Interview: Andrew Quick | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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An imitating the dog and Leeds Playhouse bring their reimagining of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic Frankenstein to Northern Stage, Newcastle from 30th April-2nd May.

Moving away from the much-loved Boris Karloff interpretation (e.g. neck bolts, flat head and clunky shoes) that has become synonymous with the character, this production follows a couple who are confronting their own fears about impending parenthood. As they are doing so the story of Frankenstein erupts into life around them and everyday objects are transformed into glaciers, a ship at sea, a dissecting room and a house on fire

It’s a psychological thriller which asks a question that is as important now as it was back then… What is it to be human?

We catch up with the co-Artistic Director of production company imitating the dog, Andrew Quick, to talk about their interpretation of an influential piece of British literature…

How did you get into theatre?
I suppose it was via my mother and father – they took me to plays when I was young.  I remember seeing Endgame directed by Samuel Beckett and around the same time, Venessa Redgrave in Lady from the Sea – productions that have always stayed with me.  I studied English at University, but I directed and performed in lots of plays.  It was a great place to learn.

Tell us about imitating the dog and its ethos. What made you want to start up your own Theatre company?
The company grew out of a final-year project for a group of students at Lancaster University.  I was the supervisor.  It was a great show – back in 1998.  It went to the National Student Drama Festival and won a prize and then it went out on a tour. The group moved to Leeds, and I directed the next few productions with them, and we slowly evolved.  Simon Wainwright, one of the original students, moved towards video design – he’s one of the company’s co-artistic directors. Then in 2006, Pete Brooks started working with us. 

The ethos of the company is to make work that challenges expectations both formally and thematically.  We’ve always been interested in storytelling – in how we might discover new stories in texts that we think we know. We have always been interested in the relationship between film and theatre.  I suppose that’s what has drawn us to cameras and projection.  Music and sound have been a big influence as well.

What is it about Frankenstein that has captured the imagination of readers and audiences throughout generations?
Well, it’s a great story.  Hard to believe it was written by somebody so young.  I think one of the reasons it’s so popular is that the story taps into some profound human anxieties.  What it is to be human; the necessity of love; the responsibility of parenthood, of creation; the folly of human ambition; what happens when you play at being God. I think we also need to acknowledge the impact of cinema on how we encounter the novel.  I mean this story has been adapted for the cinema in so many ways.  And that is one of the challenges.  How do you do something new with the material?

How did it inspire the genesis of this production? And how the book helps you reflect on the anxieties about becoming a parent.
When I re-read the novel in preparation for the adaptation I was really moved by the creature. How the creature seemed bereft of love and how it searches, indeed demands love, having been created. I think all parents worry, in anticipation of a birth, about how they are going to react to the child.  Whether they will love her or him.  At that moment, before the actual birth, the relationship is so abstract, especially with a first child. I suppose we tapped into this.  But the larger question for us also became what kind of world we are bringing a child into.  The novel also deals with landscape; it’s full of storms, ice, water, glaciers, wind, rain – it’s like nature is reacting to some profound human intervention, like it might be signalling a world breaking apart.  Sometimes it feels to me that this is happening now.  This was another connection that we made.

Can you elaborate on the plot in your Frankenstein? Where is it set and who are some of the characters?
There are two characters – a man and a woman, unnamed.  They play Victor Frankenstein and the Creature.  They also play a couple who are dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.  It’s set in a flat in a high-rise building that overlooks the city.  We move across the story taken from the novel and the couple and slowly they merge into one narrative by the end.

In this current climate, how important is art like yours to get audiences questioning ‘what it is to be human?’
Of course, there’s a whole problem with the word human because it immediately separates us from everything else. ‘We are human and we are different.’  This gives us such a licence to think we can do what we want.  Maybe our humanity is connected to everything else and maybe we aren’t so different at a profound level. We’ve been playing at being God for too long now.  That’s one of the lessons we can take from the book.  It does not end well.  Ice and snow and death. We need to learn from this.

Can you tell us more about the multimedia component of the production? Was this element important in terms of nodding to the original and its evaluation of modern technology?
The technology is a key component of the work but it’s all about the storytelling.  The projection gives us an opportunity to create landscapes that are both literal (snow, ice, etc.) and psychological – a world disintegrating or reorientating itself. There’s a lot of lightning.  The set (Hayley Grindle) and the lighting (Andrew Crofts) are amazing and give us an incredibly rich world to engulf our two performers in.  But this is true of the sound (James Hamilton and Rory Howson) and projection (Simon Wainwright).  

Yes, this use of technology nods to the original but not as an explicit critique of technology.  It’s more about creating a landscape in which to tell the story in.

If Mary Shelley was resurrected to watch this production, what do you think she’d think of it? And what are you hoping regular, non-reanimated, audiences take away from this production?
I hope she would like it.  You are always a product of your time, so I imagine she would find the world of today hard to experience, never mind this adaptation.  I hope our audience are moved and entertained by the show.  That’s all I ever want, really.  You know, to create a space where people can lose themselves for a short time and come away thinking about things differently.

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