The North! The North! is a ‘stunningly immersive’ myth ‘of staggering beauty’, fusing extreme physical storytelling with spellbinding animation to create ‘proper theatrical magic, as dark as it comes’ – Exeunt.
We sat down with Christopher Harrison to talk about his critically acclaimed play, The North! The North! Heading to Omnibus Theatre Thurs 1 – Sat 3 March.
Omnibus Theatre: Can you tell us how you conceived the idea for The North! The North!
Christopher Harrison: The show is inspired by a whole bunch of things: myths, graphic novels, northern neo-noir (like Get Carter and the Red Riding books by David Peace) and magical realism. It’s an exploration of myth-making as a response to trauma, framed as a revenge thriller. I’d been thinking about making a show to do with ‘the north’ for quite some time (I’m from Yorkshire) and I’m fascinated by myth and the way people construct narratives about themselves – this might be personal, or it might be as part of a larger group- or region, or country- and magical realism is a fantastic way to explore these ideas as it allows me to look at the world from a different angle. All these threads have collected into the show that is The North! The North! I did some initial research and development then had a longer period of refining the show before premiering it at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s been on a long journey (I started sketching ideas for it in 2014) and it’s fascinating to see the distance its travelled to be the show it is now.
OT: As a play focusing on the North, we are curious to know how much of your childhood in Huddersfield has been an influence on this production?
CH: There’s a lot of local references in the show to Yorkshire, some of which are very specific to my memories. I thought this was important because I wanted to keep the reality of the world I know present within the story, even when everything is completely surreal and strange. I’m curious about regional identity. I now live in Bristol, which has a very strong idea of its identity, as does much of the South West. Sometimes I feel ‘northern’ and sometimes I don’t – I think its an identity that exists in opposition to a dominant culture. Northerners are northern in defiance of the perceived cultural, economic and social biases towards London and the south east. How much one fits within these parameters changes frequently. Those feelings are complex and I have been thinking about them in some way for a long time.
OT: You use animation and illustration in your plays a lot. How do you combine these mediums with live performance and what does it add to the production as a whole?
CH: I like writing impossible things. This might be characters that are monstrous or England splitting in two, or a whole host of other things that would be difficult to portray on stage. Animation and illustration offer one way to explore the representation of that (in both a realist and abstract way) as does mime, narration, puppetry and the other staging effects I employ. When integrating projection into the show, we decided that we wanted to avoid traditional ‘screens’ as much as possible. The animations has to exist inside the world so anything can be a projection surface – tables, clothes, bodies, props etc. I view elements external to the performer (design, lighting, sound, projection) as partners, almost like other actors, all working together to tell the story. We’ve only succeeded when the story can’t be told if one of those elements is missing.
OT: Having trained with the acclaimed French mime and acting school Ecole Jacques Lecoq, what particular influences of the technique/acting style do you utilise when performing or devising theatre.
CH: All sorts. Training at the school is described as a journey and its one that doesn’t end once the two years is finished. So sometimes it’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what techniques I’m using. I use some technical skills I learnt (mime and so on) but the real influences of the school feel less tangible to me. The further and further away I get from the school, the less I feel influenced on a literal level, but other influences – about making theatre, the relationship between artist and audience, the grains of humanity within my work – are stronger and show themselves in what I put on stage.
OT: What should audiences expect to experience when they visit Omnibus for The North! The North!
CH: I make story-led work with an immersive, cinematic aesthetic. It’s not for the really squeamish or those under 14, but I’d hate to dissuade anyone from giving it a go. They might like fantasy, magical realist literature or noir, or just enjoy a funny, dark theatrical experience. Fans of graphic novels will enjoy it (I’ve even made a comic to go with the show), so there’s something for lots of people. I’d like audiences when they leave to feel like they’re entering the real world again after an extraordinary adventure.
It’s a show I’m really proud of – I’ve put a huge amount into this show, as have the talented creatives working on it. It’s a piece created with passion; a desire to tell a great story about subjects that mean a lot to me. If you want to see a show about contemporary England and a moving study of personal tragedy, but with terrible creatures, darkness and magic, you’ve come to the right place. Here be monsters.
OT: After you’re done touring with The North! The North! what new projects do you have in the pipeline?
CH: I’m working on a few things. There’s some writing and illustration projects that are ongoing, mostly aimed at younger audiences, that are taking up some of my time already. For adult audiences, I’m starting work on a new show called Collectiv about collective action and working together to imagine a better future. It looks like it’ll be a while in development because it’s quite ambitious, but watch this space. I tend to announce things on my website and Twitter/Facebook, so keep an eye on those.
The North! The North! will be at Omnibus Theatre from Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 March at 7:30pm. Tickets are £12 | £10 concessions. To buy your ticket now click here→