Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Theater: "Neck of the Woods" Tells the Wolf's Story Like You've Not Heard Before

I will admit, I was skeptical too when I first read this claim: haven't we seen Red Riding Hood and every incarnation of the Wolf and wolves, done to death? But Neck of the Woods promises something a little different, and certainly, the approach is quite unusual.

Here's the description:
MIF (Manchester International Festival) has invited Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno) and celebrated pianistHélène Grimaud to create Neck of the Woods, a portrait of the wolf brought to life in a startling collision of visual art, music and theatre. 
On the stage of HOME’s intimate new theatre, legendary actor Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter,Broadchurch) will recite and perform the story of the wolf as never before. 
Grimaud will curate and perform a series of works for piano, while Gordon will create the visual world. They have collaborated with Rampling and New York-based novelist and playwright Veronica Gonzalez Peña, weaving together stories, music, motifs, phrases and fragments to build this lyrical and beguiling work. 
In a new partnership to support their ongoing creative development, the Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir, first formed for MIF13, will perform as part of the soundscape to the production.

The Guardian has a lengthy and in-depth write-up on the show and the creators, (wonderfully titled "What Large Teeth You Have!") something which those who are interested in exploring the darker themes of fairy tales and LRRH in particular will find very interesting. (Note: this article does get a little dark with it's language and descriptions but also talks about the wolf as portrayed in literature and myth - why so negatively and the nature of man in contrast. It's a very interesting, recommended read.) Here are some excerpts:

Helene Grimaud working in wolf preservation
“For me, the most important thing is to be as close to the dark as possible, and then, when the lights come up, it should be the same as when you’re a child, when you have a nightmare and then you wake up and you feel safe and then you’re frightened to go back to sleep.” In his gravelly, laconic Glaswegian voice, the Turner-prizewinning artist Douglas Gordon is painting me a picture of a new play about the Big Bad Wolf that he is directing, designing and performing in at this year’s Manchester international festival. 
Entitled Neck of the Woods, it is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and brings together an impressive group of talents: Gordon, the concert pianist and wolf conservationist Hélène GrimaudCharlotte Rampling and the acclaimed Mexican-born writer and film-maker Veronica Gonzalez Peña. 
...For the story, Gordon asked Gonzalez Peña for something “very loosely based onLittle Red Riding Hood”. Her script will draw on the many different takes on the wolf myth in literature, bringing them together in a collage of narrative, sound, lighting and singing. 
The wolf has not had a good press in literature. For Aesop, writing 600 years before the birth of Christ, it is a creature without virtue. It is insatiable. It is deceitful and selfish. It eats children.
Gustav Dore 
...in western culture the rapacious reputation has conquered all others. And so the wolf, and its humanoid incarnation the werewolf, has stalked its miscreant way through legend and literature, from the tales of Perrault, the brothers Grimm, De La Fontaine and Hans Christian Andersen, through DraculaTolkienCS Lewis and Prokofiev. When film came along it took up the baton and countless werewolf ripper movies have been inspired by Guy Endore’s 1933 cult novel The Werewolf of Paris. 
For all this negativity, the last century has seen a change in attitude to the wolf. Kipling casts the wolves in a benign role in The Jungle Book, as the saviours of Mowgli. JK Rowlingoffers a sympathetic portrait of a man fighting his inner werewolf in the character of Remus Lupin in her Harry Potter novels, while Stephenie Meyer’s tribe of shape-changing werewolves are warriors against the forces of evil in her Twilight novels. And of course there is the short story by Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves”, which subverts traditional sexual attitudes to Little Red Riding Hood and ends with the girl stripping off to take her pleasure with the beast.
"Neck of the Woods" 
It is against this backdrop that Gonzalez Peña, in conversation with Gordon, has woven her script, bringing in references to Freud and the little-known but influential early 20th-century American writer Sherwood Anderson. I ask her whether, with a mind to Grimaud’s conservation activities, the play will try to right the malign image of the wolf. No, she says, it’s not going to be a polemical piece. Grimaud acknowledges that a didactic approach would not work artistically: “In the beginning, I suppose a part of me thought, ‘Great, we’re doing a piece about the ecology and the behaviour of wolves. We are rectifying the story and telling the facts,’ and, of course, it couldn’t be that.” 
For Gordon, it’s not about real wolves at all. “It is more to do with the metaphor of the wolf. There is the history of the she-wolf, but mostly wolves represent a bad man. One of the things I wanted to explore with this project in Manchester was that there is badness, there are bad reputations and they’re not without any foundations. I think men are worse than wolves, for sure.”
And a note from the actress Charlotte Rampling, who narrates the play, as the "third wolf", via the Manchester Evening News:

Charlotte Rampling, Douglas Gordon & beloved arctic wolf (preserved)
..Rampling would be the first to admit that she was once a child scared of the big bad wolf. 
“When you re-read those stories when you’re older - the Hans Christian Andersen ones, the Brothers Grimm - they really are terrifying, they teach you really wild things,” she laughs.“You might say, ‘Oh gosh, children can’t hear this!’, but children do need to get a handle on primitive violence and the difference between right and wrong, who’s going to get eaten and how we’re going to adjust to rather terrifying situations.“Those stories have been read to children for so long there must be something essential in them that we believe children do need. And nursery rhymes - they’re pretty cruel too.” 
Cast by Turner Prize winning artist, writer and director Douglas Gordon and co-writer and pianist Hélène Grimaud in Manchester International Festival production Neck Of The Woods, Charlotte will be tackling the topic of the wolf in fiction - in particular, picking apart the reputation of this majestic woodland beast. 
...Charlotte is a multi-part interpreter of the story: as narrator and actor, she switches between the role of parent reading to their child and the protagonist of the story.
I want to include this final note from Rampling's interview as it speaks to storytelling today, something which is (unfortunately) often run over by film, TV and 'moving image' entertainment. I think what she says speaks to an re-emerging interest in live storytelling once again, albeit in a different form of multi-media. It's something I think we, as people who watch fairy tales continue to live in being told and going from one incarnation in popular thinking to another, as they're told, retold, spread, discovered and re-discovered, should take note of:
Charlotte Rampling
Having the innovative creative environment of MIF to transform into this multifaceted character is what encouraged Charlotte to take the role. “It is enabling these forms of creation to happen,” she says about the festival. 
“If everything is filmic language, we don’t give people a chance to express where they really are in the world. With experimental language, it means you can really research areas that you won’t at all be able to do in the theatrical system.”
"Neck of the Woods" plays in Manchester at HOME, as part of the Manchester International Festival, from July 10th-July 18th 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment