Sunday, 12 August 2012

Thinking about Laurel & Hardy and other things

A few introductory thoughts from Director David WW Johnstone about Lazzi's adaptation of The Comic Destiny...

Lazzi likes to delve into the rough and raw edges of theatre. Whether working with comedy or tragedy, I like to ask the audience to experience a courageous experiment on the part of the performers. 
Our piece starts with the actors themselves gathering to rehearse. How will they adapt and interpret the text? I wanted Lazzi to take Ben Okri’s story and show how the borderline between actor and character can dissolve in unexpected ways. The characters of the piece can be gloriously oblivious to our attempts to restrain them – the process of adaptation itself must be released into their hands.  
Ben Okri’s story The Comic Destiny confronts the violence and the predatory nature of our world through a cast of characters each with their own disturbing histories and personalities. Lazzi needed to find a way to approach this unsettling text – why and how might a company fond of commedia do this? Some insight was gained from comparing the relentless suffering in the myth of Sisyphus, where he is forced to roll a stone up a hill only for it to endlessly fall back down, with the film of Laurel & Hardy attempting to deliver a piano and having to push it up endless steps, with the inevitable comic consequences. Both have a futility, yet one torments us, the other makes us laugh. Both speak of the human condition – they are surreal and absurd... and slapstick is a somewhat violent art. 
Like the characters in the story we are all looking for a special place where we can start afresh - although often just as we discover it we realise it too is about to be torn down. Navigating the line between pessimism and optimism is a fragile path.

If you haven't seen Laurel & Hardy with that piano... here it is... enjoy!:

Friday, 10 August 2012

Dead Souls - 'spontaneous and alive'

Our Edinburgh Fringe mini-run of Dead Souls is gathering some lovely feedback and very nice reviews.

Two shows now remaining at the Scotland Russia Forum
Friday 10 August 7.30pm and Saturday 11 August 2pm
Scotland-Russia Institute, 9 South College Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AA

Here's The List Magazine's **** review:

David Johnstone celebrates Gogol’s masterpiece in his single actor adaptation Adapting a novel for the stage is always a challenge; especially so when, like Gogol’s Dead Souls, the focus lies in the psychology of characters rather than the action. In this case there is a big risk of making the adaptation either shallow or boring. However, David Johnstone from LAZZI art unit was brave enough to take the risk. The result is his one-man show in which he skilfully combines scenes from the novel with the writer’s diaries, resulting in a heartfelt and passionate monologue about Russia and its future.
The actor, Robert Williamson, shows wonderful powers of transformation, turning from Chichikov into Korobochka and from Korobochka - into Gogol himself in an instant. He manages to maintain high energy and a connection with the public throughout the hour-long show, thus keeping them constantly alert, wondering: which character will appear on stage next? Who will he speak to now? Will he scream? Laugh? Stand up and run out of the venue? (and yes he did...)
The intimate settings of Scotland-Russia Institute allow Williamson to physically interact with the audience, drawing them into Gogol’s world and transforming them into peasants, coachmen or landlords at the ball. These interactions make the performance truly unique every time, as Williamson has to react to the responses he gets. This is, partly, what makes the show feel so spontaneous and alive.
A member of the audience wrote on the LAZZI website later: ‘The passion, intelligence, quicksilver humour and Keaton-esque physicality of the performance are utterly un-British and make the almost hour-long show feel like 15 minutes.’ This is what is particularly striking about the adaptation: remarkably, being created and performed in Edinburgh, it feels as Russian as the original novel.

And here's The Skinny's **** review:

A lively adaptation (in English) by David W W Johnstone of Gogol's masterpiece, as well as extracts from Gogol's writings about the work skilfully woven together. This production is a gem for Russophiles or anyone who loves physical theatre.
Robert Williamson is a versatile actor who plays all the characters with charm and verve: Chichikov, the scoundrel who buys dead souls, the various land-owners and Gogol himself, even involving the audience as bit players. Wearing a waistcoat over a white shirt, the only props he needs are a handkerchief for emotional moments, a notebook listing his bought dead souls, and a chair acting as his carriage, to conjure a world of bumpy roads across the vast tundra to crumbling estates owned by mean millionaire landowners (who make their serfs share only one pair of boots between them), or elegant soirées in St Petersburg, kowtowing to His Excellency, or an account of how the famous Chapter 6 was written in a noisy bar, singing as he writes, then bursting into hand-claps and stamping in Russian dance. The political message that the Russian soul needs to be free is lightly slipped in, but clearly this remains a tale suited to our times.