Among the many delights that I have come across online has been the company Imitating The Dog whose work is supremely challenging and exists on the borders between theatre and other art forms – principally cinema. I realised recently that it had been quite some time since I had caught up with what they are up to and when I visited their website I found not only a whole new streamlined look but also a couple of pieces that had passed me by. Both small in terms of time scale they are super ambitious in their format and once again push boundaries and achieve something far beyond a straight forward filmed version of a play.
Airlock takes as its style inspiration the graphic novel and there are three separate stories based on aspects of genre fiction. First up is The Cosmonaut in which Roza (Morven Macbeth) is trapped in her orbiting vehicle desperately running short of oxygen. She reaches out to anyone who may be listening and connects with a power station worker (Matt Prendergast). It is in essence a brief love story and is infused with a tender lyrical quality. The second takes detective fiction as its starting point and I felt was the best of the three; it seemed more suited to the graphic style being used. Called Writer’s Block it actually works on dual levels as The Writer (Prendergast again) struggles to make sense of a convoluted plot centred on his hard boiled private investigator Charlie (Morgan Bailey) in pursuit of the elusive Eurydice (Macbeth again). I wouldn’t try to follow the plot – just enjoy the use of clever references and metafictional nods. The last piece might best be described as post-apocalyptic vampire fiction with Laura Atherton and Graeme Rose battling for survival. Although the graphics are interesting I didn’t find it particularly engaging and was glad it was short.
What lifts the project even further above the ordinary is that the pieces are played “as live” and in the bottom left hand corner the actors are constantly on display. We can see their movements and facial expressions which are then transferred to the action on the main screen in something that I’m guessing is akin to motion capture work in cinema (I could, of course, be completely wrong about this). It’s as fascinating as the stories themselves but may have been partly responsible for me losing focus on the narratives as I kept being drawn into what the performers were up to; in the second episode, for instance I enjoyed watching Adela Rajnović transforming herself into four separate characters. No doubt the experience and lessons learned from this exercise written, devised and directed by ITD founders Andrew Quick, Simon Wainwright and Pete Brooks have fed into their latest live touring show described as a graphic novel on stage Dracula: The Untold Story (information and tour dates here)
The other “new” project, called Street, is also a multi-part exercise in story telling but this time based on recorded testimony. Five people from Cumbria (Karen, Alex, Keith, Tilly and Jean) are heard telling us about incidents, people and places from their lives. Meanwhile visually a cast of actors are effectively miniaturised against massive domestic backdrops (a larder, the stairs, inside a fridge and so on) and silently act out a story which doesn’t so much capture a narrative as a mood. The effect is of gazing into the rooms of a doll’s house and apparently the piece was originally conceived of as just that, as a walk through museum installation. It’s delightfully done by directors Quick and Wainwright again and all kept very short and sweet so there is no time for the ideas to lose their novelty value. The whole is bound together by a piece of theme music from Steve McWade with shades of another northern street which appears regularly on our TVs.
If you’ve not visited the Imitating The Dog website you’d be well advised to. Their recorded theatre content is all still available as are their renowned projection pieces filmed in outdoor locations. There is even a student devised game piece, Fragments Of A Visitor, which invites you to solve a death through the collecting of various clues and untangling of evidence. I did have a go at this but kept getting stuck at one particular point; if you have more luck than me, then let me know.
Airlock and Street are available on the Imitating The Dog website – click here
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