phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement

Interview with director and actor Paul Hunter of Told by an Idiot

28 November 2013 Charlie Kenber

“In Told by an Idiot rehearsals we only really have one rule: don’t be boring!”

In a climate where we’re constantly told that theatre audiences are increasingly senile, middle-class and primarily white, it can sometimes feel as though the theatre world locks itself in a bubble.

However this is far from the complete picture. Not only are audiences diversifying but there are also a whole host of artists striving to increase engagement by making work that is accessible, fun and more than anything else truly novel. Paul Hunter, director, actor and co-founder of company Told by an Idiot is leading the charge: his experience has left him with a firm conviction of the immediate power of theatre to captivate and enthrall.

“I think it’s about perception,” he tells us. “I think there is sometimes a feeling that audiences are slightly more conservative and we’re locked in…but as long as the show’s entertaining and provocative I think audiences will go with that.” As an example Paul points to The Drowned Man; “regardless of what you think of their work, you can’t deny the power of companies like Punchdrunk on younger audiences who’ve never gone to the theatre before and would never choose to go.”

In Paul’s view, a ‘conspiracy of boredom’ still pervades the theatre: “people go but they can’t express the fact they’re bored because their wife bought the ticket and everyone says ‘this is fantastic, my friends have told me’…The actors kind of ignore the audience: we all conspire in this and the critics buy into it as well.”

Instead then the onus lies with the theatre-maker to engage the audience, so that the work doesn’t descend into the ‘deadly theatre’ about which Peter Brook so famously wrote. “What he writes about remains so relevant: it’s still a problem! It’s not enough just to go ‘oh it’s a play where people ignore you for two hours and speak lots of words’…I think theatre has to work much harder.”

Told by an Idiot’s work reflects Paul’s pursuit of engaging productions, “we’ve always passionately believed that if two performers are on stage the only reason they are there and something is happening between them is to have a direct effect on the audience. In our work there’s always a complicit acknowledgment of the fact that one group of people are stood in front of another group of people…I think that’s what theatre does brilliantly better than anything else.”

Told by an Idiot’s latest show Get Happy (directed by Paul, commissioned by the Barbican) has been created with all of these considerations in mind. The piece is something of a sketch show, comprising an eccentric mix of moments and scenes. “We don’t have any desire to try to recreate a reality on stage,” Paul says, “Film and TV can do that infinitely better. If you’re going to do something on stage it has to be metaphorical, it has to work in a way that is more poetic. In Told by an Idiot rehearsals we only really have one rule: don’t be boring. When you work with younger audiences they’ll tell you when they’re bored!”

The show, accessible for the whole family is anarchic in the truest sense. “I thought: what if we made a show that appealed to a very young audience that really pushed the envelope of the anarchic, that genuinely embraces that rather than slightly sanitising it?” Rather than trying to tell a fixed narrative, “the consistents are more the relationships between the performers rather than trying to follow a story. It taps into the way small children’s imaginations work, where they can obsess on one thing and immediately forget it and go to something else.”

Developed with the input of both toddlers and teenagers, the show’s intention then is very much in the title. “We want to leave the audience with something that’s quite joyous and celebratory. The anarchy is never sweetened or sanitised, but it’s always made all right. There are moments where people might do things that are quite violent – like ripping each others’ clothes – but it always ends with a handshake, a ‘see you tomorrow’-type thing, which is quite Seuss-like as well.”

Ultimately it’s when this pays off that is most rewarding. “There’s nothing better than that feeling when you can unite a very ostensibly diverse audience…through what you’re doing you can bring that group together by the end of an evening, and I think that’s quite a unique achievement. It’s something we sometimes don’t celebrate enough about what theatre is capable of.”

Get Happy runs at the Barbican Theatre from 12th to 29th December. Tickets cost £11 and are available here.

Advertisement

Most popular

Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Warning: the following feature will contain many a cheese pun. They might not be very Gouda. See, we did warn you.
Advertisement
A Guide to Feminist London

A Guide to Feminist London

To celebrate International Women's Day, here are some places from which women can draw female inspiration and strength
Advertisement
Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Our favourite spots in London for praisin' the raisin
Advertisement
The Best Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

The Best Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

Whether you're performing on stage or watching your faves, we've got the lowdown on the best places for a poetry fix
Advertisement
Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Grab a friend, lover or your mother and head up to the very top of a London landmark to do some drinking in style.
Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
London’s Best Florists

London’s Best Florists

For the coolest, most creative, luxurious blooms around
Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

When science and art meet they can illuminate the other with a light brighter than a thousand bunsen burners
Win a £50 bar tab at Number 90’s 5th birthday party!

Win a £50 bar tab at Number 90’s 5th birthday party!

Win a boozy bonanza at one of the biggest parties of the year

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement