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It’s the lounge area of the Nuffield Theatre, and Alex Owens, Walker Zupp, and myself have come here to get away from the noise of County Bar. Alex is the director of House with a Red Door, a “devised physical theatre piece” about a divorce due to open in the Nuffield on the 17th November, and Walker is its producer.
So I’ve watched all the trailers for the play – they look very unusual, and there’s not much of a sense of what the narrative is. Does this production borrow from art-house or avant-garde styles?
Alex Owens, Director: I would say so.
Walker Zupp, Producer: I thought a lot about Alejandro Jodorowsky and the type of work he did, you know: El Topo, The Holy Mountain, that type of stuff. Of course, there’s the realist aspect of the entire production, so it’s 50-50: the realist stuff being more This is England and the hallmarks of British cinema.
AO: The idea of it was supposed to be very collaborative between people and different styles. We’ve got lots of new people in this year where this is their first show with LUTG. This is the first directing role I’ve had, so I’ve got a completely different style to the LUTG physical theatre previously. It’s a big amalgamation of everyone’s different styles. There was a storyline but there wasn’t actually any particular style in there, it’s the individuals who brought that in.
How would you describe the story?
AO: It’s a pretty simple premise: It’s a family that are going through a divorce, and the idea is that it’s a very ordinary situation, in a very ordinary house, but shown in a different way to get people to think about it differently. That’s why the title is House with a Red Door. Walker and me spent about half an hour discussing whether it should be The House with a Red Door, House with the Red Door…
But we thought that House with a Red Door made it more ambiguous, as in it could be any house, any street, rather than a particular house.
What was that original image? How is it different from the play now?
AO: Well the main thing is probably the role of the Dad. It’s set in a 24 hour period, around a kitchen table, during a divorce. The original intention – pre-casting – was for it to be the 24 hours leading up to the divorce. However, with the way casting worked out, we’ve ended up going for the 24 hours after the divorce and not actually cast a father figure, so it’s then looking at the relationships the people left at home have had with each other.
WZ: Yeah, and I think there you get a sense of the organic nature of the show, because we might be getting the actors to improvise some lines by themselves and then Alex will come in and say, “do something completely different!” And then we’ll build on it from there and forget other stuff, so it’s constantly evolving and changing.
AO: Which is what we knew it would do right from the start. We needed an outline, but we knew that that outline would change, because we’ve only had five weeks to produce this show, and it’s the first one. Devised physical theatre is never an easy challenge, especially when it’s people’s extracurricular activity!
Did you get a sense of raw emotion coming from the actors resonating with these themes?
AO: Yeah, definitely. In the first session, the first thing we did was to sit everyone down and talk about the topic of divorce. We wanted physicality and raw emotion to be the two main things in it. And then we did a character workshop a week ago, which allowed for the actors to really forget about moving, for one day and to really become their characters. It’s had a really good effect on the rest of the play, because they’ve taken that and ran with it, tapping into how their character would feel in this conversation, whether through personal experience or discussion.
When we think of improv, we often think of comedy. Was anything like that in your mind when you were improvising with these actors?
WZ: I think the key to good improvisation is not to be impressive but to say immediately what comes very naturally to one’s head. I think that can be a bit different in comedy because you’re going for that reaction, you want people to laugh. In our show though, it’s more about doing the most right, real thing, and I think the actors did a really good job.
AO: Yeah, We wanted them to act natural, and doing that has produced the best outcome.
I feel like our readers will have a much better sense of this play now, but what would you say to a theatregoer who is still on the fence?
AO: It’s a platform from which we can explore ways of moving, the actors’ talents, we’ve got mixes of circus skills in there, lots of jumping around, rhythm, songs… a massive collaboration of everything.
WZ: But I think what we don’t want is people coming away from it thinking it was just a big narcissistic ‘ooh-we’re-so-talented’ sort of thing because I think at the end of the day we do want to make something which is arresting, beautiful, dangerous… and entertaining, obviously! I mean we don’t just put these things on for ourselves. That would be absurd.
AO: Speaking of doing things for ourselves, it might be worth noting where all the proceeds of this show are going to. This show, the society will make its money back on it. All the rest of the profits are going to the MS Research Society and Western Park Cancer Trust. So it’s not just for ourselves, it’s to help other people. And those are two charities that are very close to me; even in the last month or so there have been incidents where they have become very prevalent, so it’s now about helping other people as well. If we can do anything to help, putting on the show, if that raises money for something that I care about a lot, and a lot of other people care about, then why not use your talents for others?