Features Q&A and Interviews Published 30 April 2012

Theatre Ad Infinitum

George Mann on communicating an experience without words.

Catherine Love

In the absence of words, music has taken on an integral role within the performance. More than simply a soundtrack, Mann and his creative team discovered that the music could function almost as a third character. “It interferes, it stops things, it punctuates moments,” he says. “It made the piece so much richer and the music became the soul of the piece, the heartbeat behind everything.” Much like the rest of the process, however, this musical integration was not something that came easily and was the result of much trial and error. One of the most important decisions to be made was what instrument to use; the eventual choice of accordion has clear resonances. “I wanted an instrument that breathes,” Mann explains. “Breathing is such a big part of emotion and it’s such a big part of life that we sometimes forget.”

Grief affects everyone, lending this piece the universality that has so moved its audiences, but it has particular significance for Mann. While ideas were still taking shape, Mann was forced to deal with the illness and death of his own father, a personal experience of loss that has informed the piece in many ways. Mann is extraordinarily open about the impact of this experience upon Translunar Paradise: “I was with my father when he died and that was very quick, very simple and very beautiful, and it made me realise that was what the piece needed as well.” He admits that creating the death scene, however, was challenging. “I didn’t know how to do that moment and I was scared of not knowing,” he shares. “And then it just came to me very quickly and I realised it wasn’t as complicated as I had thought. It’s actually extremely, painfully, beautifully simple.”

Scene from Translunar Paradise. Photo: Alex Brenner

Speaking about his process, which is clearly a painstaking one, Mann expresses irritation at the public perception of devised theatre as being “random” or unconsidered. “For us it really isn’t,” he protests with feeling. “It’s such precise work; it takes a long time and a lot of thought.” Despite Mann’s involvement in all areas of the show, it emerges that this piece is in fact the product of extensive collaboration. The company’s other two co-artistic directors have regularly provided feedback along the way and the production has been honed through various scratch performances, at which Mann was surprised and encouraged by the honesty of their audiences. He admits with genuine frankness, “I really needed that outside perspective and I wasn’t going to pretend for a minute that I could do everything by myself.”

Translunar Paradise’s protracted, precise development appears to be paying off, with early performances spawning a full international tour that will be stopping off in Athens, Jerusalem and Sao Paolo, as well as making trips to various festivals around the UK this summer. Taking the show to new audiences is a prospect that excites Mann: “Because I trained at an international theatre school, I’m very aware that there exists a world beyond British theatre and I wanted to be able to share my work with as many people as possible.” Thanks to its lack of words, the play would seem to naturally lend itself to international audiences, but Mann was still concerned that the gestures and references might be too British – “a big part of the piece is set around drinking and making tea,” he laughs. The emotion of the piece, however, translates all too easily.

It is evident from speaking to him that the gradual process of teasing Translunar Paradise into life has been an intensely personal journey for Mann, and he hopes that this journey will be reflected by the experience of audience members. “The audience are connected to the piece through their own loss and that’s what I want people to feel,” he explains as our conversation draws to a close. Mann also hopes that the show he has created, despite grappling with death and grief, will depart with an uplifting sensation of relief. “Life goes on,” he says simply. “Every ending is a beginning.”

For Theatre ad Infinitum’s tour schedule, please visit their website.


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Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

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