Following a successful run of shows in Cyprus and Greece, Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls is about to embark on a UK tour. The production, a part of the British Council’s Creative Collaboration project, is a joint venture between the National Theatre of Greece, Cyprus Theatre Organisation and UK theatre company, Imitating the Dog (ITD). Andrew Quick, founder member of ITD and director of Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls took time out from rehearsals to discuss the show and the challenges of collaborative working.
Founded in 1997/8, ITD grew from a third-year project by students at Lancaster University, where Quick is a senior lecturer in theatre studies at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Since becoming a professional theatre team, ITD has been producing work every year and a half. In terms of their ethos, Quick says their interest lies in “the relationship between theatre and the cinema” and how film narratives “can be challenged and reworked through theatre performances in relation to film aesthetics”.
Their latest project, Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls, was born following a successful workshop residency that Quick and fellow ITD founding member, Simon Wainwright, spent in Cyprus with the National Theatre of Greece working with recent graduates of its acting school. Quick says that the experience was very productive for all concerned: “It went really well; we really liked working with them and they really liked working with us and they invited us back to work on a project – Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls.” The project attracted the attention, as well as all-important funding, from the British Council’s Creative Collaboration scheme. The scheme was launched in 2007 and, according to its website, aims ‘to encourage arts and cultural leaders from different countries and different art forms to talk together, learn from each other and develop new partnerships for effective cross-border working’.
Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls is described by ITD as ‘part musical, part dream play’ which ‘takes as its starting point the melting pot of Mediterranean port communities’. Indeed, according to Quick, it is the setting of the piece that unites those involved in a production that includes a cast comprised of two actors from each participating country. “What we thought of when we got involved with the project was that the thing that linked all three countries was the sea and the fact that all three countries built their histories around shipping and ports, so we became very interested in the mythology and stories around the port and sea.” Quick goes on to cite the likes of Ezra Pound and Bertolt Brecht as influences on the piece, which also challenges the notion of borders and nationalities as the lines of ethnicity and morality become increasingly blurred.
According to Quick, so far the production has been received “really well” by audiences in Greece and Cyprus, although he admits the experience has been “exhausting” as funding for the show is “quite tight” and rehearsal time was limited. “In a two-week rehearsal period it is difficult to make a show, but we did it and they did a really good job”. Their efforts were rewarded by sell-out crowds and demand for extra shows.
The production now moves to the UK for a tour that starts on 9 March in Exeter and takes in Bristol, Leeds and Lancaster. Quick reveals that for UK audiences the show has been “completely reworked”. “The story’s very similar, but in the first show, which was designed by Laura Hopkins, a very well-known designer who’s designed for the National Theatre and lots of other companies, we had a very beautiful set looking through one window, but now she’s redesigned it to look through three windows.” This gives the audience the experience of “looking through a graphic novel or a series of filmed stills that continually move and change”.
Quick is clearly proud of the look of this production, as well as those created for other ITD projects. “What we try and do is create these magical worlds that are surprising in the theatre.” The drawback to this, of course, is the cost of putting together these “large scale” projects, especially in the current economic environment. Quick believes that these financial straits have even led to “pressure in the contemporary theatre scene” for what he calls “short, low-resource shows”. This is clearly in conflict with ITD’s grander vision as, while smaller shows are “easier to tour, easier to finance and…easier, probably, for venues to deal with”, ITD’s work “is the opposite”. “In this show, it’s a big set and we need a whole day to get in”. An example of how ITD’s work translates into larger venues is its 2008 production, Kellerman, which Quick says looked “fantastic” on the stage at the Bristol Old Vic. Ultimately, it is obvious that part of what makes ITD’s work stand out is its unique visuals. Says Quick, “we hope at the end of this it looks nice and people are amazed at the world we create”.
Given the limited resources available, however, Quick believes that further collaborations are “the only way forward” for companies such as ITD who specialise in these larger scale projects. But are there any drawbacks to working alongside other theatre companies? “I think it’s really interesting because when you’ve been working…in a collaborative company…you have a private language that you build up over time, and then you suddenly have to work with people who have not got used to that private language.” But while Quick admits that this “slows everything down”, he also believes that “in some ways it really makes us rethink about how we work and how successful we are working with outside people”. So how has Quick found the experience overall? “I think we’ve done a good job here working with people who have come from a very different tradition. They’re very classically trained the Greek actors, and we are not so classically trained. I wouldn’t even say we were trained at all in one way! Glorious amateurs, is what I’d say!”
While the unique vision of ITD has been well received by audiences, their shows have not always gone down well with the critics, with Quick admitting they have had some “terrible reviews”. But he is quite sanguine about this, adding, “I don’t have a problem with that at all, but it does polarise people as they see our work as cold and non-theatrical and I can see the problem it has”. However, Quick hopes that audiences and critics Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls with an “open mind”. “We’ve had some criticism, but we like making these worlds. We hope they haunt people and challenge them”.
- Hannah Giles
Details about the UK tour of Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls, which runs from 9 March to 19 March 2010, can be found at: www.imitatingthedog.co.uk/tour/default.asp
Further information about ITD can be found at: www.imitatingthedog.co.uk/default.asp
Further details about the British Council Creative Collaboration scheme can be found at: www.britishcouncil.org/creativecollaboration.htm