Backstage

TW Talks Tuesday: An Interview With Elizabeth Brennan & James Jackson

James Jackson, Elizabeth Brennan and Tom Molyneux formed The Bloomshed in a literal shed in Jackson’s backyard. Fast forward five years and the company is bringing their adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story The Nose to Melbourne audiences at Theatre Works. First published in 1836, the story follows a high-ranking military official who loses his nose, only to find that it has formed a life of its own and is running around dressed in military garb superior to his own.

The Bloomshed are known for taking existing works and devising them into a contemporary environment, which is something that as an actor, Brennan relishes.

EB: We did an adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest called Earnest that was put on in the shed, back in the early days. We had about ten days of rehearsal/devising and it was rough as all hell, but ended up quite interesting. I’d love to work on it again with a slightly longer gestation period. Other than that, there’s a fairly obscure novel called The Talisman Ring that I would love to work on…look it up.

With regards to The Nose, the company has been busy refining the production for their recently finished Sydney season and upcoming Melbourne season.

EB: When we were preparing for the initial season, the first few weeks of rehearsal were text based, trying to edit and structure the existing rough script and making decisions about how closely we needed to stick to the original. With these two current seasons, we didn’t need to do as much of that, so it’s mainly been running the show in its entirety and tweaking sections that we felt could be improved.

The show is constantly evolving however and the three are not afraid to make changes to the show, keeping it fresh and exciting for them and the audience.

EB: The show has changed partly due to the vastly differing spaces we’ve had to work with and partly because nothing is ever really set in stone. We’ve removed a character, changed the ending and upped the choreographed dance quota, but it’s essentially the same show, just a slightly slicker version.

Audience response has been positive for the show, being referred to as “energetic, hilarious and uncomfortable”, which is exactly what Brennan loves to hear.

EB: It’s very fast paced and highly comedic, but I also think it’s very relatable, despite the more fantastical elements. I think the way that we push ourselves physically during the show and make no attempt to hide the toll it takes is also a factor, as I think people like to see non-athletes carrying out challenging endurance tasks and sometimes failing spectacularly (in my case particularly!).

The Nose is a radical retelling of Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s short story, in which a Major in the army finds that his nose has left him and taken on a life of its own – and a more successful life at that.

In this adaptation, the Major is now a CEO called Kovalev who wakes up one morning and realises his nose is gone.

JJ: It’s not only gone, it is sentient. It’s running through the city streets dressed as a most important person. The play follows Kovalev’s quest to regain control of his erstwhile appendage – a quest that looks more like a descent into a dystopian capitalist nightmare.

The company was formed just over five years ago, where they began creating work in Jackson’s backyard shed.

JJ: It could fit about thirty people, so we rehearsed and performed there. It was great because you could do anything. We blew the electrics when we filled the whole space with pool salt for an adaptation of Antigone though. That was when we realised we needed to move out. The Bloomshed is held together by a group of people interested in making political theatre that’s not boring or didactic. We don’t make high art. Instead we like to tap into the disciplines of sport and political protest.

Gogol’s absurd story and social commentary on society and class, and identity was then a natural choice for The Bloomshed to take on once the idea was sparked.

JJ: The Bloomshed cannibalises work that already exists. It usually starts as a joke – someone says, “wouldn’t it be funny if we adapted this” and we laugh because the suggestion is usually ridiculous. But sometimes the proposal sticks. Maybe it’s because we’ve found an interesting angle from which to tackle the work, or it resonates with our current political climate. We’re old school Marxists, so we’re looking for ways to highlight the contradictions internal to the structure of our society. But it has to be fun, it has to be clear and the whole bloody thing has to be under an hour.

While adaptations allow the company to have a foundation of what the show is about, their penchant for transforming these classic texts into something new brings along its own set of challenges.

JJ: While all theatre is damn hard, devising is freer because there’s rarely a demand for authenticity. There’s no long-dead author whose estate determines the parameters of the work. Devising has its own challenges though. Because anything is possible, it’s easy to overstuff the work with ideas, so we are very aware that.

 

Read more about The Nose here.

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