Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett: interview
Time Out finds an unlikely collaboration between a playwright and physical theatre.
Playwright Mark Ravenhill has not always been polite about physical theatre, while Frantic Assembly’s artistic directors, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, would always rather see a couple hurling each other across a room than having a chat. So it was something of a surprise when it was announced that Ravenhill and Frantic were planning to create a new piece together. The result of that collaboration – ‘Pool (No Water)’ – is now touring the country after opening at the Drum in Plymouth and comes to the Lyric Hammersmith this week. By all accounts, it is a tough, explosive piece, with music by Imogen Heap, in which a group of friends succumb to envy of a successful artist.
When I meet Graham and Hoggett, they are sanguine about Ravenhill’s scepticism. ‘Rightly so,’ says Hoggett, who is usually the first to speak. ‘To be honest, so are we. We slag physical theatre off right, left and centre. There’s a lot to be critical of.’
The company was formed in the early ’90s and has long been popular with school parties studying drama, as well as twentysomethings who appreciate the way it draws on popular culture. But as Hoggett and Graham get older, they are looking for an audience that’s fractionally more mature. ‘They’re the hardest ones to crack,’ says Hoggett. ‘In any case, there’s a lot about “Pool” that doesn’t make sense to anybody who hasn’t had certain life experiences.’
Initially, the trio spent many hours in workshops struggling to come up with something that interested them all. Ravenhill has said a breakthrough occurred when he was shown a book of Nan Goldin’s photographs. Goldin, who specialises in intimate photos of her decadent, drug-taking friends, is a favourite of Graham and Hoggett and had a powerful influence on their last, site-specific show ‘Dirty Wonderland’, but they feel she was less important here. ‘It was really less about Nan Goldin,’ says Hoggett, ‘and more about us wanting to do something with Mark; Mark wanting to do something different; Mark having his fortieth birthday; and all of us wanting to make a personal piece about what it means to be getting older.’
The cast of ‘Pool’ speak directly to the audience. That made the movement – all of it devised with the company in the rehearsal room – particularly hard to create. ‘Our choreography has often been about working with very small, intimate feelings and letting them explode,’ says Graham. ‘But a lot of that is about duet or group work. With this the actors don’t actually connect until the last 15 minutes of the show. They don’t actually physically acknowledge each other. So it wiped out a lot of our style and it wiped out a lot of our usual devising processes.’
‘But I think we needed to do that,’ Hoggett adds. ‘Our friends actually do Frantic impressions. It’s kind of endearing, but also quite worrying. There are a few Frantic moves that crop up now and again. We are fine with that as long as we feel that we’re also moving forwards.
In the early days, when they performed as well as directed, they were happy to hit the floor with a thump. Now they have to be more cautious. ‘We had enthusiasm and energy,’ recalls Graham, ‘ and we were willing to try anything. But when it came to technique it just wasn’t there, which led to us developing that reckless, limb-threatening style.’ Graham recalls once lying on the floor completely unable to move while everybody else, quite unaware, went off for a tea break. Now they have a big accident report book in which every cut is written down and investigated. The danger for the performers hasn’t all disappeared. ‘You have to embrace the bruises,’ says Graham, ‘otherwise you’re going to resent them.’ Hoggett agrees, ‘Once the actors start comparing bruises, you know you’ve won. They have to be trophies, little badges of endeavour.’
The pair often finish each other’s sentences and hardly ever fight – too many opportunities to let off steam onstage perhaps. Ravenhill describes Hoggett as concentrating on the arc, and Graham biting his lip and worrying about the detail. Biting his lip, Graham agrees. Recently, they’ve worked separately on ‘Black Watch’ and ‘Home’ as well as together on ‘Market Boy’. Would they ever consider doing the choreography on a West End musical with a bunch of chorines? ‘We’d have to make sure,’ says Graham, ‘that it was the right thing. We’d always say “Why?” to a director first of all because we’d need to know that we were in the right place. We don’t necessarily see a trajectory for Frantic that ends in a West End show. But it would be very exciting.’
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