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Features PerformanceQ&A and Interviews Published 6 November 2015

Accidental Collective: “It’s a million miles away from what we thought we were making.”

Accidental Collective’s Daisy Orton and Pablo Pakula discuss their new show about hope.

David Ralf

Ovalhouse window

I’ve just reread the postcards of yours that we published nearly a year ago as you were putting ideas together for your current project Here’s Hoping. What I hadn’t realised when I first saw them was that you didn’t send the postcards – you wrote them, and photographed them, and sent them to each other by WhatsApp. 

Daisy: Pablo goes home to Spain every year to see his family, and I was going to see my family, and we were working towards putting in an application for Here’s Hoping and we wanted to keep the ideas flowing between us. And we respond really well to quite structured activities.

Pablo: Yes, and having the limitation of it just being a postcard made it less scary. Because it wasn’t pages and pages that you had to write. You had to condense something into a really small space and that was helpful as well.

Daisy: It wasn’t bullshit. It was definitely a process thing. It was an opportunity for us to do almost automatic writing. And the instantaneous nature of sending it by WhatsApp, that was part of it too. Because it was a dialogue and because we’ve been working together for so long, shows comes in that very scary joint way, so going off and thinking by oneself in a vacuum would kind of feel somehow unhelpful, or even uncreative.

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One of the things that you were talking about in your feature on the postcards was the idea of music being a really important part of the show as you imagined it then. That music could trigger a physical feeling that you really identified with hope. 

Daisy: There’s several parts to this. Sound is very important. We’re working with a sound designer David Gregory, who has been very patient while we’re still finding our way – on Monday of production week!

Pablo: Not in the same way we had originally imagined. Back when we wrote the postcards I think we were talking about there being maybe a choir or something that comes onstage. But actually the show has become much tighter and smaller and dependent on us two. So there’s no choir.

Daisy: The choir thing has been really interesting. In a way the choir can stand as a bit of a journey. I mentioned to you in my email, slightly hysterically, late at night, that it’s been a much more tough process that we thought, and I think – it’s quite painful to say, but one of the things that’s made it difficult is that we did, we really did want to engender this sense of swelling in the chest and this kind of effect that a choir or an amazing piece of orchestra music can have on you. And then we became more and more embroiled in how deeply problematic that was. And manipulative. And also we kind of got into a bit of a quagmire about hope and about-

Pablo: The difference between the feeling of hope, feeling hopeful, and that equating to a swelling in a chest, that opening up, that feeling full of possibilities, and then actually what we believed was the much more truthful sense of hope. Not giving up despite things collapsing. Carrying on against adversity. And actually that was a very different sensation and feeling. But it was not the elation that we had originally thought, which suddenly felt a little fake. That you can have this moment of elation, and then what? It’s not enough to pull you through difficult times.

Daisy: And part of the reason it’s been a bit tricky is that we’ve been coming to terms with the fact that it’s a show with a lot of hopelessness in. And perhaps without realising we’d expected to make a joyful show. Saying it sounds ridiculous but the relationship between hope and hopelessness has become much more obvious to us. That they’re entwined – they’re knotted together. There’s a slight anxiety that people are expecting a lovely show. And it’s actually quite bleak in places!

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Last year you said that hope was both the subject of the play and its aim. It was to be about hope and to instill hope. So would you say that one of the things that you had to do during this process is actually to dismiss instilling hope as an aim? 

Daisy: Yes.

Pablo: Doing that “this is hope, this is totally hopeful, here you go”, somehow that felt untrue, didn’t it?

Daisy: Having sharings throughout the process has been really interesting as well because we’ve had the conversations around hope, and with people who have never thought about it actively before – people have been very defensive about the presumption that they don’t have any, for instance. It’s been a struggle to avoid any kind of unfounded universality, but also to kind of position ourselves: where the hell are we standing? And in the kind of yawn yawn, slashy wrists, troubled artists way, it’s been quite hard to actually find we’re maybe not as hopeful as we thought.

Pablo: I think although we’ve found that, we also hope to be more hopeful. And I think there’s hope in that. There’s a kind of pigheadedness and determination, that comes hand in hand with the kind of hope that the show has become about.

Daisy: Against the odds.

Pablo: Unwillingness to give up. Determination to find a way through. And I believe that this kind of confrontation with hopelessness is something that has carried through from the very beginning.

When did you guys first encounter those audiences and think about changing the trajectory of the show as it was?

Daisy: The very first week of R&D. Because we’re crazy – we had a work sharing.

Pablo: The first week. At Quarterhouse in Folkestone.

Daisy: A really rough sharing. And in the conversations and the feedback afterwards-

Pablo: Two things became apparent. One was that people hadn’t really thought about hope, and the second thing was that although they hadn’t really thought about it, they also had a very deeply personal, “Oh, that’s not hope for me, this is”. And the conflicting viewpoints in that first sharing made us think, maybe we can’t create this sense of hope for everybody. Because if you’re creating a sense of hope or aiming for hope for every member of the audience, then in some way we’re already simplifying and we’re already dealing in stereotypes that we wanted to move away from.

Daisy: And I think also what was interesting, and it’s funny because at one point early on Pablo said, “Bad people have hope too, Daisy. Tories have hope.”

Pablo: And racists and neo-Nazis, they have hope. So how can you-

Daisy: A bit like the danger in assuming that the audience don’t have any hope themselves, there’s also the danger of presuming that they’re coming from the same angle that we are. Very early on, it’s not actually in the show, but we dealt with the idea of dashed hopes, which is funny because we read Catherine Love’s blog the other day and she mentioned Tony Blair’s 1997 election, and her memories of that, and the dashed hopes that came with that.

Pablo: The 1997 election speech was one of the very first bits of material that we did.

Daisy: And one of the things that came up in Folkestone was people saying “Guys, firstly this is generational, and secondly, you’re assuming that this represents hope for your whole audience.”

Daisy obstacle

Daisy Orton

Obviously when you make any kind of performance, you’d ideally like to provoke an emotional response. But is it maybe a bad idea to try to provoke a specific response?

Daisy: There definitely are attempts to provoke emotion or reaction in the show, but it’s interesting – Louise Mari from Shunt has been coming in, dipping in and helping us climb out of dramaturgical cul-de-sacs and she’s been very encouraging in terms of not setting readings, not creating moments with one reading in mind, and allowing them to have breathing space, relinquishing control, a kind of opening up of the material that means that multiple readings are allowed. And that sounds obvious, but there’s been moments – because it’s such a slippery concept – there’s no real symbol for hope even. Technically it’s a swallow? Or an anchor? And they just don’t resonate or read to modern life at all. There isn’t a language or a set of symbols, and so we’re tried to pin it down so much that for a while we were basically explaining it, in ten million different ways-

Pablo: And it became essay-like. Or TED Talk-like. And then we wanted to pull away from that.

Daisy: I think there is still so much work to do on artists being able to express a difficult process without worrying about how that it could impact on the perception of the show, or them as artists. There’s been so much talk about “a space to fail” and scratch culture, and the danger of that is I think we still don’t have a way of talking about it, in the artistic community, to say “it’s been hard”.

Pablo: The moment that you voice or articulate any uncertainty about the direction that you’re going, or any doubt – the moment you say that you’re worrying, “God, if I say this, will anybody actually come and see it?”

Daisy: These are ugly things to talk about, aren’t they. They’re exposing. They show that you’re somebody who wants people to think that you’re successful and not a failure, who wants people to come and see your show. And you feel like the art should be above all of those things, and the process should be, but actually, how much of every R&D process is sitting and staring into blank space, and arguing, and getting stuck and changing direction? Presumably a great deal of it.

Pablo: But nobody gets to see that.

Daisy: No, and nobody talks about it.

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Pablo Pakula

What can people hope for if they come down to Ovalhouse for the work-in-progress this week?

Pablo: They can hope for many things! I think what we’ve created is quite a poetic space, that at the same time touches on many particular things in the world right now. We hope that those will resonate with people, that will be a launchpad or create the kind of space where people can interrogate or question their own relationship to hope.

Daisy: It bases itself around a visual metaphor, if that’s not to abstract a way of thinking about it. A lot of the process has been about trying to avoid standing there and telling you about hope. So finding a visual and metaphorical language – god that sounds wanky – to look for or pin down or wait for hope. We’re really surprised by it. It’s a million miles away from what we thought we were making. Which is kind of terrifying. It’s like we’re standing back from it at the moment, and looking at it, and saying “Oh. You’re what we made. Right. Well. That’s okay.” Kind of like that.

Pablo: There are some stories in there. Some storytelling, and games have become important. It’s more tentative and delicate.

Daisy: We thought it would be angry, and bold, and slogan-y and sure of itself.

Pablo: At one point on the table we had a whole load of political speeches and stuff like that.

Daisy: And balaclavas.

Pablo: And none of that has actually made it into what we will be showing at this stage.

Daisy: It’s more searching, and sensitive.

Pablo: I think in terms of the audience it will be a really interesting test. To see what people get from it, what they take from it, in terms of what we will take forward. I’m hoping it won’t be a 180-degree turn, but perhaps a slight shift.

Daisy: It’s going to be interesting. Especially it being our search for hope. We can only really present or interrogate our struggle. We hope there’s space for the audience’s hopes within that. That’s the real test of this work-in-progress.

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Accidental Collective‘s Here’s Hoping has been developed with funding from Arts Council England, and support from Ovalhouse and Cambridge Junction (through Escalator Performing Arts). As one of Ovalhouse’s First Bites, there are performances until Sunday 8thNovember.

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David Ralf

David Ralf is a writer and critic in London. He won the Sunday Times Harold Hobson Award for reviewing at the ISDF in 2012, and the Kenneth Tynan Prize for his reviews for the Oxford Theatre Review in 2011. He draws pens and doodles at Pens by Pens.

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