Ahead of A FAREWELL TO ARMS’ run at The Old Market this month, imitating the dog’s creators tell us how the show came to be. With co-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, and projection / visual designer Simon Wainwright…
What drew you to A Farewell To Arms; was it an attraction to Hemingway, the novel’s First World War context, or something else?
Andrew Quick (AQ): Part of it is pragmatic; part of it is an interest in Hemingway.
Simon Wainwright SW: A lot of it comes down to themes we felt we could explore. Two young people in a pretty extreme situation – war – and that’s been a theme in a lot of our work in the last few years.
PB: Also, with the First World War anniversary, we were looking at the way in which that event was being commemorated. We’re interested in this idea that A Farewell To Arms isn’t really about the First World War. It was written in 1927 and it’s a symbolic novel about the fact that the future isn’t looking too good. About the fact that the First World War didn’t solve anything and actually there’s going to be another war soon. So instead of a commemoration or some sort of nostalgia fest, we see the novel as a piece that speaks about our own generation, about having children, worrying about the future and realising that nothing has really been solved yet.
“instead of a commemoration or some sort of nostalgia fest, we see the novel as a piece that speaks about our own generation…”
How have you gone about turning Hemingway’s prose into a dramatic script? Taking on the mantle of its first UK adaptation, no less!
PB: Normally we make original stories. With an adaptation, it’s working out how the story is actually put onto the stage; it’s about how you turn a chair into a nuclear submarine.
AQ: The book is the book and that’s the basis of the script. Of course it’s been cut down but we are not re-writing Hemingway; we’re aficionados. In some way’s we are staging a reading of the novel – or rather, what it’s like to read a novel and all that you bring to the process of reading.
PB: It’s not the deconstruction of Hemingway. We really like Hemingway and this is an attempt to get at the core of the novel.
“We are extremely committed to making interesting work that is hardly ever very straightforward…”
Your company is known for integrating technology, particularly projection, into live drama. Has this style been a natural fit for A Farewell To Arms?
SW: We want to tell stories, and use film and video technology in the telling of those stories.
PB: One of the concerns of having a classic narrative like this, though, is the question “why don’t you just do it straight?” In a way what we are doing is straight, but theatre is never straightforward and you can’t do a show like this in a cinematic way on stage, you have war scenes, the question of how you do that and how an audience understands what it’s really about is what we’re exploring.
PB: I think we are very idealistic. We are extremely committed to making interesting work that is hardly ever very straightforward.
Audiences might not comprehend quite how much time it can take to create each of your shows. How does your longer creative and rehearsal process you use help to achieve your ambitions?
Andrew Quick (AQ): Our process is all about layering the material. Simon as the video and visual designer needs time to catch up with the ideas that we have been looking at. We need the time to do some detailed work and then give Simon the chance to go away and digest what we have done, and come up with the next and final phase of the visual look of the show.
SW: We’re trying to find a language that works for the piece. When we work on things in a rush you really see the difference; it risks becoming formulaic. Each rehearsal phase is looking at different drafts of what will be the final piece.
AQ: The process is important to the work. In some ways the final piece is all about the process of its making.
In terms of the themes it deals with, A Farewell To Arms is certainly an ambitious project. How have the company tackled at times difficult issues?
AQ: I think we are obsessed by the big themes and we have been increasingly drawn to the larger stage to explore them.
PB: One of the great things about working with an ensemble company is that we are answering questions that we started asking two shows ago. When you’re working the way we do, you are creating your own symbolic world. One of the concerns is that some of the themes are really transparent to an audience and they are really about how unreliable our understanding of the past is because it’s based on history, which is always based on propaganda and on fictions. Huge tranches of history are just ignored because no one has written a good book about it or made a good film.
Interview: Nick Ahad
Editor: Will Sawney
A Farewell To Arms is touring the UK this Autumn 2014, and will play The Old Market 27-29 November. Book tickets now.