Our Human Need For Connection

An interview with Alix Sobler

by Kasia Mroczkowska

Image by Matthew Dunivan

Alix Sobler is an award-winning playwright and performer from New York. We are thrilled that her most recent play, The Glass Piano, will have its world premiere on our stage later this month. Here Alix discusses why she has decided to adapt Princess Alexandra’s extraordinary true story into a play, reflects on her creative process, and gives us lots of reasons to see The Glass Piano.

How did you first come across the story of Princess Alexandra and her ‘glass delusion’ fixation and what made you want to adapt this extraordinary true story into a play?

I am always interested in lesser know stories from history, or stories we know, looked at from a different angle. I first heard about Alexandra while listening to a podcast called Stuff You Missed in History Class, and I was immediately intrigued by this idea. I have always been fascinated by the power of the human mind to convince our body of something, or to make us deny reality. Alexandra’s story immediately compelled to me as an embodiment of this question, and so much more. Also, I was struck by the image of her I formed in my head: a young, likely tiny woman (from descriptions) creeping down the hallways of her giant castle. To me, it was immediately very theatrical, as it would impact the physicality of this person so enormously, and their immediate environment. I imagined it would be tragic and hilarious at the same time. (My favourite combo!) It seemed to me a strong metaphor for anxiety, something I have dealt with all my life, how terrified to move you can become, how full of panic. The desire to protect yourself can keep you at a distance from other people, afraid to take any risks. I also thought of how her character embodies some of the struggles of being a woman, she wants so badly to express herself, but always feels like she is taking up too much room. There’s an element of what we now call body dysmorphia in her inability to see herself for what she really is.
Also I thought, “Well how on earth could you tell this story?” And then I had to set out to find the answer.

Could you describe your creative process of working on a new play?

Every play is different, depending on the style, subject, theme and deadline. But in general I tend to ruminate on an idea for a long time before I begin working. Sometimes that is a matter of months, sometimes it’s years! I will often spend years “soft pitching” the idea to myself and different people, trying to work out what the story really is, what about it compels me, how that translates to a work for the stage. I like to think over the themes and characters that might be involved, but I usually know I can start writing when I have settled on the tone. Tone is an elusive thing, very hard to describe in writing (ironically!) but that is usually where my work emerges from. I have a general idea for a story (a princess who swallowed a grand piano made of glass) and a tone (dark-humour meets magical realism and a touch of the absurd). During this time I also do research when possible. Then I begin to just write. I don’t keep track of who exactly is speaking at first, they are just unnamed, undefined voices who are a part of this story. Eventually it starts to become clear who is who- oh, it’s her father who is too busy pining over someone to pay any attention to her, it’s her maid who essentially has stood in for her mother and is smarter than everyone else, oh this stranger who has arrived is falling in love with her. I handwrite all my plays to begin with and I usually generate 50-75% of the play in a notebook before I open my computer. Then, transferring the work I have done is both weaving the pieces together, and also like working through a second draft, cutting things that no longer work or expounding on things that are more interesting as I go. Every part of writing a play is both joyous and difficult for me, but none is more joyous and difficult than endings! And ending is so important, it is what your audience leaves with, and the right ending can make up for a multitude of sins, where a lesser ending will undo some of the hard work already done. So I really try to find the way to end my plays that will do justice to the lives of the characters I have created. Often, I have a general idea of how the play will end when I begin, but it doesn’t always stick. I almost never outline, and if I do it is very late in the process, just to make sure events are clear and in the right places.

And of course that is all just the process of getting the play written! Once it gets into rehearsal and you have the input of a director and so many other artists, there are many new phases of the creative process. I often think of creating a play as a microcosm for having a child. At first, it’s just a sparkle in your eye, a gestating idea, living inside you as it grows. Then, you bring it into the world, raw, unfinished, but existing outside of you. You work on it bit by bit as it grows more nuanced, complex, taking on a life of its own. Workshops and readings are like primary school. It’s venturing out into the world to meet other people, become influenced by other voices and ideas, but it’s still primarily your baby. The first day of rehearsal for a production is sending it off to college or it’s very first job. It is filled with the ideas and input of other people, it begins to feel very separate from you, but still needs your help and guidance from time to time. Opening night is graduation or maturation. After that, it is its own entity in the world. It’s out there, living a life of it’s own, standing on its own two feet, interacting with people who will love it, hate it, or be indifferent. You’ve done what you can, it will always be yours, but now it also belongs to the world.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, I often make changes to a play even after it’s been produced, but eventually you do have to let it go and stand on its own. This idea really helps me with the separation anxiety I sometimes feel as it becomes something less and less connected to just me.

Grace Molony as Princess Alexandra is Alix Sobler’s The Glass Piano. Image by Hugo Glendinning

You’re based in New York, but came to London for the first day of rehearsals. How did it feel meeting the actors playing the characters that you have created?

Meeting this amazing cast was a pleasure! Max has done such wonderful work assembling a group of thoughtful, sensitive, committed and funny actors. I loved watching them begin to discover their characters, where they overlapped with them in personality and how they were different. I enjoy being in the room with actors and figuring out things together. In the beginning I know the play better than anyone else, but it doesn’t mean I have every answer. Many times the actors asked me questions I hadn’t thought of, and then we figured out what best served them and the play. I also joke that for me, being from New York, British accents in my work automatically make every script sound 10-30% better! That’s probably not strictly true…it’s just that these are a wonderful group of actors. They are the ones elevating the work.

Concert pianist Elizabeth Rossiter plays live on stage through the play. Was this in mind when you were writing it?

Elizabeth is such an incredible addition to this piece, and we are so lucky to have her. Having a live pianist on stage was definitely a dream, but it is not required and not in the script. But perhaps it will be moving forward. Max brought her on board as part of his vision, and I think it fits in perfectly. It is hard to imagine the play without it now. Of course not every space can accommodate a grand piano on stage, so I think it will be a suggestion but not a requirement.

What makes The Glass Piano’s story relevant today and what do you think audiences can expect from seeing the play?

I think love stories are always relevant, and at its heart, The Glass Piano is about our human need for connection. Finding connection with other people is essential, whether is a romantic, familial, or friendship. Yet, making those connections makes us vulnerable to being hurt, to feeling other people’s sadness. It can be one of the scariest things we do. One needn’t be royalty to feel constricted by certain rules and parameters in our lives. I think audiences might be surprised how much they relate to Alexandra, and the other characters. We might not suffer from glass delusion, but feeling vulnerable and anxious is quite common for a lot of us. We all struggle to communicate, to do right by other people, to come to terms with past traumas or mistakes or people who have left but haunt us still.

The audience can also expect a very beautiful experience. The theatre is incredible and Max and the whole team are putting together a very stunning production. I can’t wait to see it myself!

The Glass Piano runs from 26 April – 25 May.

April 12, 2019

Q&A with Saburo Teshigawara

Celebrated Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara returns to London with his danced telling of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot showing at The Coronet from 20 to 30 March. Here he discusses his creative process, simplifying things and the beauty of encounters.

How did you first come across The Idiot and what made you want to create its dance adaptation? Could you tell us a bit about the creative process you used here?
I’m interested in how you create a dance piece from poems or novels. I don’t mean dance just as a “translation” of the literature. Rather the adventure is how to take what we perceive from the original novel and create a new artwork from it. The important thing is that the creation should always respect the original novel.
To make this into a dance piece, I decided to concentrate on what I felt was the essence of the relationship between Myshkin and Nastasya – how similar they are as human beings despite their differences in social background and life experiences. To bring their introspective and sensuous world into my own abstract yet real spirit was my key to making The Idiot as a dance piece. By distinguishing the characters’ inner worlds from their social meanings, I can start to find universality and project something hidden and dark that all humans possess.
In general I am interested in the hidden aspects of human beings and how they appear and reveal themselves despite ourselves.

For The Idiot, you are performer, director, designer, and creator of the sound score. How did you find being involved with almost every aspect of creating this production?
Before any decisions I make based on artistic principles or my desires or demands, I have my five senses; to see, to listen, to smell, taste…my skin perception and moving sense of balance. We live on the basis of having the necessary technique whether it is for making harmony or discord. For me, to create means to get all of these senses and abilities together and make them active.

We can talk about the technique required for the body to dance but, above all, we need imagination to think about the relation between body and music or body and air and gravity. Visual matters are very physical and you could say that breathing and vision are related.

We make various connections between our perceptions and try to understand each of them independently. To create a piece means to technologise an independent perception. It is a request, a necessity, and a desire in order to think about development. There we establish an unknown harmony as a goal.

I can think of that as something complex. Thinking about something simply is sometimes difficult. When you look at things straight-forwardly and can admit that things are complex, you understand powerfully about simplicity. To accept things as they are is an attitude to try to understand complexity. Simple things are not simple in that you always have to digest complexity before reaching it.

This is how I like to approach difficult things. It is interesting to simplify things more and more.

How are you intending to install the piece on the Print Room’s stage?
I am hoping to do so in the most optimal way.

You have had a long and illustrious career. How have you combined this with your personal or family life? Have you made any particular sacrifice in order to create and perform your work?
It is unclear when my life started, and when it will end. It is like music which is already being played, with no way of knowing when it will end. All the numerous encounters are interesting. Sometimes I meet beautiful things or people but difficulties are always there too, like a best friend. We have no choice but to live this life with the numerous encounters. But it is happiness, even luck – the joy to share difficulties with strangers.

The Idiot runs from 20-30 March | Book now

March 6, 2019

Opening The Doors Of A Doll’s House Into The Sea

Image by ©The Other Richard

An interview with Kåre Conradi

by Kasia Mroczkowska


Famed for his lead role in the Netflix original series Norsemen, Kåre Conradi is one of Norway’s most experienced stage and screen actors. He is also founder and Artistic Director of the Norwegian Ibsen Company, co-producers of our current production, The Lady from the Sea. Here Kåre discusses Ibsen, the challenges of translation, and different shades of humour.


Why is it important for this production of The Lady from the Sea to have both English and Norwegian spoken on stage?

First of all, we decided that doctor Wangel and his daughters should be English. Living in Norway with his second wife Elllida they communicate in English, but at the same time being Norwegian, she still wants to speak her own language; so they end up using both.

I can relate to that in a sense that one of my mum’s sisters married an Englishman and as a result I had three cousins who spoke English. We used to visit them in London. When they moved to Norway we used to communicate both in English and Norwegian, so this production has a personal meaning to me in this way. Another reason for using both languages on stage was to keep the musicality of the production. It’s also our gift to the audience; we give you Ibsen’s words exactly the way he wrote them, and as a result you can come closer to the source text.


What are the main challenges of translating Ibsen into English?

One word can usually be translated into a few different words, and it’s not always easy to find exactly the right word. One of the reasons that here in the UK Ibsen was considered to be extremely dark, and why some of the critics would say at the time “could we please get rid of this gloomy, awful Norwegian atmosphere” [laughs], was partially because there were some layers of text that were not translated well back then. Ibsen can be heavy, but also funny at the same time.

In the same flat in Oslo where we rehearsed The Lady from the Sea, Ibsen famously once had an argument with Bjørnson who spoke very fondly of the farmers. At some point when asked how he felt about them, Ibsen allegedly said: “I think they should all be shot,” and then he smiled. And of course he didn’t mean that, but it was the sense of humour he had.


Speaking of a unique sense of humour; what do you think it is about Norsemen, in which you play one of the lead roles, that resonates with so many people regardless of where they are from?

I think that British comedies, like Monty Python, helped there, because people have already experienced this sense of humour. I was really amazed by all of the Norsemen reviews when they first came out. It’s amazing to be part of something that more and more people watch and find funny all over the world.



Image: nrk/viafilm


It’s the second time you perform on our stage at the Coronet Theatre; how does it feel to be back?

I wrote in The Lady from the Sea programme that ‘I walked through these doors two years ago for the first time, and I feel that I haven’t really left since’, which is true [smiles]. I thought of this theatre so many times, and this place turned out to be so much more than I had expected in every way. It’s such a special, magical environment that I’ve never worked in before. You can almost see Anda Winters in everything here; like staff lighting candles in the bar… and then there is this building in itself, and its history. It’s all so amazing!


How would you describe Arnholm, the character you are currently playing in The Lady from the Sea?

He is a tricky man. He comes across as very kind, but there is some darkness there. He is a middle-aged man who never got married, and has never been in a serious relationship. He is slightly desperate as well; either desperate to find someone, or just desperate in a sense that he feels that life is passing him by. Arnholm is the same age as I am, so in a way playing this character makes me feel old [laughs]. But it’s an interesting experience to play him. What’s also interesting, quite recently I also found out that my ancestor  Olaf Hansson was chosen by Ibsen himself to play Arnholm in the very first production of The Lady from the Sea [in 1889]! There is a big painting of him in the green room at the National Theatre of Norway, and I used to sit on the sofa under his painting, and I had no idea who he was, and suddenly last year I realised it was him; and he played Arnholm as well!




Image: Tristram Kenton


What can we expect from this production of The Lady from the Sea?

First of all, I’m very proud to be able to introduce great Norwegian cast & creatives to British audiences: Marit Moum Aune who’s been a legend in Norway for such a long time; Øystein Røger who has won so many awards for his work, especially for his lead roles in Jon Fosse’s plays who is the Ibsen of our times; Pia Tjelta from National Theatre of Norway; Erlend Birkeland who does stage design; and Nils Petter Molvær who composed the music, which is perfect for this play, because it has a very Nordic sound. And our brilliant production team as well! To have all these brilliant Norwegians involved with this production and to present them to the UK theatre world, I find that very exciting. And of course, it’s also great to have Adrian Rawlins who is such a great actor, and Marina Bye who is also fantastic, and finally the brilliant Ed Ashley and Molly Windsor having their stage debut.

What’s also important, through this play people can meet this woman Ellida who is such a complex character; she is so human! The Lady from the Sea was written after A Doll’s House, and Ellida’s character almost feels as if Ibsen had thought to himself: “What could happen if we took this story a bit further?” and opened the doors of a doll’s house into the sea. That’s a good expression, I need to write it down [laughs]. I’m also hoping there will be lots of laughter from the audience; there is a reason why Ibsen called it a comedy – there is lots of lightness to it. This play is a bit like a box of secrets, it will hit everyone in a different way, so hopefully a meeting with this play will be a bit like a meeting with yourself.


The Lady from the Sea runs until 9 March I Book now







February 22, 2019

Love-Lies-Bleeding | Rehearsal Diary 3

Lightening Season

Words and image by Assistant Director Henry C Krempels


13 November, 2018

Love-Lies-Bleeding is set in isolation – an artist’s house way out in the desert. It mirrors the current situation of the owner of the house, Alex Macklin, who, after recluding in the desert suffers two debilitating strokes and is subsequently unable to communicate with the outside world. Nor with the inside? (I’ll leave that question mark right where it is.) 

The surrounding environment really intrudes on this play in a fascinating way and over the last week or two we’ve been introducing the various design elements into the rehearsal room. And here’s one thing I’ve learned: the desert is noisy

In one of my favourite passages from the play, Lia, Alex’s wife and carer, played by Clara Indrani, tells her new house guests about “lightening season” and the time she took her husband out to watch the storm rolling in. She tells us that his usually unresponsive body twitched at the thunder drumming through the mountains. 

This passage is a beautiful example of the role nature has in this play: the heat, the storms, the cicadas, the sand and, of course, the plants. They’re everywhere you turn (even in the title) and there have been long, thoughtful discussions about the design reflecting that. I won’t say anymore.


Love-Lies-Bleeding I Until 8 December I Book now


November 13, 2018

Love-Lies-Bleeding I Rehearsal Diary 2

And then of course there’s time

Words and image by Assistant Director Henry C Krempels


7 November, 2018

Today was not the first rehearsal we’ve worked intensively on scene transitions and may or may not be the last. DeLillo has a playful sense of chronology in this play and the time passed between scenes is, hmm, erratic to say the least. Instead, he’s way more interested in what happens if you’re many things at once; alive and dead; married and divorced; in solitude and in company. 

And he’s scattered this play with tiny deaths too. In my last blog I mentioned that the question, ‘At what point is someone dead?’ ran through the centre of this play. I still think it’s true, but now I think the focus is not just on death. There are re-births too: relationships that have come and gone and then come again; the same people, years later, in different bodies; exes; step-mums who becomes friends; friends who become wives; wives who run away with their “nightgowns ablaze”. 

The main recipient of this playfulness with time is the character of Alex, played by Joe McGann. We see him at several different intervals in his life, not too far apart, but far apart enough that his life is substantially different. This week Joe and I were discussing the work that his character makes as an artist. We stumbled on an interesting link here, that Art (of the kind Alex makes, at least) eventually succumbs to time too. At some point the person stops and time takes over.

So how time passes in this place surrounded by sand is fascinating to grapple with. And you know what? If my job allowed it, I would happily just sit in rehearsals and watch the small plays that happen in the time between the scenes. 


Love-Lies-Bleeding I 9 November – 8 December I Book now


November 7, 2018

Love-Lies-Bleeding I Rehearsal Diary 1

When Life Bangs At The Window 

Words and image by Assistant Director Henry C Krempels


2 November, 2018

I remember a conversation very early on in this process with Jack, our director. We were on a tea break (why is it that so much theatre gets put to rights in the tea break?) and he said that there’s a version of this play he could have done, which was set in a perfectly detailed living room, where scene after scene the characters are bumping up against the walls, unable to make a decision on a man’s life. But, he said, the ideas in this are so much larger than that. He said he wants us to pull out a bit. He wants to give a sense of just how big DeLillo’s world is.

I know that sometimes I’ve been guilty of making Don DeLillo’s world small. Or rather, taking him a face value. It’s very easy to do. I’m talking, first and foremost, as a reader of his novels. And in my opinion, he’s happy for us to believe his worlds are small. Take Cosmopolis, for example, which happens to be my favourite novel of his. I have an image of DeLillo politely smiling at me as I describe back to him the simple story of a billionaire in a limousine trying to get a haircut. 

But, what I have come to notice with DeLillo’s work, and what I understood Jack to be pointing to, was that Life is always just outside, banging at the window. And I’m pleased to report that the same is true for his plays. 

In the first instance, it comes in the form of Alex’s son, Sean, and his ex-wife Toinette. I love watching Josie Lawrence and Jack Wilkinson playing this first scene out. The text is so malleable in their hands and often hilarious, and it’s great to watch them surprise each other with a new moment, a new look, a new inflection. Josie, as you know, is a master improviser. 

The dialogue is deceptive in its simplicity but four weeks in and we’re still hearing new things. On the page, I sometimes found myself trying to keep up, and then I watched them stand it up and suddenly it’s an entirely different beast. It’s rich, funny and full of quirk.

For me, though, the one question that runs through the middle of this play is “when is someone dead?” which I’ll try and come to in another part of this blog. But, I can tell you now, I’m not going to take that question at face value. 


To be continued…


Love-Lies-Bleeding I 9 November – 8 December I Book now




November 2, 2018

Act and Terminal 3 | Interview with Lars Norén

Photo by Tristram Kenton


Your plays are often named in connection with the work of Strindberg and Bergman, as works which take us to the dark heart of social existence.

Yes, well, Strindberg was mad. It was a kind of controlled madness which he used as a tool. He was very skilful at that. My roots are also in English-language theatre, specifically in the plays of Beckett and Pinter. We started putting on Pinter very early on in Sweden. Pinter taught me about communication. People often say we should communicate more, but he thought that we did it too much, that by capturing too much of ourselves and others in language, we easily imprison ourselves and end up using language to hide something we too carelessly revealed.


One of the things your plays share with Pinter and Beckett is that your plays have a distinctly musical quality. The play of lines – between characters who are given no more background detail than is needed to allow the play to work – has a distinctly contrapuntal quality.

I hate stories. I can’t even read stories any more. Whenever I see a story developing I stop and go back. What fascinates me is the material and stories get in the way of that. I want to look at this point when you can feel the material coming alive so that it brings with it a way of seeing. I’m interested in individual moments, pictures or fragments.

When I direct I talk about the scenery as music, but I never now use actual music in my plays. What fascinates me is composing structures which work on different levels. I can start with a phrase which keeps coming back. It might contain nothing to begin with, but as the play of levels progresses it will suddenly fill out, bringing a whole world into view.

Theatre creates a kind of way of looking, a resonance. What interests me is the moment of indeterminacy which blooms in the gap between what is said and what is answered.


Tell us a little about how you write.

When I start to write I am like a bird who is about to leave for Africa. The birds gather, swallows. They wait and watch for days and days until the right moment. When they see it, they go. I have been writing since I was 15. My words give themselves to me more readily every day. At the same time, the nearer one comes to capturing something in language, the more visible becomes the gap between the described and the description. It’s a failure, but a failure which can still take you closer to something in a different way. Words create a shadow. Those are real.


Your plays often confront strong social issues, such as terrorism, as well as more general issues to do with characters breaking down on discovering something about themselves.

I am less and less interested in what happens in the world. At 74 years old it’s a world I am preparing to leave. I write most now about older people, not because I am old myself but certain details – the colour of a toy, the feeling of evading a caress – are more luminous to one who looks back more than they look forwards.


But do the realities of life, in modern Sweden say, have a relevance?

Certainly, the false harmoniousness of Swedish life lends a certain explosive power. Sweden is a successful country. Our social reforms sit very deep. But like elsewhere, our politicians have failed us. We say we are a country that hasn’t been at war for 200 years, but in Sweden live many thousands of people who come from wars. Those wars live on in them. They become our wars. You can’t contain these conflicts by keeping them hidden under the illusion of harmony. The big explosion hasn’t yet come here.


Is language a part of this?

Yes. Swedes have learnt very well the game of disguising what they think. One avoids subjects. One is afraid to say anything inappropriate in company. It’s like we are afraid of the world. I have become more and more disgusted with this conformity. Language is thinning out under the pressure of conformity. We hide increasingly behind euphemisms which leave a kind of mucus over everything we talk about. The truth comes out when people are drunk. Or when someone is about to die. It’s a special kind of truth.


Your plays often focus on explosive points, though the surface of the plays is often very calm. Do you think theatre can also help us?

The empty stage is sacred to me. It’s the place of our greatest ambitions and for our hardest truth-seeking. An audience absorbs the best and the worst moments of life. You don’t need to identify with characters. You take what you see and carry it away with you, inside.

With film, even though it has perfected in many ways the art of illusion, one is still constantly aware of the medium. But with theatre, when done well, can be entirely transparent.


Is the theatre itself in danger?

Theatre has existed for over two thousand years, maybe much more. It shows no sign of going under. But it does betray itself. There are too many special effects, too many celebrities looking to sell themselves, or to be loved, to become their children, cradled in the loving gaze of the audience.

Theatre must return to the word and the naked stage. Because there is nothing more beautiful than an actor on the stage, an actor plainly, really there. That’s truth. Everything else just gets in the way.

Interview by Guy Dammann

Act and Terminal 3 | 1 – 30 June | Book Now

June 7, 2018

Little Eyolf | The Striking Portrait of a Child

Pia Tjelta (Rita Allmers), Kåre Conradi (Alfred Allmers) & Øyvind Eide



When Ibsen returned to Norway as a world famous dramatist, and settled in Kristiana after 27 years abroad, his desire for travelling was over. To the surprise of many, he quickly settled into city life, and made the Grand Cafe his local. Even while writing his plays, he never sought peace at spas or mountain retreats high up in Alps, on the contrary; he stated that he couldn’t understand “that people with comfortable homes, were eager at the first sign of warmer weather, to leave town for the deadly boredom of the country with all its disadvantages. Not
 only would one renounce all the usual conveniences and comforts of daily life such being able to work in the peace and quiet in one’s own private study, a comfortable bed, the newspapers at one’s cafe and so on in order to be shut up in a mediocre hotel far away from civilisation where one in addition to other discomforts would be at the mercy of the weather and consequently become a prisoner inside four walls without the resources of the city to fill the emptiness…”

Ibsen met the boy, Johan Hansen, a pupil at Ruseløkka School who became Ibsen’s errand boy. Little did Johan know that the playwright was busy writing Little Eyolf and was using him to study the ways of boys think and express themselves. One of those who was impressed by the play when it was published, was the fellow author Alexander Kielland. He spoke of his delight to his sister, the painter Kitty Kielland, and how surprised he was by Ibsen’s accuracy: “I find that the rat woman who takes care of the unloved little children has great depth and truth… Notice how much deeper the Old Devil gets to our true nature and shows us that the much praised love of one’s children is just the pressure of responsibility and jealousy while you have them and bad conscience when they are gone. I think the detail I most admire in the play, is after the scene with the rat woman, when Little Eyolf says to his aunt: Imagine! Now even I have seen the rat woman. That the Old Ghost can remember that this is how such an event is experienced by a boy. If you see Ibsen, you must bow all the way down to the ground three times, but you do not have to say anything. “

With regard to the idea of the rat woman, Ibsen showed his knowledge of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in a newspaper interview, but that his inspiration was a woman from his childhood town Skien. We don’t know for certain, but Ibsen probably also knew of an illustrated children’s book around the Hamlin legend by Robert Browning, which appeared in German in 1889, where one of the children was depicted with crutches. The lame boy is left behind as the rat catcher with his whistle lures the other children to the promised land where they are all swallowed up by the mountain. The lame boy himself complains that he did not get there before the mountain walls closed so that he could have been cured. At the same time, he becomes a witness to the fate of the other children, those who disappeared.

In Ibsen’s play, Allmers and his disability becomes a memorial to the selfishness of adults who don’t take care of the next generation; the infant Eyolf is paralysed in one leg after falling from the baby’s changing table while his parents are busy making love. Little Eyolf, who in Ibsen’s original manuscript only wants to play with the other children and learn to swim, follows the rat woman with terrified joy, as she rows out on the fjord. She is accompanied by the dog, Mopsemand, and handles a rowing boat with an oar in one hand while playing the mouth harp with the other. Only the floating crutch testified to the fact that Eyolf had drowned. The accusing, child’s eyes staring up from the bottom of the sea becomes an image of the parents’ deceit and guilt. Rita recalls her uncompromising reaction when she felt ignored, saying that she wanted her son’s death. Alfred Allmers abandons his idea of becoming an author and the philosophical questions that provided escape from the world after his son was paralysed.

After his son’s death, and while his beloved half-sister Asta is making plans to leave them, the Allmers go through a period of transformation. The world carries on as if nothing had happened, so what else that is responsible and future-oriented could they fill the rest of their lives with? Bitterly reflecting on their own selfishness they end up opening their doors to other children. Rita will let other children fill the space left by Eyolf: “They will live in Eyolf’s rooms, read his books, play with his things and take it in turns to sit on his chair at the table.” Is this a substitute for a broken life or a new meaning of life? The play’s reception in Denmark became tainted by speculations in the press, showing an interest in the theme of the piece. The Norwegian author, Thomas P. Krag, stole and showed the pages of the drowning accident to a journalist who made his own imaginative reflections on what the content of rest of the play could be. As a consequence, the tragic scene where the crutch flows towards the shore, was received with mirth in Danish theatres. Kielland thundered: “…damn the treacherous Danes who have spoilt the important reference to the crutch. In Copenhagen, actresses struggle to be heard trough the giggles from the auditorium when making their reference to the crutch. But it serves them right – Scum of the Earth.”

April 20, 2018

The Comet Interview with Andrzej Welminski

We recently sat down with Director Andrzej Welminski to discuss his UK premiere of The Comet with Teresa Welminski. Inspired by the life and work of Bruno Schulz, one of the greats of Polish 20th century literature, The Comet is an impressionistic portrait of the remarkable author. The Comet is on until this Saturday 24 March. Book now 













Focusing in on this performance, The Comet, give us a look at the characteristics of the performance. What’s different and special?
It’s difficult for me to explain in so few words but I think one thing is important; we wanted to create reality, because in art it’s always about reality. Reality of Bruno Schulz and reality of his drawings, his writings and his creativity mixed with his life events. The other thing is performance is used in several conventions so it is also gaming with theatrical conventions. If you are gaming with theatrical conventions…

Gaming? As in playing?
Gaming, yes -as in playing chess and cards. If you are gaming with theatrical conventions we can reach reality- reality which is real reality. Audience is a very important element of the performance, audience is involved in this performance, and audience is one of our characters. In our programme (opens programme), we have ‘dramatis personae and figures’. Spectators are in the first line. Spectators are the most important element in any art – without spectators, there is no art.

What level of importance is the narrator?
Narrator is lower level, but it’s also not the lowest.

Talk about the expression that you’re using – imagery, puppetry. What sort of thing will people see?
So talking about mixing of different conventions, we are using – I don’t want to spoil it of course, so I can’t tell you everything, but we are using elements of animation. Originally, this performance was made for the Puppet Museum, Museum Di Marionette in Palermo, so it was especially thinking about Marionette, and the subject of Gordon Craig who was also very close to this, animation of objects is one of the elements, it is one convention. The second important element, maybe we can say it, it’s a projector, a very old fashioned projector and it comes from the historical fact that Bruno Schultz brother, Isador, was owner of cinema in *Rhoditsch?* Bruno Schultz as a young child, used to spend all evening until the last performance in the cinema. He was especially fascinated by black and white Walt Disney cartoons so maybe this will also be recognised in our performance. I think emotions are also very important – we try to share emotions with spectators.

March 21, 2018

Trouble in Mind | Rehearsal Diary 3

An insight into the third and final week of rehearsal with Assistant Director Fay Lomas.

Our final week in the rehearsal room has been dedicated to finessing the work we have already done.

We’d had a fair bit of time since working Act 1, so we spent the earlier parts of the week getting ourselves reacquainted with the act. One thing we’ve been exploring is the bubbling energy of the first day of rehearsals. The strange thing about theatre is that it can feel like having that nervous feeling a child gets on the first day of a new school – but on several occasions every year. You’re constantly thrown into new environments, with a new thing to work on, and new people to work with. We’ve been taking our understanding of this strange, exciting day that is the first day of rehearsals and putting it into our playing of Act 1. Laurence has emphasised that Act 1 needs to feel like it slips by, floating on the energy of the first day of rehearsals.

We’ve also dedicated a significant amount of time to exploring the status of Manners (the director) in the rehearsal room. He is a director from Hollywood, who is gracing Broadway with his presence on this one show. People have seen his work, and they know he can make their careers if he chooses to take them back to LA to work on his next film (or perhaps break their careers if they fall out with him). We’ve been exploring ways of creating his status – through the manner in which characters address him, through the way in which they create space around him.

After this time delving back into Act 1, we returned to Act 2. One of the points of focus for our work on Act 2 this week has been continuing to explore the style of acting in the play-within-a-play. We’ve been doing historical research into the theatre company called the American Negro Theatre, which was highly active in the mid 1940s to mid 1950s. We’ve been looking at photos of their productions, as well as finding film footage of actors from that time (Sidney Poitier has been a particularly useful point of reference). We’re exploring the balance between a way of acting that feels quite stylised to us in the 21st Century, but that at the same time has a kernel of truth within it.

Towards the end of the week, we started to run each act in a variety of ways. Sometimes we’d run it sitting in a circle, so as to reconnect to the text, focussing on getting the accuracy of textual detail. Another way was to run each act again sitting in a circle, but with the actors standing up when their characters are involved in dialogue within the scene. This was a fascinating exercise as it enabled the actors to be continually playful, moving with their dialogue within (or sometimes around) the circle. It was also very useful to see the added energy it gave when actors stood up to speak – it launched them into the scene. We learnt lots from this exercise, which we then took into running each act in the space with the blocking we have decided upon. We also had one day when we were able to rehearse onstage, with the actual set, which was very helpful.

At the end of the week, we ran the whole play. We’re now into tech week, adding in costumes, sound and lighting, ahead of our first preview on Thursday.

Trouble in Mind | 14 Sep – 14 Oct | Book Now

September 12, 2017