| Taking Theatre One Step Forward.
Chris High talks to Dreamthinkspeak Artistic Director, Tristan Sharps, about why The Anglican Cathedral proved such an inspiration for his new play.
With its red-bricked edifice dominating the Liverpool skyline, the city’s Anglican Cathedral is certainly an imposing sight and now the Brighton based Dreamthinkspeak Theatre Company have taken over its basements, vestibules and towers to portray just one section of Dante’s Divine Comedy through performance, dance, music and light.
In a work allowing the audience to follow the action into never before seen areas of the building, Artistic Director, Tristan Sharps, explained why, on seeing the building, it was love at first sight when asked to perform in the city by The Culture Company. ‘I’d obviously heard about the building beforehand,’ Tristan explained, ‘and when the Culture Company organised a site visit I insisted on taking a look at it for myself. When I saw the interior for the first time I was absolutely amazed. Its such an architecturally remarkable building made all the more so when you realise Gilbert Scott was only 22 when he designed it. Its kind of gob smacking, in fact. Then I was shown around properly and got to see all these ante-rooms and chambers that thread their way throughout the building on different floors that the public don’t normally get to see and there wasn’t a religious connotation to these places; they’re merely here for a purpose. Then I was taken up on to the balconies and the roof and saw the cathedral laid out before me, which offered so many contrasts that opened up the many contexts of paradise that the work covers. The place is just tailor made for what it is I, and we as a team, had in mind. Its beautiful.’
One Step Forward, One Step Back is an interpretation of The Divine Comedy’s third cantica, Paradiso, in which The Poet learns that Heavenly Paradise is open to interpretation; a view for which the then Pope, Boniface VIII, exiled Dante from Rome and said were he to return he would be burned at the stake. The play is a major new site-specific work designed for Liverpool Cathedral and is a response to our increasingly secularised world of global economy where material growth supersedes spiritual growth. The piece will respond uniquely to the host venue’s interior, whilst looking externally to the City beyond, asking the question: What is Paradise?
For those with wheelchair access, there is an alternative route available on April 26 and May 3, with an audio described performance scheduled for the Visually Impaired on April 22. Audiences are also advised that the tour involves heights, outdoor areas, stairs and low level lighting and that cameras and photographic equipment of any kind are not allowed.
‘This is not a literal interpretation of Dante’s work,’ Tristan insisted, ‘but the play’s themes of openness of thought are drawn from what he was saying. It’s a piece that does not supply answers, but allows the audience to ask a great many questions through the different mediums that are available. Music, light, sound and performance are integral to the work so there are a great many paths available for one person to travel. The piece has been in my head for many years. The first site visit took place two years ago and, since that visit, I’ve always had this space in mind. Since Spring last year it has been pretty much non-stop putting the work in place. There are a core cast of 24 but the complete cast number is around 40, along with a crew of around 15 and collaborators from The Culture Company, Studio Scope, LIPA, John Moores University, Splinter and White Light have all helped bring this together. Without them, there would not be a show to see.’
The play is not only a reflection of Liverpool as a whole or the Cathedral as an individual building; it is a representation of Liverpool’s influences on other major cities across the world. ‘Liverpool is a very creative city and an architecturally beautiful city. There are so many fantastic buildings here that sometimes their individuality may get a little lost or, almost, taken for granted. The spiritual side of our nature is explored in One Step Forward, One Step Back and, hopefully, allows the audience to appreciate the world around them. From the off, the audience steps from the hustle and bustle of the city and into the tranquillity of the cathedral itself. There are models and sensory deviations to explore which all add to the physical and illusory experience of the work. Small groups enter the space at five minute intervals and, although audiences can take as long as they need, the whole thing lasts around an hour in total, but will hopefully continue a lot longer than that in the mind, as people consider what it is they have seen and their deeper meanings.’
One Step Forward, One Step Back runs at the Anglican Cathedral from April 7 – May 10. Tickets can be bought from the Box Office between 9 AM and 9 PM on 0844 8000 400.
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