By Kshanika Argent
How did 1927 happen?
Suzanne: Initially Paul and I started working together, about six or seven years ago. We started mixing animation and story telling, then we met Iris when she was performing on the radio on a sort of experimental music program. Paul heard it and got in touch, we swapped a CD of poetry for some pictures, and then we started working together and mixing what we do. Lilly came on board about a year later (she’s a friend of my brother’s) so it’s all very much a family affair. Lilly started composing music and Esme, the actress and costume designer (we’ve been friends for years, we went to university together) got involved as soon as she moved out of London.
Will it always be the four of you?
Lillian: We’re a tight-knit company, we spend a lot of hours together, working on tiny bits of animation and projections but I’m sure there’s room for working with other people, like musicians. I suppose this (The Animal and Children Took to the Streets) was a really good test for what we could create from scratch as a company (the last show was Suzanne’s previous work as a poet and story teller). We found limitations with a very small cast, and wanting to go big, so there’s perhaps room to expand for the next show.
What’s the ideation process like?
Lillian: It’s interesting because as a four, we’re not necessarily the best. It can be loads of different ideas coming together all at once and there’s no clear direction. Suzanne is the director and she can conceive the ideas and Paul will have the visual concept from what Suzanne’s suggesting, so it’s a very tight unit that works closely together but of course Esme is a very big and good inspiration for the other visual images. Suzanne and I will work together closely with script so a lot of the time it might be just the two of us, but again Esme will come on board as well and we’ll throw ideas around so it’s only in the later stages that we get the four of us together – but having said that e, all four people are involved and you need to have the same vision.
How long did it take to put this together?
Suzzanne: Six months and a couple of years (laughs). It took a long time. It was a very intense time – we hired a warehouse and worked from 7a.m. to about midnight for six months and before that it was at least another year of playing with ideas, forming and reforming, deciding what the show was going to be. We had a deadline before we had any idea of what the show was going to be (it was due to open at the Sidney Opera House before we had any idea what we were going to do) so it was more like 18 months but six months of intensive work.
Both productions have been described as ‘perfect’, how does that feel?
Suzzanne: Now that we’ve made our second show, we don’t feel as much pressure as we did after the first, because with the first, we came from absolutely nowhere and had all these good reviews and won these awards at the Edinburgh Festival. We felt the pressure with the second but with the third show, if anything, we can be a bit more experimental because we feel we’ve sort of proved ourselves a little bit more. We’ve made two shows, so even if we do go completely…
Lillian: …off the radar, then that’s okay as well!
Suzzanne: So actually the pressure has lessoned.
What’s Theatre as a profession like in the UK?
Suzzanne: We’re doing alright, which is quite lucky. Everybody gave up their day jobs a couple of years ago. We managed to get funding to do our shows and touring is a really good way of making money and that’s really been our bread and butter for a while. You might have a sort of eating-beans-on-toast for six months as you’re making the show when there’s less money but then when we go on tour and that’s how we get a decent enough wage to live off.
You once mentioned you had no intention of getting into theatre…
Suzzanne: Just kind of happened didn’t it?
Lillian: As a company we’ve all come from artistic backgrounds: art, theatre, music, poetry, physicality in acting, and we’ve been inspired as a company through early films and cartoons and that aesthetic has come through in our work quite strongly compared to some other genres. Theatre has been an easy platform for our work to come together and be accepted by a wide audience. The theatre audience seems to be very accepting. We met somebody in Dubai who said she didn’t know whether it was a film she had just watched or theatre and we think that’s quite a good question for our audience as they walk out, because we’re still not sure about it either.
Is animation the future of theatre?
Suzzanne: Yes! I don’t know, what do you think?
Lillian: Yeah, there’s a lot of scope with it. We feel very proud of the illustration, particularly where Paul has worked and designed and conceptualised everybody’s vision. There are many things we’re inspired by, visual arts in general, and it feels animation can really fill a lot of holes in perhaps some of the story lines. For us, it works brilliantly because we enjoy the interactions. As a whole, I don’t know what will happen to theatre, because there’ll always be straights plays.
Suzzanne: We all came together in a natural way and started working together in a natural way and we meet lots of younger companies, well not younger, that want to work with animation but don’t quite grasp sometime that it’s not as easy as going and finding an animator and asking them to make animations for your shows because it’s very time consuming and most animators could get a job as an animator and get paid pretty well. Paul could be making so much more money. So I don’t know if there’ll be more animators in theatre or if theatre makers will realise that they need to learn how to be illustrators and animators too. It’s interesting to see where it will go. Certainly film will continue to be used in theatre and if you look at big theatre shows, they’re using more film.
Lillian: It’s definitely a labour of love. It’s the feeling of knowing you’re doing something different and you’re enjoying the people you’re working with and actually coming together on a product you’re proud of.
Will you ever make a happy production?
Suzzanne: Too dark and twisted?!
Lillian: Well with our work we hope people come away having a good night out and a fun show that they’ve been entertained with, even though with this show we’ve got perhaps a slightly bleak and realistic ending. I suppose there’s a bit of grit we want there; to accept that there are a lot of sad things about the world but at the same time we want to create shows that give people a great night out so we try and put a lot of that into our work and hopefully people come out and say “that was fun.”
Suzzanne: Yeah fun if you’re a bit bleak! I think dark humour is very important to what we do and a big part of it and I suppose we have the notion that theatre could be used to change things. It’s something we always have at the back of our mind. Playing around with a darker comedy and dealing with social issues is something that interests us.
Working on any new material?
Lillian: We’ve got ideas for our fourth show in some aspects. Suzzanne and Paul are working on an Opera in Germany at the moment. The show after that we’ve been talking about is working with man’s struggle with machines and machinery taking over man’s role. It’s a loose theme we’re working with at the moment.
You’re performing Mozart’s the Magic Flute in Berlin soon, nervous?
Suzzanne: It’s a big project with the Komische Oper Berlin and collaboration with Barrie Kosky’s (who’s the director). It’s a cast of 60 and we’ll be using a lot of style, aesthetics and things that we’ve used before – so we know it works – and because obviously 60 Germans is an unknown entity to us. The scale is much bigger than what we have in our shows. In some ways it’s working to commission and in other ways it’s really challenging. It’s definitely going to be a steep leaning curve.
Any roles/productions in your careers you wish you hadn’t done?
Lillian: Lots of work after university and being paid very little for it; touring the country doing three schools a day and not necessarily being proud of the work – with no disrespect to the companies. It’s actually a release and a relief realising that we, as a company, are able to create the work that you do want to make and have the trust in each other to go to the point of taking the audience with us as opposed to alienating them.
Pix by Lakmaal Rodrigo