gathering is scrutinised, this time through television cameras that watch in close-up as small talk gives way to something more serious.

Seeing both works in a double bill at EIF looks like a fascinating prospect. Where Interiors has toured international festivals extensively since it was first seen in Naples in 2009, the last time Lenton spoke to the Herald, The Destroyed Room was still in the early stages of development, with no-one certain of what it would become. Such willingness to fly blind in this way is Vanishing Point's raison detre, and applies to revisiting Interiors as much as The Destroyed Room.

“I'm more worried about going back to Interiors than I am about The Destroyed Room,” Lenton admits. “For me, Interiors was a kind of spiritual show, and I use the word spiritual loosely, and because it had the success that it had and has toured to lots of amazing places, I wonder if it can be the same show it was eight years ago. It's like that old thing, if you replace all the parts of a boat over the years, is it the same boat?”

There is an emotional drive as well to the production following the sad passing of Serbian born actor and Vanishing Point associate artist Damir Todorovic in 2014. Todorovic appeared in the original production of Interiors, and had become a key member of the company.

“The last time we did Interiors was in Poland,” Lenton remembers, “and it was the first time we'd done it since Damir's death, so we were all really shellshocked, and it felt like a really strange experience. It was the first time I'd watched Interiors and thought it had lost something. I wondered if it had only lost something for me, because I'd seen it so many times, or whether it was something else. So it's important for me to do Interiors one more time, to celebrate Damir, we were only just getting through those shows in Poland, and it seemed like a sad way to end. I'm more cautious about coming back to a show that I love, and that lots of other people love, and which definitely had something. The question now is will it still have that something that it had when we made it?”

The Destroyed Room too is something Lenton is continually redefining.

“It's something that feels like it's constantly changing,” he says. “It's sort of about the world we're living in now, but it's an ongoing response to that. The show in London was different to the show in Scotland, and the show in Edinburgh will be different again, because so much has happened.”

Lenton is talking the morning after the EU referendum saw a slim majority vote to leave the union. Since then, political uncertainty has reigned on a daily basis.

“It's not what I would call a topical show,” he says. “For me it's not about the events themselves, but how we talk about them. One of the things I've been hearing today is people going on about the small minded majority who've voted us out of Europe, and that annoys me a bit, because it's a liberal elite talking about a group they don't really understand or have a relationship with.

“I think The Destroyed Room kind of reflects these sorts of events that are happening at the moment, but it's not about these ordinary people. For me, The Destroyed Room is about the people who could create change if they wanted to, but what they mainly do is talk about creating change and actually do nothing about it, because ultimately, when it comes down to it, they're more interested in their own comfort.

“For me it's a political show, but it's not a piece of theatre that at the end says something's really bad and we should do something about it. That seems obvious to me. I think it's more about how we should think about ourselves.”

This double bill of works marks Vanishing Point's second appearance at Edinburgh International Festival, following the company's production of Wonderland in 2012. This at times discomforting study of pornography kept things once removed through the use of live video feeds.

“I think Wonderland and The Destroyed Room are connected in some way,” says Lenton. “They both seem to be about whether the way we watch suffering makes us more or less empathetic. Interiors and The Destroyed Room are quite closely connected thematically, as well, because they're both about voyeurism and how we watch. But where one is very warm, benign, largely uncritical and even celebratory in a way, the other is much more challenging and potentially antagonising.

Beyond Vanishing Point's EIF double bill, Lenton is a busy man. In the autumn he will be directing The Merchant of Venice in Kosovo, while Vanishing Point's show, Tomorrow, will tour to Shanghai and Beijing. Vanishing Point will also be collaborating with Scottish Opera on a double bill of Bluebeard's Castle and The 8th Door, a new piece created with composer Lliam Paterson. All of which points up how Lenton's window on the world is looking out further than ever.

“People think Vanishing Point is this or that,” he says, “and I genuinely don't know. For me we're still a young company who don't know what we're doing half the time. At the moment the work feels confident, but as soon as we know what we're doing, that's the day that we'll stop. If we know how we're going to be able to make a show, then we won't make it.”

The Destroyed Room, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 4, 6, 8, 8pm. Interiors, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 5, 8pm; August 6, 8, 1.30pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 2nd 2016

ends

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