Green Ginger’s Intronauts propels audiences into a microscopic journey deep within a human being; an adventure story complete with big screens, tiny buttons and body parts. The show has just been remounted with a brand new cast, before winging its way back on tour. Josh Elwell caught up with Artistic Director, designer, puppeteer and performer, Chris Pirie to chat about the exciting changes to the show and what’s on the horizon for Green Ginger Theatre.
Intronauts has been through a reinvention of late. As well as having a new cast you have also made some changes to the show I believe? Can you tell us how the production has evolved?
Yes, the show has enjoyed a complete overhaul and we are very excited by what it has now become. We needed to recast the two lead roles (Intronaut and Host) and this presented an opportunity to invest in an extended remount. We were well aware of some of the show’s weaknesses in story structure; these were largely due to the technical demands of the projected animations taking up precious rehearsal time during the original production period.
Our amazing director Emma Williams presented a new narrative structure that immediately addressed some profound issues in the original version and then we were able to spend three weeks in the rehearsal room, bringing two new performers into the fold, and then working in the new material. It was scary and exhilarating pulling apart something so tightly woven and none of us had any certainty that it would be an improvement. But by week two, we really felt like some of the shifts and tweaks proposed by Emma were really starting to land.
I have heard the newer version described as more ‘Monty Python’! Please explain what might be meant by that?
It’s possible that the original version had that absurd Python vibe, but it was buried away. All we did was clarify the essential storytelling and flesh out the two main characters, giving them both a little more substance. The absurdity is now underpinned by tension and threat, and the audience can actually care for the characters.
You have just come back from Charleville (Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes.) How was the show received at the festival?
We arrived the day before our first performance to discover that all three of our shows in one of the festival’s larger 300-seater venues, had already sold out. The bigger surprise was that having had grown accustomed to smaller, quieter audiences at our UK preview performances, we hadn’t anticipated such playful and vociferous crowds that seemed to laugh at every moment. It felt like a massive vindication of a month of very hard work.
Next stop is Norway. Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Norway and how do you anticipate the show being received there?
Norway will be quite different from Charleville. The audiences will tend to be unnervingly quiet – largely because they are listening intently. Over the years we’ve learned that many performers tend to feel they may have ‘lost’ them because of a lack of discernible feedback during the show. Then at the end – if you’ve earned it – they show their appreciation loudly and enthusiastically!
Intronauts is the third in a series of Norwegian co-productions; Rust (2005) and Outpost (2014) were also made possible through generous support from Nordic theatres and production houses. Cultural budgets are healthy, and they seem to enjoy investing in theatre companies from other parts of the world. We have chosen to collaborate with Nordland Visual Theatre in their Arctic base in the Lofoten Islands. The remote location offers both stunning scenery and a particular focus through isolation.
What plans do you have the show beyond Norway?
We have aspirations to tour extensively throughout Europe but these plans currently hang in the balance until it becomes clearer what impact Brexit will have. A ‘no-deal’ will be catastrophic for any touring industry; bands and performing arts companies will face massive increase in costs due to artists having to pay national insurances to every EU country, plus the costs of buying and preparing carnets for the temporary export of sets, costumes etc.
What does Green Ginger have up its sleeve for 2020?
The first two months will see the company in collaboration with Lyric Opera Chicago. We will be revisiting Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades; a Welsh National Opera production that we devised and performed the puppetry for back in 2000. It’s totally bonkers – extremely dark, but beautiful music. It’s quite something to be performing with puppets in a 3500-seater opera house, a full orchestra at our feet, whilst behind us a 60-strong chorus is singing at full voice!
We are still shaping up the rest of 2020. We are collaborating with Bath University’s Biomedical Engineering Department on a year-long public engagement project. At the heart of the activity will be Key Stage 2 puppetry-based workshops for primary schools. The aim is to make biology attractive to boys and engineering more enticing to girls.
Green Ginger also has aspirations to further develop some of the important work on puppetry and disability that was started during the Broken Puppet Symposium events in Dublin (2017) and Bath (2018) and Bristol Festival of Puppetry in 2017. We are convinced that there is much more to be done to make our artform more accessible to and representative of disabled practitioners and audiences alike.
Oh, and the very first show that I co-created with Terry Lee (Green Ginger’s founder) back in 1988, will be dusted off for a special one-off appearance in a Somerset cow field sometime in June… Watch this space.
Interview with Josh Elwell