After launching in 1998, theatre company Shunt have established themselves as key purveyors of site-specific theatre. Now that they’ve left their well etablished Shunt Vaults in Bermondsey, they’ve set up camp in The Biscuit Factory where their new show, The Architects will run from 27th November.
I spoke to two of the founders, David Rosenberg and Louise Mari at their rehearsal space, the equally bizarre home of Theatre Delicatessen in Marylebone Gardens. The two are incredibly synchronised. They appear to read each others thought, adding to them succinctly and literally finishing each other’s sentences, which made transcribing this interview kind of hard. But here, for your reading pleasure are 5 things you should know about Shunt’s new production, The Architects.
1. It’s not about a minotaur
In the most commonly known version of the Greek myth, the city of Athens sends King Minos of Crete a group of children to be sacrificed to the raging minotaur, imprisoned in an endless maze. More interesting for Shunt are the questions about what led them to do this. On the surface there was the imminent, repeated threat of King Minos. A little deeper and there is the creation of a monster and the need to feed it at the expense of a seemingly weaker community. For our favourite interpretations see Ancient Greece for Kids (“Whenever King Minos was bored, he took his navy and attacked Athens”)
On a more serious note, there are also the ideas of maintaining control and placing blame and the notion of dealing with a creature that is not fully understood. There’s the challenge of creating an inescapable maze for such a creature and whether or not to assume it lacks sense. The minotaur has turned up in countless interpretations including Japanese animation called Tekkonkinkreet where he appears without origins or motive. In Dante’s Inferno, the beast is taunted, damned and distracted by those who have power in the narrative whereas in Asterion, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, we are given the minotaur’s perspective. Borges presents a playful but lonely character befuddled by his predicament and accepting of his fate.
“There are many different versions” says David, “and they all have an influence on what we’re creating. There’s a particular feature of the story that’s interesting: the potential propaganda about a vicious beast. For whatever reason there is a monster that’s created and the viciousness of that monster – or people’s fear of that – drives some other agenda. In the Borges story, the minotaur is actually quite easy to kill and there’s something quite pathetic about that.”
2.They made a sex-machine
A machine that aids sex? Or provides it? Who knows? We can discuss the details later. For now, know that the main character Shunt focus on is Daedalus, the architect who designed the labyrinth to enclose this beast. “He also made a kind of machine” explains David “which allowed the queen of Minos to have sex with a bull and conceive the minotaur. So we’re interested in erm, you could say, the broad range of skills that this character has.”
3. They want to confuse you
“A particular concern in this piece, is about labyrinths and disorientation and the audience not knowing where they are or being confused as to how they imagine the space to be. So it was about creating a disorientating environment with surprises where we don’t reveal the space to them at all.”
Louise adds: “I think we create a world which is subtly changing so you’re never quite sure. We always work in a way that’s quite abstract.”
On the labyrinth David explains that “to be disorientated, you have to be orientated prior to that. So it’s not just about throwing shit-loads of confusion at an audience.
We’re also interested it the idea that Daedalus and the architects are working for tyrants but they have a job that they’re passionate about. The money allows them to make their work but it’s filthy money.”
4. You’ll have to work out the politics yourself.
As Louise mentioned, Shunt are always abstract but their shows tend to reflect the environment they grown in. Their show Money for example was already being put together before the 2008 crash. Now with Greece in the state that it’s in socially and fiscally, it’s hard not to draw parallels about fearmongering. But Louise and David are certain there’s nothing immediately obvious in the show about the real world conversation you could draw.
“There is a climate,” says David “a political climate and an economic climate, in which we are making a show so the work develops under the influence of those events
and we’re very focused on European concerns. The fact that we’re exploring a Greek myth when contemporary Greece is really on the edge is a strong point of interest for us.”
“But” says Louise, “not to the extent that someone who came to the show might be able to read it as a political metaphor, there’s nothing that overt. When we’re making a show we try to do something that picks up on a current climate and whatever’s prevailing in that climate will inevitably unfold, sometimes in a very public way.”
5.You have a role to play
But you don’t have to do anything. “The audience shareholders in one of our shows [Money]” says Louise, “or they’re co-conspirators in another show [Dance, Bear, Dance]. It doesn’t mean they have to participate in a terrifying way but they are included in the performance, they aren’t simply voyeurs.”
“We should point out there are some things we can’t say” says David, “because the experience of the audience not knowing much about the environment they’re going into is key. We can say the architects are Danish though.”
Image by Adam Trigg