Next spring Slung Low is making a new show (probably called Mapping the City) in Hull.
It?s a thing of great ambition, even for us. There is already talk of great novels, giants like Ondaatje are scoured for inspiration, boats that sail out to lost lands, men falling from tall buildings, and mostly there is talk of Magic Realism. The writers on this project are James Phillips, Jenny Worton and Matthew David Scott. This is real talent, real thinking, rigour and imagination in equal abundance.
They are also a group of people that wont let you just keep saying phrases like ?Magic Realism? over and over again in the hope that it answers their question. ?What do you mean?? It?s a perfectly reasonable question. Apparently a perfectly reasonable answer is not to stare at them and keep repeating various combinations of the words ?magic? and ?realism?.
So I?ve been thinking a lot about Magic Realism. I always thought it was something that I had a handle on, something that was intuitively contained within pretty much any show I?ve ever made. But the minute I started to read up on it, started to wade through academic texts on the subject I found the phrase ?magic realism? moving further away from what I thought it meant- or rather I knew what I meant by the phrase, it?s just a lot of what I was reading used the phrase to describe something else entirely.
(Sea Stormy: Federico Leon De La Vega)
I woke up this morning and there was a great kerfuffle outside my window. We?re staying in Roscoe Street in the centre of Liverpool and there?s always a fair bit of kerfuffle but this was particularly large and loud. Billydog and I rush to the window and there, in the street, just beneath our bedroom are two police horses dancing to a steel band. 2 great big ruddy police horses dancing back and forth, throwing their heads, tails gallivanting up and down. And a steel band pounding their drums with all their might.
Wow I thought- what a show and went back to bed thinking about the genuine genius of a city whose riot horses can also do a samba.
That world brings me pleasure. That world is one in which I am happy to wake up in.
I am a lucid, sane adult so I simultaneously understand that in fact the Liberal Democrats? conference is in town and the Unions of Liverpool had started their march against public sector cuts in the car park across the road from my bedroom. And the march was led by a steel band- which had a profound effect on the police horses.
But for a moment it was also equally true that police horses were dancing to the theme tune of the old BBC cricket programme.
“For the new art, it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world” (Franz Roh)
The interior figure of the exterior world. What it looks like not just from where I?m stood but from how I feel.
I remember falling in love with my wife. It was a hell of a thing. My body physically changed- breathing, heart rate, eyes- my mind, certain types of music took on completely new senses, there are places I still cant visit without feeling it profoundly. You would go there and think ?this is just a crap Indian restaurant, a dismal corner of West Yorkshire?. I wouldn?t. I couldn?t.
Just as if I visited the gates of a sixth form college, the corner of a municipal park or Swiss Cottage tube or any other number of pedestrian places turned cathedrals of emotion for you- but not for me- by what you had done there, heard there, felt there.
The interior figure of the exterior world.
There?s a moment in the film Big Fish that always comes to me when I think on this subject. If you haven?t seen it, do: it?s a really rather joyous film. Anyway in simple terms its about a dying old man whose son doesn?t believe his tall, well told, magical life story. At the funeral the people who attend are the evidence that the old man wasn?t lying- he just saw his life in brilliant cinema technicolour.
I?m an old softy at heart and I really rather love that film: see your life in technicolour.
“magical realism relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real” (Maggie Ann Bowers)
I?m thinking of all of this because of course we?re in the middle of tech for Anthology- the latest Slung Low show that sees the Everyman audience split in to 7 groups and led around different parts of the area whilst the character tells their story.
I?ve written before about the strength of the model in terms of how the headphones allow sound to concentrate the audiences? focus, how it can be intimate and work simultaneously with a direct, precise audience/performer relationship and also the maelstrom of chaos that is the real world.
The other thing that I love about the form is the ability to muddy the distinction between the ?magical? and the ?real?. Or rather it allows both to be exist within the same vista- to be seen through the same prism.
In one of the shows a character believes that superlambbananas are the surveillance agents of the government. The audience will walk past a superlambbanana during the show just as they did a dozen others on the way to the theatre. Of course when this specific one starts moving towards them (traditionally they are static creatures) and its eyes start flashing red then they might start to think that this character has a point. ?The presentation
of real, imagined or magical elements as they were real?. The camouflaging of the fantasy in the pattern of reality.
(A Superlambbanana prepares for performance)
In another route the audience have made an appointment to see Ronnie?s house- he?s selling it and the fiction is that you are in the market for buying. The whole thing starts as realistically as anything like this ever could- a short tour of the area, discussion of the amenities, a look at the kitchen, a neighbour pops by to say hi. Slowly but surely- over the hour- it moves away from its realistic motifs. Information that would never be ?normally? revealed is told and I hope that you don?t even realize that you are starting to hear Ronnie amplified through hidden speakers. I hope you don?t consciously recognize that his voice has shifted from acoustic even as he stands on the other side of the street, seen by you from the bedroom window, having a conversation with his loved ones on a mobile phone (that somehow you can also hear) whilst a score sweeps in to end the experience. The slow fade from the ?real? to the ?magical? which I hope will move in increments so slowly you wont notice its shift. The camouflaging of the fantasy in the pattern of reality.
But the important thing is both sets of motifs- the magical and the real- are presented on an even footing, with equal weight. This is how the world is seen by this man- the interior figure of the exterior world.
We’re currently working with the Everyman- a real joyful partner on this adventure- and one of their watch words is “honest”. I’ve spent a long time thinking about that word- how it might work as a prized virtue for a piece of theatre. I am not sure which is the most ‘honest’ part of the experience with Ronnie- the ‘realistic’ section where a man in grief tries valiantly to hide his feelings and show you his house: or the man stood in the rain weeping- with hidden microphone, sound scape and musical score- having a conversation with an actress recorded two weeks ago. I think they are both equally ‘honest’. Not necessarily truthful but that is a completely different word.
Just as there absolutely were horses dancing beneath my window this morning, a run down Indian restaurant that sells a naan bread the size of your abdomen for ?2 is the only place to fall in love and if you stand in the right place at the right time next year in Hull and look to the skies you will see a man defying gravity, suspended mid air in fall telling you that a Slung Low show not yet more than a kernel of an idea is about to begin.
In the meantime if you are in Liverpool in October come and see Anthology and tell me whether we’ve made 7 pieces of magic realism. I think we have. Anthology opens 28th September and runs in rep with Tis Pity She’s a Whore for the whole of October. Check dates at www.everymanplayhouse.com for exact performance days.