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10 Questions for Candice Edmunds of Theatre Company Vox Motus | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Candice Edmunds of Theatre Company Vox Motus

10 Questions for Candice Edmunds of Theatre Company Vox Motus

The Glasgow-based artistic director talks theatre with a difference

Candice Edmunds of Vox Motus, with fellow artistic director Jamie Harrison

“When we graduated we were seeing lot of theatre as a literary form,” explains Candice Edmunds of the theatre company Vox Motus, “But we were really excited by it as a visual form and everything we make, from our earliest scratch pieces up to Flight, has really been an experimentation into how much we can substitute dialogue and the written word for theatrical visuals.”

Edmunds, together with fellow Artistic Director, Jamie Harrison, founded Vox Motus in 2004 after graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Based in Glasgow, they’ve built a hefty reputation with theatre heavily invested in thought-provoking visual design, puppetry, illusion and multimedia. Shows such as Slick, The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo, The Infamous Brothers Davenport and the award-winning Dragon have drawn a mass of critical plaudits. Their latest, Flight, based on Hinterland, the debut novel from author Caroline Brothers, comes to the Brighton Festival in May, and looks to be their most groundbreaking yet.

Hailing originally from Queensland, Australia, Candice Edmunds arrived in the UK in 1999. She speaks to theartsdesk about Flight, Glasgow and two decades working in theatre.

THOMAS H GREEN: Vox Motus’ first works were at the now defunct Glasgow club venue The Arches. What do you think about its enforced closure in 2015?

CANDICE EDMUNDS: It’s very much missing from the cultural landscape of Glasgow. Our first show was a tiny piece called Interference performed for three nights. The beauty of the Arches was that the city’s hugely popular club scene funded theatre activity. The Arches was a breeding ground for Scottish artists. It was set up by Andy Arnold, a complete genius; he held these massive club nights that funded theatre and performance. The theatre would take place in the same space where the clubs happened, with electrical stuff half dangling out of the wall and so on. They had a 10% public subsidy but everything else was generated by the venue itself which gave a complete freedom of programming. It closed down in a massive dispute with the council and nothing has popped up to replace it. It was a place where you could test ideas while taking a low risk. Such a crying shame it closed.

Glasgow is an amazing city – I once nearly moved there but the weather put me off. Coming from Australia’s Gold Coast, is that ever a problem for you?

I’m not going to lie, it’s pissing down today and there are times when, oh my God, send me back to the beach. But the thing about miserable weather is it means you don’t mind working indoors on a project non-stop for 14 days.

And isn’t it true that lots of places with miserable weather have a great cultural scene?

It’s part of what’s dragging you and the audience indoors. In Glasgow, even with the fallout from the financial crisis, theatre never suffered that badly. People want somewhere to go, they want to be entertained because they can’t have barbecue on the beach.

So what is Flight [pictured below left]?

flightYou arrive and are led individually to a booth where you’re seated with a set of headphones on your head. You’re sitting in front of a large carousal and set into it are 200 diorama, 3D model boxes. As the story unfolds through the headphones the carousel revolves and lights up to tell the story, so it’s almost like looking at a 3D graphic novel. It lasts 45-50 minutes and you are one of 25 people sat around the carousel. As your story comes to an end you are taken out of your booth and someone else is sat in there so the story can start for them. It’s a revolving experience of time slots across the day as each audience is gradually taken out, and it never stops. The story goes round and round; there’s something a bit Victorian peep show about the whole thing.

The timing must be like a Swiss watch, right?

We’re really lucky our lighting designer Simon Wilkinson has another life as a programmer. He came up with the ingenuous way it works. The whole thing revolves at the exact same speed for hours and hours every day. He built a system where every cue point in the show is triggered by a degree in the revolve, so no matter whether the revolve speeds up or slows down, even by milliseconds, the sound will always be completely, perfectly synchronized and integrated. Even though what you’re watching looks handmade and artisan and beautiful, actually the software and programming driving it is really exceptional. The audience will never be aware of that but for geeky minds who want to look behind the scenes there’s a whole other world going on.

Is there music involved?

Mark Melville did the music and sound design which I think stands up on its own, even without the visuals. He drew on all sorts of inspirations and it’s beautifully scored from beginning to end. It’s a combination of live instrumentation and what’s lovely with Mark’s music is he scores the emotion rather than the geography, like Max Richter, so it becomes a more cinematic world.

Flight recently visited New York. How was that?

It was there for three months because its residency kept getting extended - which was rather good. Flight was originally made for the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival but we had no idea whether our crazy carousel idea was going to work. It ran in Edinburgh for the month of August and generated so much interest from all over the world. We were really excited when we were approached by the McKittrick Hotel in New York as Flight is not an obviously commercial product. It’s an unusual thing to try and sell so we were surprised it got picked. The McKittrick Hotel is not a hotel really, it’s a venue with a narrative around its hotel name. It’s where [British theatre company] Punchdrunk do experience-based work rather than traditional auditorium shows so it was a great home for Flight.

Did you meet Caroline Brothers, on whose novel Flight is based?

Our producer [Susannah Armitage] read Hinterland and brought it to Jamie and I as a story worth telling. We read it and it moved us so we met Caroline in Paris, where she lives, to talk about securing the stage rights. It was her first novel so to hand it over was a very big thing for her. Initially we planned to make it a stage show where the central brothers were marionettes in an otherwise adult world, but we then kept challenging ourselves as to how we could make it more intriguing. Eventually we came up with this mad idea of a carousel of diorama. We were pitching this crazy idea to her and it was so hard to describe before it existed, scribbling ideas on the back of napkins. She was incredibly trusting. She loved the final outcome. She was blown away.

Was making this production more like working on a film than a piece of theatre?

It’s a very filmic approach. We storyboarded then made an animation that told us how everything would pass through the visual field. It’s unlike anything any of us has worked on before so we were making the rules up as we went along. But it was only in retrospect that it felt more like film than a piece of theatre.

Do you even need to be there for it to run?

To a degree. It has a crew that runs it. The front-of-house element - how audiences come in and exodus from experience - is incredibly hands on and involved and constant. It has a massive front-of-house operation that needs to run alongside it. The crew that travels with it is really there in case something goes wrong with the programming, a glitch, but otherwise it’s quite self-sufficient.

Isn’t that weird for you?

It is. Even when we opened in Edinburgh we never had that moment of validation from the audience, the applause, so how can you tell whether you’ve done a good job or not? People come in, then come out looking contemplative or emotional, but you never get that moment. And nothing can change: there’s no giving notes to actors or shifting cues or tightening things up. Once it’s signed off, the show’s files are replicated 25 times and that’s that. But I will be down when the show opens in Brighton.

What other projects are you working on?

We’re embarking on a new production called Gilda. It’s a piece about hunger, what we do when we’re starving. It starts as a fairytale based on Goldilocks and the Three Bears then develops into an epic Greek tragedy as the world rips itself apart, very much a fantasy piece but rooted in the political.

I’m talking to you. Is your Vox Motus partner Jamie Harrison a shy one?

He is actually on a break. The last couple of years he’s been the Illusion Designer for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Between that and Flight and other projects he’s had a very solid, intense couple of years’ work, so I am the one fielding all calls. He is far from being the shyer of the two of us!

  • Flight is at the Brighton Festival from Saturday 4th May to Thursday 22nd May

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