It’s been an interesting few weeks of getting back into rehearsal and chipping away at the show again and that’s included going right back to the source. I was chatting to Zane about it this week too, and again it struck me what a long, convoluted journey we’ve been on. That’s really one of the joys and major frustrations with the devised work we do – sometimes the process meanders along, and you don’t have a clue where it’s going, and other times it sits in the doldrums and you start prostrating yourself for some kinda wind for the sails.
Anyhoo, Pictures of You all started back in 2007. We were touring GUMBO all over the country and spending a lot of time away from home, and dealing with that slightly displaced alienation you always get on tours. Me and Liez had been talking for yonks about working in masks, and it was weirdly suddenly in the air – we bumped into Ellis Pearson in Johannesburg, who treated us to a sneak preview of his half-mask show for schools, and Aldo Brincat was around doing Arney at Kalk Bay. at some point. So we plotted vaguely about incorporating masks into some work we did…y’know – sometime in the future.
The future came a lot closer when at National Arts Festival that year, the bare bones of a story fell out of the sky. Was it a dream? I can’t remember. It would suit the show, but I skiem I’d be making it up if I said that for sure. But for some reason, a scene from Battle of the Sexes popped into my head.
Now in this, Peter Sellers is quite creepy as he plays Mr Martin – a mild mannered Scot clerk who, taking umbrage at the hostilities of a brash American woman (Constance Cummings) hired to investigate inefficiency at the firm, decides to murder her. The scene in question is inspired, with Sellers at his best in his half-hearted attempts to kill her, and always just being foiled. This all takes place in a kitchen and involves, amongst other things, ice scrapers, carving knives, and a whisk (you’ll just have to see it).
It’s not the best Sellers film, by a long shot. But the scene is great. Really funny and pretty dark. And for some reason, the action of trying to kill one’s spouse stuck. Let’s not get too analytic here – I was a few months away from getting married, but not for a second a I suggesting anything that you’re reading between the lines. Nor am I condoning domestic violence.
What interested me was the question: what would drive a seemingly mild-mannered man to the point of murdering his spouse? What extreme crisis of character or identity would lead him to such lengths?
At the same time as all of this, I’d been reading up on male identity, midlife crises, self-actualisation, and so on for another project. So everything was simmering away merrily, and at Grahamstown came this seed of a story: a husband and wife’s marriage is perfect on the surface, but underneath is a broiling mess of unfulfilled desire. He starts dreaming wildly, and in his dreams he meets a Dream Creature. She entices him more and more to visit her, and eventually he is hooked. Addicted. Can’t get enough of her. So he cooks up a plan (or is coerced) to swap his wife for the creature, by killing her, thus opening the portal for dream-real exchange (some dodgy quantum physics there, I know…very Vurt, very Pan’s Labyrinth, very very David Lynch: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, etc…did I ever say I was a shameless borrower?).
Thus began a battle for their souls, and a clash between the real and dreaming worlds. Pretty obscure. Slightly abstract. And we figured that maybe not to so many people’s taste. Especially when funders started saying “no”. But through this process of development, we had succoured the services of 2 other main collaborators: James Webb for sound design and Janni Younge for visual design and creation.
We also had a title – “Of Quiet Desperation”, from that awesome quote by Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
This was the original mock-up of the poster. Notice how originally Liez and I were going to play the parts, and Tanya was down to direct. We had also ambitiously marked March as our premiere. (Boy, was that quickly gonna change!)
But what we had to start with was a cool, creepy, dark, slightly comic, very surreal, and all round disturbing glimpse into human behaviour under pressure. It was certainly something build on.
Stay tuned for the next instalment…