Sarah Gough, Arts Editor, chats to Scott Graham, Movement Director of Olivier-winning West End and Broadway production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, before its tour reaches Theatre Royal Plymouth next week.
Scott Graham, co-founder of physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, has an impressive portfolio. Responsible for a fresh reimagining of Othello, as well as devising modern classics like Abi Morgan’s Lovesong, it was no surprise that the National Theatre called on him to choreograph their adaptation of Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel. I chatted to the man behind the movement about his own company as well as Curious Incident’s unprecedented success.
Your company is pioneering in many ways, what with the energy and physicality you generate on-stage. What inspired the creation of Frantic Assembly?
So I joined a Drama society at University because I just wanted to do a bit of theatre. When I did that I had no idea that there was this whole world of physical theatre out there. At the society I met my friend and co-founder Steven Hoggett. The two of us got inspired by the work of a local company in Swansea who were very physical and visual – we didn’t know theatre could be like that. Steven and I were very switched on to it and just wanted to learn more about it. Our English degrees started to drift into the background a little bit. It was the mutual validation of telling each other that we could go for this that convinced us to try it. We wanted to create theatre that felt 4D, so that you could feel the heat behind it, you could smell it. Without that it was just dressing up and telling stories.
Your adaptation of Othello, re-set in a Northern pub, was a brave but inspired choice. Was it always your intention to contemporise canonical drama?
No, we just made work that sprang into our heads. We wanted to find a voice and try and say something. I think that’s why the company did so well initially. We were different and possibly felt like a breath of fresh air. We hated the idea that theatre was like a video culture where you were just plodding through the steps of what someone had done before. That just felt like a waste of time. If you’re going to do these plays you’ve got to find the fire that exists inside them, one of those ways is to update the context in which it’s portrayed.
Is it the movement that comes first? How have you approached the movement direction of Curious Incident?
What existed first in this case was the novel. Mark Haddon’s book posed an incredible challenge but it’s also a gift. Somebody said to me: “you do realise you’re about to adapt the nation’s favourite novel.” No pressure! Simon Stephens (the playwright) decided he wouldn’t take a commission from anybody; he’d just go and write it. In his writing he already knew two things: he wanted Marianne Elliot to direct it and he wanted Frantic Assembly to do the movement. So with that in mind it gave him a little bit of confidence to take some risks.
How important is the choreography to the script?
It’s massive. Everything you see is through the male protagonist Christopher. It was finding what the world looked like through his eyes and finding that physicality. There was a huge amount of choreographed movement required because it needed to be completely precise; the set is in the design of graph paper. His movement has to look deliberate. It’s not a play about Asperger’s though, it’s a play about family, difference and bravery. Christopher sets out looking for a murderer and goes to London to find his mother, despite never having been to a train station. He’s braver than any of us. So part of the physical task is to somehow capture that level of danger, fear and ultimately bravery.
Are there transitions you have to make between West End stage and tour?
There are, but you, as audience members, might not notice them. What the touring version has given us is the opportunity to return to something a year or so wiser. You made the show, you look back at it and you’ve learnt so much about it. So when you come back to it it’s not about creating a facsimile version of the one that’s gone before, you have the opportunity to make things better. It’s a massive luxury.
Has Curious Incident been your biggest challenge?
Yes, but it’s important to set yourself new challenges. It’s a very brilliant team. All of us were taking risks and none of us were sure this would work. The National Theatre, who produced and created it, weren’t convinced it would work. It’s taught me a massive amount and I’ll carry this experience through to new work.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues its UK tour, showing at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 2 – 14 March. Students can receive £7 off their tickets at performances on Monday – Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees. Click here to book tickets.
Look out for a further interview with Lauren King, Exeter Drama graduate and General Manager of Curious Incident’s tour, in the next issue of Exeposé.