As pre-Edinburgh media coverage goes into overdrive, Theatre Bubble turns its attention to a lesser-known fringe festival much closer to home, and the artists going against the tide and bringing their work to London this August.
KUNST? is “a comic nightmare” from innovative and bizarre mask-theatre company HunkyPunk. An elderly couple’s ritual squabble over an evening’s television is distorted into a series of surreal comedic episodes. Mask, stunningly elaborate visuals, physical humour, poetry, song and dance collide and fuse to show a familiar scene of domestic passive-aggression through an absurd comic lens. We spoke to Artistic Director William Tombs about the show.
TB: What makes the Camden Fringe different?
William Tombs: Well, for us the Camden Fringe feels like coming home – We’ve been doing shows on the Camden Fringe intermittently since 2007 when I performed my one-man show What the Lobster Shouted as it Boiled. I’ve seen some astonishing things and some appalling things – I know that’s the same as most fringe festivals, but Camden has provided some of my best-remembered theatre experiences over the years.
TB: Your mask work is very unusual – what influenced your style of performance and design?
WT: In March 2008 I was touring Italy in a production of Hamlet. Watching The Simpsons dubbed in Italian, I realised that despite the language barrier, and unlike other Italian television, I could understand it perfectly. Such clarity of gesture and tone, such rich economy of storytelling! This is HunkyPunk’s creation myth: While I watched a hitherto non-existent mask-theatre style, as distinct as any in world-theatre, popped into my head almost fully formed. It was like somebody imagining Opera or Ballet into existence. Whilst this style borrowed—sometimes stole—from other styles (from the Commedia Dell’Arte of course, from Kabuki, etc. – in many ways theatrical equivalents of Cartoon), by including them, transcended them all… It was as if I stood at the dawn of culture, as if I had become the first prehistoric devotee of Thespis, imagining Theatre Itself into existence after too many sneaky swigs on the temple wine. Since then, that wonderful world I envisaged has slipped out of the television for me and into the streets and supermarkets. Even the torment of a trawl round the Tartarus that is Tesco is transformed, by this new comedic lens, into an exultant journey through a fairyland paradise of colour and astonishment. HunkyPunk is an effort to entertainingly articulate that aesthetic vision.
My chief collaborator Rozie Jackson, and I, like to joke that KUNST? is a play about ‘people you won’t like, shouting things you won’t understand’… But we aim, above all, to be accessible. You can tell, can’t you?
TB: How do you create your mask shows?
WT: Usually we start with some visual or technical ideas and we develop them. KUNST? was created almost by a kind of alchemical process. We started with a handful of fairly surreal and frankly pointless sketch ideas. Stuff like ‘Lear’s heath-scene with actors playing Lear, the Thunder, the North-Wind, and Lear’s beard’. At first these didn’t really go beyond my concept drawings, but then we decided to merge this project with another idea that I’d been loosely playing with for years: an ordinary couple in an ordinary sitting-room having an ordinary bicker, but shown through wild exaggerations of their subjective-worlds – a lifetime of mutual loathing is humorously played out in their dark fantasies. Once we had decided that our play would employ this technique to chart a domestic quarrel about an evening’s television, we got to work figuring out how to fit our early sketches into it.
KUNST? performs from the 17th – 21st August, at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Book tickets for KUNST? here
Bezoomny Theatre – an international theatre collective formed of Gaulier graduates – presents RADIATOR, the story of a woman locked in her own world. Based on a true story of schizophrenia, Radiator is rooted in the absurd, questions the imaginary and explores the curious realm of loneliness, friendship and plumbing. You will never ignore your radiator again.
TB: What inspired you to create RADIATOR?
Bezoomny Theatre: RADIATOR was first created at the theatre and clown school Ecole Philippe Gaulier in France during the ‘writing and directing’ workshop. Philippe made us tell stories to each other. But they couldn’t be boring, they had to be beautiful, and if he thought they could be possible on stage he would accept them. The writer of RADIATOR, Madeleine Bye, told the story of how a woman, who suffered with schizophrenia, had a two hour conversation with her radiator. What we loved about the original story was how it was told in a playful way. A lot of people have preconceived ideas about schizophrenia. The beauty of this story was that the woman who told it wasn’t afraid to tell it. She wanted people to laugh with her, not at her and although its a terrifying experience, why can’t we bring out a sense of normality from it and therefore create a person through the story who is just like everybody else? The show really concentrates on this idea and has subsequently shifted to become a story based on this real life experience but is primarily focused on friendship, loneliness and… plumbing.
TB: The company met at Gaulier – how did your time at this school inform and influence your creative practice?
BT: So much of the show is influenced and inspired by what we learned at Ecole Philippe Gaulier. The teaching is thoroughly grounded in the principle of ‘Le Jeu’ or ‘the game’. The process of the show involved breaking down the story into these games to essentially become a serious story told in a light and playful way. There are actually two scripts for RADIATOR. One with the voice of the Radiator and one without. Our time performing and creating the script was massively influenced by Philippe himself. In the final play you can only hear the one voice, when the actor is playing and their spirit is alive, the audience are able to enter the game of deciding whether this dialogue does or doesn’t exist.