Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview Theatre Interview

Guillaume Pigé: Blind Man’s Song

By | Published on Thursday 15 January 2015

I think we first came across Theatre Re, a company who create work “on the edge of mime and theatre”, at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, where our impressed reviewer gave their show ‘The Gambler’ a highly glowing write up. Their latest offering, ‘Blind Man’s Song’, heads to Jackson’s Lane next week, staged as part of the London International Mime Festival.

Blind Man's Song

The new show, which has been devised with help from blind and partially sighted people, sounds amazing. I talked to director Guillaume Pigé, to find out more about Theatre Re, and about what inspired this show.

CM: Can you tell us what ‘Blind Man’s Song’ is about? What form does the performance take?
GP: ‘Blind Man’s Song’ is a play without words about one man’s rage against the world of darkness.

Our main character is a blind musician who has never seen the light; as he gets ready to go to bed, he recalls an encounter that happened earlier in the day, and this sets him on a dreamlike journey where some things become more visible in the dark.

CM: What attracted you to dealing with this subject matter?
GP: I guess I am very much fascinated by what is going on in the brain, and the real challenge is to try to make all of that which is invisible and happening inside our heads, our hearts and our souls, visible on stage; to give to our ideas and emotions a physical reality; to create metaphors.

How does one start to conjure up fantasies? Why do our thoughts sometimes start to flirt with the surreal and the unbelievable? And then what happens if we take all these very same questions and decide to set them all in the head of someone who has never seen the light?

With Blind Man’s Song we wanted to take that leap of the imagination to an extreme.

CM: Who created the piece, and how did it come together? What inspired it?
GP: The piece was devised collaboratively with all the members of the creative team. We also worked in collaboration with audio description charity VocalEyes, and the members of Haringey Phoenix Group, which works with blind and partially sighted people.

When I was first thinking about the project, the working title was something like ‘The Kiss’ and I was interested in exploring the question: why do people kiss? And while I was thinking about that, I realised that in the act of kissing, most people choose to close their eyes. Darkness seems to unlock the doors of imagination and to arouse the wildest and most mysterious sides of our minds.

I was also fascinated by a painting by Belgian painter René Magritte entitled: ‘The Lovers’. I was wondering: why do his lovers in the act of kissing have their faces veiled? Some have suggested that it’s because they are concealing something about themselves. But could we not imagine that the presence of the veil was there to lead us to a completely different world, a world above reality for instance. In that world, could we not ask, what is the veil revealing rather than concealing?

So in a way ‘Blind Man’s Song’ came from several mysteries that I was dying to explore with the Theatre Re team.

CM: You consulted blind and partially sighted people for this, didn’t you? How did that come about, and how did their input inform the final production?
GP: Theatre Re has been supported by Haringey Council for the past four years and as a company we have gained experience in making work with groups at risk of social exclusion (Gambler’s Anonymous), local residents (in Tottenham) and groups of people with disabilities. When I discussed the new project of the company with Elena Pippou (Cultural Officer at Haringey Council) and that one of the questions that we were going to explore was: what does it mean to live in a world with no sight, she told me about the Haringey Pheonix Group.

I visited the organisation and had regular discussions with its members for about a year, at the same time as the company was engaged in a long research and development period. The idea is that the interviews and the creative work feed into each other; it’s a way of working that we had started to experiment in previous productions and it turned out to be extremely successful, not least because it really forces you to stay in tune with where the project is coming from.

At the end of this R&D period, VocalEyes helped us to organise a live audio described work-in-progress showcase for an audience of blind and partially sighted people. Not only were the comments and feedback that we received very useful, but the collaboration with VocalEyes also proved to be decisive for the future developments of the piece. We also realised that the music (performed and composed live by Alex Judd) was telling the story.

CM: You’re the artistic director of Theatre Re, the company behind this show. Can you tell us something about the group and its aims, and why you set it up in the first place?
GP: I founded Theatre Re in 2009 and we are a London-based international ensemble creating vibrant and emotional work on the edge of mime and theatre.

Mime because corporeal mime is at the base of all our creative work and we are fascinated by the idea of making “visible the invisible”. Theatre because we are telling stories. And as Karen Quigley (writer and drama lecturer at the University of York) wrote about our work: “The idea of being on the edge also implies a possible tipping point, a position from which one could fall into or step onto something else. Theatre Re has found a ‘something else’ and transformed an edge into a definite aesthetic and practice”.

I set up the company because I wanted to take a piece (‘Gloved’) that we created with a friend to the Avignon OFF Festival. That’s how it started and it is only later that I started to think about where the company was headed; at first it was just because I wanted to produce things.

CM: Mime can be a slightly divisive art form, in that lots of people reject it as being too ‘artsy’ or inaccessible. How would you sell it to the uninitiated?
GP: This is very good question! How to sell the show!

Well first of all we move a lot, so if you don’t like performers sweating on stage, you should probably not come to see us. But if you do then you absolutely need to come!

Then, most of us on stage trained as mime-actors and this is where we are coming from. However we are not trying to defend an aesthetic, nor to resuscitate ghosts, we are using it as a tool to say what we have to communicate.

Also, most of our creative team do not come from a specifically mime background, nor from a theatre background actually; yet they are all experts in their field and I believe that it is the richness of our creative team and our way of working together through collaboration that creates the richness of our piece. I am especially thinking of the live musical score created by Alex Judd and the visual environment developed by Katherine Graham our lighting designer.

‘Blind Man’s Song’ will be our third piece together and we really start to get to know each other, which enable us to take more risks. In the end all that is important to us is to make a fantastic show that will move people (and hopefully save the world but we will keep that for later).

CM: ‘Blind Man’s Song’ is being performed as part of the London International Mime Festival, but will it continue after this? Will there be further performances or a tour?
GP: Yes! We have a short tour lined up in the UK (Bracknell, Lincoln and Halifax) in January and February. We will then take the piece to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 and organize a larger tour in 2016.

CM: What’s next for Theatre Re?
GP: Well, while Blind Man’s Song is touring… why not start making a new show!

Blind Man’s Song is on at Jackson’s Lane from 21-22 January, see this page here for more info.

LINKS: www.jacksonslane.org.uk | www.retheatre.com | twitter.com/TheatreRe | www.vocaleyes.co.uk | www.haringeyphoenix.org.uk | www.mimelondon.com



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