Not lost in the wild woods & the cellar bars of Berlin 1931
March 31, 2015
In February and March, I had the very good fortune to be one of the two tireless 'supervising directors' of M/Lights with 22 talented and ridiculously hard working final year theatre students in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds. We were able to devise and construct an ambitious collision of film and performance based on Gertrude Steins' extraordinary 'libretto' Dr Faustus Lights the Lights and Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, the very first police procedure and bona fide masterpiece filmed in a zeppelin shed. Throw in the slightly tawdry and filmic influence of the Wooster Group in the New York of the 1980s plus a host of ideas from the students themselves and a heady theatrical cocktail of dark and dynamic ingredients was the result.
In Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Dr Faustus sells his soul to Mephisto for the gift of electric light. Margaret Ida Helen Annabel is bitten by a viper and seeks help from Faustus. He cures her but is then persuaded by Mephisto that since he's going to hell anyway, he may as well kill the girl! Dark stuff made darker by mixing it up with the M, based on the story of a real child killer in the Germany of the early 1930s. We used multiple performers to take on the same characters, including two Fausts, five female Mephistos and a collection of eight Marguerite Ida Helena Annablels (the MIHAs). Gradually the stories blended together until they became one story about the murderer of a girl. It was fast moving, tightly performed and even had some flashes of humour along the way.
It was great to be able to 'play' in the fully equipped space of stage@leeds and to mix-up acting, dance, film, text and puppetry to their mutual advantage. I was lucky to be working with the very talented and inventive Anna Fenemore of Pigeon Theatre.
I shared an office with Anna for two years at 'PCI' and chuntered away at my computer – this is the first time we've worked together and hopefully not the last. Her influence in the tightly choreographed movement and dynamic film-action mixes was hopefully complemented by the meditative, slow sequences including puppetry that I had some influence over. But the real credit must go to an excellent group of students, who were never short of ideas or energy. You can read their fascinatingly intelligent blog here: http://pcimlights.tumblr.com/