Five Reasons to See ... Way Out West, the Sea Whispered MeDate: 27 October 2010
Critically acclaimed Chicago based Cupola Bober make a welcome return to the UK with the ridiculously sublime, Morcambe Bay inspired; Way Out West, the Sea Whispered Me.
In many important ways, work on this performance started when we did the Morecambe Bay cross-bay walk. At the time, we were reading WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, an account a walk he did through Suffolk. He told the story of a town called Dunwich which had lost a series of nine parish churches to the sea. This town’s story really interested us, a bizarre tale of a town repeating the same tragedy compulsively as it rebuilt itself west and the sea, through erosion, followed it. We really identified with it as story, and as metaphor. So we came to Lancashire knowing of the cross bay walk, having read Cedric Robinson’s book Queen’s Guide to the Sands, and with the 2004 cockler tragedy still fresh in people’s minds… and we did the walk.
In Robinson’s book he told of the many things lost to the sand; mail coaches, cars, shoes, the list went on and on. And still we were drawn to it, to the beauty of the place, and to the tragedy of the place, to The Sea. The experience of the walk was incredible; both in its actual experience and in the imagining of everything that sand had taken through the decades, through centuries. This sort of dynamic paradox, between magnetic awe and terrible disaster encapsulates a basic theme we wanted to make a show about.
2. The aesthetic
Our aesthetic can generally be described as playfully austere. The two of us design and make all of our materials, with each show usually focussed on one simple material. Our last show used cardboard as the primary material; the show we’re touring now uses tarpaulins as its main scenographic material. The tarps are simple, but are used in intricate, delicate and careful ways so that the performance activates the viewer’s imagination. The concepts deployed by the performance become mirrored by every aspect of the performance. A tarp is effectively a mountain, a cloud, the sea, and a storm… as much contributing to the poetics of the piece as the text or the sound. It’s not your usual night at the theatre. It asks for a different, introspective and distinctive kind of attention.
3. Its premise.
This show builds what we call a poetics of the particle. Focused on the sublime experience of sitting and looking at The Sea, that it is powerfully beautiful and mystifyingly brutal, we invoke a loose narrative based on the persistent eroding action of the sea’s waves. We imagine the town of Dunwich. We picture the town rebuilding itself westward as the sea slowly chases it, destroying it. This perpetual westward reinvention is a story of perseverance, and of reinvention, and reminds us of our own mythic American history, progress embodied in westward movement. We imagine those Dunwich parish churches being ground up by the sea into tiny particles and re-circulated by nature to become dust in the dust storms over depression-era Kansas, becoming suffocating dust drifts, the negative image of the sea and its waves. The basic unit of nature - the particle of matter - constantly circulating, never still for long, playing both victim and aggressor; functioning as an enduring protagonist, an analogue for individual existence.
All things reflect this basic premise. We perform like Laurel and Hardy, like Gilbert and George, like Morecambe and Wise. Our set is a few simple tarps, which are at turns a mountain, the sea, a cloud, a storm. Basic units being recomposed, echoing, reconfiguring.
There are Morecambe and Wise jokes. Well, there is at least one Morecambe and Wise joke. We are a male performance duo. While working on the piece, and discussing in what way we should perform, we discovered a sort of historical continuum of inspirations. Laurel and Hardy to Morecambe and Wise to Gilbert and George. These duos all echoed a sense of the entertainments traditionally on offer at sea-side resorts in their hey-day. As we may have shown above, we want to talk about some serious stuff, but we want to do it in the style of Morecombe and Wise. Or at least, our idea of a sketch they might write about existential dread brought on by realising your body is a mere cloud of particles. While not all laughs, we use the word wit because we feel that word describes a sort of sharpness to which we aspire, an incisiveness that moves between poignancy, hilarity, and tragedy.
We use the phrase ‘delicate work’ to describe work which allows its live quality to be its main dynamic. Work that seems to get ‘pulled off’ each time it is performed, rather than work which seems more programmed or merely executed. We make repeatable, very planned, very tightly rehearsed shows with handmade props and sets, genuinely physically exhausting action, and try to perform technical cues in the performing area rather than in the technical booth. Each performance of a show feels very different, even though the show is technically the same. This difference is in how the audience is encountering the work on a given night. We’ve had audiences experience this show as pure tragedy, and we’ve had audiences who have experienced the show as uproarious farce. We are as much responding to the audience and their experience, as they are to us and ours. This, to us, is delicate work.
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