Douglas Rintoul Interview
1. Can you tell us about your vision for this version of As You Like It?
A few years back I joined the No Borders Camp in Calais, France. Its aim was to highlight the grim daily reality for migrants there and to protest against their increased repression. Meeting migrants (many of whom had traveled for over five or six months, fleeing their homelands and facing extraordinary dangers) I was struck by their joy, optimism and thirst for life, plus their sense of community and family. A few months later I re-read As You Like It and in the forest of Arden the characters’ desires and needs chimed with those I had encountered in Calais.
Elsewhere I had read about female refugees who disguised themselves as men when they fled their homelands because it was safer for them to travel as men. I also read about a migrant who learnt English by reading Shakespeare. These coincidences/connections meant that Shakespeare’s comedy became the perfect magnifying glass by which we could highlight certain contemporary experiences.
2. You worked with students at Central School of Speech and Drama, tell us about how the production developed.
Transport has strong links with the collaborative and devised theatre-acting course at Central School of Speech and Drama. This year we spent six weeks with third year students (a ready-made ensemble) exploring what would happen when we placed Shakespeare’s words within certain contexts and performance styles. This work with 18 young actors at the beginning of their careers has shaped the current production profoundly. This period of experimentation was a luxury and one that as a young company we wouldn’t be able to normally finance. Much of the smell and colour of that work remains in this final version. It was also thrilling to see how young people related to this text and the issues we were exploring.
3. How do you want audiences to feel after the show?
As with all our work we want audiences to be moved, transported (and more profoundly) changed in some small way. We always ask ourselves: ‘How do we want our audiences to be different by the time they leave the theatre?’ We want audiences to feel as if the have got as close to Shakespeare’s play as possible and I would also like to think that having seen the show the next time an audience member sees a negative headline in the newspaper about migrants or refugees they may think slightly differently. We’re really abusing Shakespeare’s play to achieve this. It’s a sort of slight of hand.
4. What new perspectives on Shakespeare and society do you hope to offer with this production?
I’m interested in enabling audiences to experience Shakespeare’s work as something living, something that relates to our own experience of the world. I’m interested in them experiencing the play as universal, not exclusively English – belonging to many. Our company for this production is international and ethnically diverse: it is English, British, British Asian, British Turkish, Polish, Georgian, Icelandic, Luxembourgish and Danish. I want our stage to reflect the world we live in. It also allows the text to open up and be many things to many people.
5. As You Like It is a comedy, how do you envisage this working with the more serious themes you take on – how bring these different elements together?
As You Like It is a comedy but much of the first half of the play happens within the context of a dictatorship. People are literally struggling to survive. Once they have achieved this (having fled) and arrived in a new world, these tensions vomit out in the most extraordinary ways – in poetry, love play, sexuality and philosophy. The light can only seem bright having been in the dark – this is inherent in the play, this is what the play is about. It is a peculiar play but if we look at it as a piece of music, somehow it works – in the way complex music can work. It shifts from deep lows to chaotic highs, and this journey is exhilarating.
6. Of the entire Shakespeare canon, why did you choose As You Like It?
Its exploration of exile, shifting notions of identity and sense of self chimes with enquiries we have engaged in throughout our recent productions Elegy, Invisible, Europe and 1001 Nights. It presented itself as a new way of exploring these themes whilst at the same time enabling us to present them as timeless and having always been. We had come across too many aspects of As You Like It in rehearsals for our other pieces for us to ignore it.
7. In what ways have you adapted and updated the text, did you find this a challenging process?
There is a framing device that contains the entire play. Our production starts with a young migrant in Calais learning English by reading Shakespeare. The play is experienced through his eyes. The songs are lip-synched. We have cut into the text and re-ordered it. The play ends differently. At first it was difficult to empower ourselves to take these liberties. Our company is comprised of nine actors – this alone limits how much of the play we can perform but then these kind of limitations are liberating; it means we have to change things. I think we are often uncomfortable about changing Shakespeare but that is a very British phenomenon – other nationalities wouldn’t think twice about a bit of adaptation. Once you have taken that step there is a lot of play to be had.
8. Does Transport’s physical, filmic style complement the text, how?
A lot of our work has been devised. I have always felt that the devising process relates well to working with Shakespeare, as the texts are so open. They can move in so many ways – there are so many choices. Contemporary performance styles feel close to the original making of those texts, as they are innately theatrical. I think we are always striving to find and celebrate the theatrical.
9. What’s the significance of transformation in this play? Is that something you see as a key theme in Transport’s work?
Much of our work has looked at what happens to our sense of self when we are taken out of our ‘home’ context. How do we define ourselves in an ever-shifting/changing world? Something that seems primarily a 21st Century dilemma is captured beautifully in this play. It is surprising. We are therefore connected to the present via the past and this is a rich experience.
10. You’ve described this adaptation as anarchic; do you think that is what Shakespeare originally indented?
I think there is an inherent anarchy and danger in Shakespeare’s plays, solely because of the spaces and audience/actor relationships that these plays were born out of. I always think Shakespeare wouldn’t mind. I think he might smile.
Company and Career:
1. Can you tell us a bit about the style of theatre you create with Transport?
Our work is rooted in pure storytelling and we use whatever means is at hand to successfully communicate narratives as immediately as possible. We endeavour to engage an audience’s imagination, to transport them to places and contexts that they may not have necessarily experienced themselves. To see the world anew. Movement, the ensemble and sound play very important roles within our work, as they are transformative. If we can transport an audience to a squat in Calais, for example, and make them sense that environment and empathise wholly with those who inhabit it, then a miracle has occurred.
2. Why did you decide to create Transport?
As a freelance director there were certain enquiries I wanted to undertake and a certain colour of work that I wanted to make, and this only seemed possible away from a building. This is why Transport came about. I also wanted to consider carefully where this work was going to be made and for whom. We make our work in Folkestone, a town in flux, in the process of redefining itself. It has a beautiful and complex history of movement. It also looks out to the Channel and the rest of Europe. It became a natural and inspiring place to make our kind of work. I have always been obsessed with borders and fluidity of identity around these places. I’m interested in how narratives can start in the domestic, the local and spiral out into the national, international and epic. I’m not sure we would make the kind of work we do if we were based in a city.
3. Are there any future plans with Transport that you can reveal?
We plan to tour our show 1001 Nights that we made for children at the Unicorn Theatre earlier this year. Making work for younger audiences was a revelation for me – it was liberating. I really permitted myself to play. It has had a big impact on me as a theatre practitioner. We are also developing a new devised piece The Edge. It looks at narratives from two communities in decline – one in England and one in India – both situated on a coastline. The Edge looks at the interconnectedness between these two communities in terms of globalisation, and their and our individual relationship with the sea and therefore our environment. We spent two months in Calcutta and the Sundarbans in India last year developing the project. We hope to realise it in late 2014.
4. Both you and Emma Cameron worked together at Complicite, where do you see connections between Transport’s work and Complicite’s, and what are the differences?
Working with Complicite had a huge impact on my work. I had been a fan of the company since I was 16. Much of the vocabulary and exercises I use in rehearsals is Complicite-esque, but then I think my work is more text based. I love language. I also think there is a more political dimension to the work I make.
5. As You Like It was chosen over 145 other productions in the nationwide commissioning from House last year, what is it that sets Transport’s work apart?
I think it may have been our ambition. We wanted to take a very high quality internationally-minded contemporary work with a large international cast to venues that may have not necessarily staged that kind of work before. I think this challenge inspired the commissioning team. We were thrilled when we won because their support has been invaluable.
6. Was there someone who inspired you to become a director?
I had really great drama teachers when I was younger. They inspired me but I think it was Complicite’s production of Winter’s Tale, which I saw on a school trip to London, that did it – it blew my mind. It showed me what theatre was capable of achieving. That it was foreign, transformative, fluid, bonkers, profoundly moving, magical and dangerous.
7. Did you always want to be a director?
I only remembered recently that I directed my first piece when I was seven. I begged my teachers to let me make a play for assembly. I adapted a story. It was a devised solo piece with a friend of mine called Susan Banks and a teaching assistant who was really great at painting backdrops for me. So yes, I probably always wanted to be a theatre director, which is strange as I only saw my first piece of theatre when I was 15. I was a bit of an outsider when I was young – I was a plump gay lad on a council estate in Essex. Theatre afforded me a place to belong, where otherness was OK, even de rigueur.
8. You’ve worked with Deborah Warner and Complicite, how has this influenced your work?
Enormously. From both of them I learnt about the rigour needed for good storytelling.
9. Do you have a favourite place?
I’m totally in love with Folkestone. My family are from Kent and still live there. I love Folkestone’s transcontinental history, with its ghosts from the past like the Orient Express. I love looking out to the Channel, glimpsing the coast of France (on a clear day) and witnessing the constant change of light and sea. I love where it’s moving to and the energy of the people who live there, who are committed to the arts and the town’s regeneration. I find the town Triennial audacious and inspiring. The impact the arts have on the community is palpable in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily see in London or larger communities. It is immediate. You can’t escape it. So obviously we’re looking forward to rehearsing and playing the piece in Folkestone.
But we’re also excited to be touring to so many new venues. It’s a pretty demanding tour- 38 performances in 24 venues. The venues are radically different. We open in a large black box modern European venue, we will then move into a major medium scale regional theatre stage, following this we will fit this huge play into some really intimate venues. The whole team will be on tour with the project all the time. It’s exciting to be able to adapt the show – making it specific to each venue. We’ve created a very adaptable set and therefore each performance will be unique to the venue we’re performing in. This is a major aspect of the project. This is what I love about touring; it can keep the work fresh. So we hope to forge some pretty special new relationships as we move around.