Blog: Andrew Quick

The artistic director of Lancaster theatre company
Imitating the Dog on a different journey through theatre

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Hello to all Big Issue North readers. Many thanks for the opportunity to tell you something about Imitating The Dog’s new show The Train, which is touring this month. We’ve just come back from Italy, where we opened in October and it has gone down very well with audiences out there. I think one of the successes of the piece is the experience the audience has in viewing the performance. For The Train, we place 12 of you in a moving auditorium and you track up and down the length of the train listening to the dialogue and experiencing the soundscape through headphones. This creates a pretty intense experience and some of the technologies we are using in terms of projection are new to us as well. Here we are using 10 projectors that transform the world constantly, allowing us to move between what looks like a realistic train to a dream space in the blink of an eye.

After the grandeur of our last show, A Farewell To Arms, which toured to larger spaces and had, by comparison, a much bigger cast and sweeping narrative, it is great to work on something that is smaller scale and tighter in scope. In many ways we have returned to some of the themes that have dominated our work over the last few years – our relationship to storytelling and narrative, how we might imagine the future and the burden (both in terms of hope and fear) that having children brings with it. We started off thinking we might create a kind of science fiction piece of theatre where the world was imagined solely as a train. Nothing else, no fields, sea or sky, just a train travelling through the darkness – a metaphor for our universe, I suppose. Zones of carriages become nations, carriages contain seas, deserts, etc. And through this landscape we follow the journey of our heroine as she attempts to find out what happened to a missing child. Some of this story has stuck with us but we frame it now with a kind of psychotherapeutic session as a therapist investigates what might be the trauma that creates a woman’s dream of the world as a train. In this sense it’s a kind of double detective story: finding out why the dream is occurring in the first place and also the story within the dream – what happened to the child. I won’t spoil the ending but the two are linked, of course.

Making the show was pretty scary as we evolved the narrative on the set, abandoning much of the script, which was written earlier. But there was also something really liberating about playing and discovering what the set could do and I think we have come up with something that is playful, pleasurable and highly moving. When we were making A Farewell To Arms my second child was born and I could not write the final scene (because in the novel the child and mother die during the birth) until after the baby was successfully delivered. I think something about this experience made me realise how fragile life is and this has been reinforced recently with the tragic events that have befallen those fleeing the war zones on the edges of Europe. A child offers so much hope yet it has to bear the strains of the world that it is born into: ones that it has inherited but is not directly responsible for. The Train is a kind of response to these feelings and observations.

But in case this sounds too heavy it’s important to also talk about the work’s noir-style drawing from graphic novels and comics we loved when we were oh so much younger and a whole raft of films that keep informing our work. A while back we looked at Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness as a possible source for adaptation only to conclude that it was, for many reasons, too difficult for us to take on. But something of the novel’s structure and particularly Coppola’s Apocalypse Now haunts a lot of the material we have created. If you want a highly disturbing mix of fairground ride and philosophical meditation on loss and isolation then this is the show for you. Hope you can join us for the ride.

The Train is at Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University, 21-25 Jan

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