With the UK becoming a global exporter of immersive theatre, writer and performer Christopher Green tells Nick Awde about his 48-hour show The Home and the process of reworking it for a Japanese audience
The UK is a world leader in the art of international touring, building up a dynamic global presence thanks to the sector’s ability to take shows of almost every scale or budget overseas. The models used by British travelling practitioners and companies are also helping to create and sustain the new world circuit, from solo and fringe shows to pop-up venues and immersive theatre.
Despite – or perhaps because of – its frequently huge logistics and economics, immersive theatre has created a particularly notable wave internationally based on a couple of decades of experimentation. Independent shows such as Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s 1930s epic evocation of Macbeth, which has enjoyed long runs in New York and Shanghai, have caused a stir abroad while the international festivals offer other export avenues, such as Dreamthinkspeak’s Before I Sleep, which was a Brighton Festival hit before transferring to the Holland Festival in Amsterdam.
Now cinema and TV are taking immersive to the next level. Secret Cinema, which creates immersive events around classic films such as Blade Runner and Star Wars, has just signed a major deal with Disney to transfer its own classics – the first shows premiere in London this year, with plans to expand to Los Angeles and New York. Meanwhile Punchdrunk is producing the world’s first “immersive TV drama” starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris as part of The Third Day, a series launching on Sky and HBO in May.
‘It’s kind of weird to do a 10-minute version of a 48-hour show’
Throw in the overseas potential for shows such as Hartshorn-Hook’s The Great Gatsby and A Lost Weekend’s Human Traffic Live, and it may all seem to be inevitably hurtling towards a more festive-led experience, but the UK is still producing complex issue-based shows that other countries are more than happy to take a risk on.
The Home is a perfect example. Currently Japan-bound after premiering in the UK, it’s a 48-hour experience set in a fictitious care home where the audience is looked after by staff who are more than 70 years old.
It’s a concept, says creator Christopher Green, that is very much a universal one. “The Home came from one of those very natural ideas where everybody’s terrified of growing older and being dependent and vulnerable. So it’s about vulnerability, but it’s also about capitalism because of the care home setting.
“You’re part of a group of 30 people who have a taster experience offered by a care home group, and then during the weekend there are four shows with up to 80 people coming from outside to participate in the Saturday-afternoon talent show, the Saturday-night bingo, non-denominational worship on Sunday morning and the open afternoon later that day.”
Each of the shows is 90 minutes and live-streamed so they fit within the whole immersive ‘taster experience’.
The show was originally commissioned and produced in association with London’s Entelechy Arts and the Albany, Deptford as part of Age Against the Machine, the festival of creative ageing in Lewisham that took place in 2019.
“The research and development process for The Home is the longest I’ve ever done,” says Green. “It’s taken around three years, with lots of care home visits. We then did a work in progress in 2018 at (B)old, the festival on age and creativity by Southbank, who were very supportive. I did a 10-minute version of The Home. It’s kind of weird to do a 10-minute version of a 48-hour show.”
He has now embarked on the long journey to transfer The Home to Japan, which will be recreated in a Japanese context and performed in Tokyo in collaboration with Saitama Arts Theater in April 2021. Entelechy and Saitama connected through the Future Arts Centres network.
As a result, the Tokyo show came together quickly with Saitama becoming involved in the UK production, coming over and observing its genesis, embedding the Japanese side in the project from the start. Making it even more fruitful is the involvement of Saitama Gold Theatre – a group of non professional older performers founded in 2006 by Saitama solely for people over 55.
“In Japan it’s been a very different process from the outset: endless meetings with interpreters, lots of people in the room – all very formal,” says Green. “And because the show will be in Japanese and not in English, I wanted to be an adviser to the production. I’m not interested in directing through a translator – that would be too odd for something so culturally specific.”
Even if not directing, a show of these proportions must represent a huge workload. “Absolutely,” Green agrees. “But in Japan it’s very straightforward. For example, I’ve just done a couple of weeks over there doing recruitment and a bit of casting. Now I’m handing over to the director, and I’ll do everything by Skype until I go over for three weeks of rehearsals.
“So my involvement doesn’t dominate everything and that’s how it needs to be. I need to clearly let them direct it, otherwise it will be a mishmash – it’s my show, but because it’s being restaged with me as an adviser, it’s not purely my vision anymore.”
The Japanese director is Naoki Sugawara, who heads the theatre company OiBokkeShi – which translates as ‘Ageing, Dementia, Death’. Also an actor and writer, he is very much a pioneer in the field of theatre with older people in Japan.
Green has performed in Japan but this is the first time he has made work there – and he’s impressed. “Saitama is an enormous organisation, very formal and very organised, it’s very like going to the National Theatre. At the moment it is coming to the end of its vision of doing every Shakespeare play. When I was there they were already on to Henry VIII.”
The theatre is putting The Home on in a community centre, an enormous well-funded building on the edge of Tokyo that looks like a bank headquarters. It’s an appropriate setting to suit the scale of the show.
As a solo performer, Green is no stranger to the international circuit. “I’ve done lots of international touring when I was doing a lot more cabaret, notably as Tina C, and my solo theatre shows. I went to Australia a lot and the US quite a bit.”
His current production No Show expands on The Home’s exploration of group dynamics by looking at the relationship between a solo performer and the audience. “As a performer I often don’t want to be a performer, which is why my work has become what it is. I don’t want to be that person facing 100 or 1,000 people, or a load a of drunk people at a wedding. Sometimes I just don’t want to do that.
“So what happens when I decide not to? That is deeply problematic for what is theatre, what is performance, what is entertainment, and so that’s the starting point for No Show.”
Green creates and performs in ensemble work as well, which has also thrived overseas, such as C’est Duckie!, an Olivier-winner created with Ursula Martinez, Miss High Leg Kick and Marissa Carnesky, which went to New York, Sydney, Berlin, Tokyo and Kyoto.
“A pivotal point for my shows was when Prurience, which is a show about porn addiction, went to New York and the Guggenheim Museum picked it up,” says Green. “They’d never done a piece of theatre before and it was the first time I relished the idea of remaking a piece for a cultural context like that.
“I’ll be in the US again because of The Home. We already have a lot of international interest and we’ll go to New York in January 2021 for the International Society for the Performing Arts trade fair. We’ll also be at IPSA in Taipei in June. So we’ll see how it’s going to work internationally on a wider scale.
“The US and Taiwan are a straightforward presentation where I’ll do my 10-minute version. But in the meantime there’s all the supersizing to do for The Home in Japan.”
For more on The Home go to: entelechyarts.org; thealbany.org.uk; or, for Japan go to: saf.or.jp. No Show is at London’s Yard Theatre from February 24-March 14 theyardtheatre.co.uk. For more go to: christophergreen.net