Emerging physical theatre company GOLKK Theatre are heading for the Camden Fringe with their new show Peeking in the Portrait which looks at the liveliness of Lady Clementina Hawarden‘s portraiture – and the power of photography. This new work will play at the Lion and Unicorn 10th – 12th August so I caught up with the company to look at all things GOLKK, new show Peeking in the Portrait and theatre…
Tell us a little about GOLKK as a company – who are you and what’s the story behind the name?
We are a physical theatre ensemble, using improvisation and intimate connections at the heart of all our work. We are recent graduates from the MA in Physical Acting at the University of Kent, where we formed as a company 2 years ago – and are now lucky enough to be supported as artists in residence with the University and the Gulbenkian, a local theatre. The name is always the first thing people ask about, it is a combination of our names! Grace, Olaf, Luke and Kristin – and the name was chosen after a 5 minute pow-wow about what we would call ourselves for a small project. The name began as something silly, but now the name has somehow captured the personality of our work – it is curious, playful, and gives a sense of how, for us, the meaning of language is always second to the quality of it. We come from across Europe (Norway, Bulgaria and England), so we enjoy that GOLKK doesn’t fit in any of our languages! It also reflects how we are as a company, in that we share everything. We all produce, direct, perform, and tackle all the jobs of being a company – so it seems right that we share in the name.
As an emerging company, what would you say your goal or vision is when it comes to the work you produce?
I think what really drives our work and our vision, is creating performance that is honestly and truthfully live. What we mean by that is that the performance is new every night, feeding off the energy that is present then and there, in that unique moment. We have structure and some choreography and characters, yet we leave ourselves open to making changes each time and surprising each other. And we want our audiences to be with us on this edge of possibility, not quite knowing where we will all end up.
What can you tell us about your show Peeking in the Portrait?
“Peeking” is our second show as a company, and fuses live polaroid photography with our subtle and intimate physical theatre. The show begins with four strangers in a room, who soon realise they are not alone – they are under the gaze of a polaroid camera. A curious and tentative beginning quickly slips into a world of chaos, seduction, loss, and nostalgia, as the camera becomes a fifth character. “Peeking” is definitely different to what people usually associate with “physical theatre” – so it’s great for anyone who wants to take a punt on something new!
What exactly is it about Lady Clementina Hawarden which sparked the creative imagination leading to this show?
We came across Hawarden’s portraits very early in the rehearsal process, when they were brought in by chance as some stimulus for an exercise. Her portraits are so full of possibility – they are formal and reserved, and yet strangely seductive and teasing. Hawarden was one of Britain’s first female photographers, and it was in a “home studio”, a converted attic, that she captured the charming images of her daughters in fancy dress. Despite being from the Victorian era, the girls in her portraits still seemed so alive, and ready to play with us! So we investigated further into Hawarden’s life as well as her work, and found that she was a truly remarkable woman.
The premise here is interesting; four characters alone with cameras, with the show’s marketing referring to what is ‘exposed’ – is this a production interested in superstitious notions of photographs and camera lenses finding and exposing truths in the faces captured?
For us, the idea of being “exposed” is perhaps not directly referring to these superstitions but addresses the concept of being ‘on display’. When you are the subject of a photograph, your behaviour and actions are immediately framed as something to be observed. So when a camera is watching, and capturing, the intimate relationships being formed on stage, there is a feeling of being vulnerable and “exposed”. And on the idea of the camera finding “truths”, I think we like to play with when the photograph accurately captures the feeling of the moment, and when it distorts the truth of the action. And we invite audiences to make up their own minds by having a look at a gallery of polaroids taken during performances, after the show.
The show ‘explores what it means to exist in a world where we are simultaneously witnesses and the witnessed’ – with the current climate of constant images and endless selfies, does this piece consciously consider the contemporary landscape as well as the era associated with its inspiration, Lady Hawarden?
These contemporary issues were actually brought to our attention by our first audience for the show – everyone was commenting on how the piece was so clearly reacting to a world where we seem to be obsessed with taking photos, and of course being in them! Although the piece is inspired by Hawarden, “Peeking” doesn’t sit in any specific time, as we want our audiences to draw their own meanings from the piece.
How have you combined the contrasting elements of the piece being inspired by a woman from another era and the production’s use of contemporary devices like live captured images – and how do you consider this approach to benefit the piece?
Taking photos throughout the piece was always about being able to play truthfully with the concept of photography and its effect on us as humans. We loved the fact that every performance would produce new, spontaneous images, and would echo our own desire to create theatre which is connected to the present moment.
Peeking in the Portrait features ‘playful physicality’ – does the production feature any dialogue or is the whole performance reliant on what is visual, as would be fitting considering the subject?
We don’t work conventionally with text, but that does not mean sound is absent within the piece. Sound is used in order to further evolve and expand the visual and physical imagery that is created on stage, also it gives the piece another tasty texture.
How would you characterise your production in terms of genre, style or tone?
We mention styles such as physical theatre, dance theatre and movement piece and it does blend within all these. Audiences have had such a variety of impressions of where the show fits within these categories, and we think this is because of people’s ideas of what “physical theatre” means. For us, the physical element is less about flashy tricks and choreography, and more about the subtle ways that humans use their bodies to communicate. Audiences have described the show as ‘witty’, ‘solemn’, ‘captivating’ and ‘refreshing’ – so it’s such a mixture of responses!
You have been touring Peeking in the Portrait around galleries in Kent – what does it mean to you to be a part of Camden Fringe as your London debut and how are you anticipating the audiences to be different within this new space, if at all?
We are so excited to bring the show to London! We chose galleries around Kent because Canterbury is our base, and we were intrigued to see how a show all about photography would be perceived in an art space, rather than a stage. Camden Fringe, being such a vibrant and varied festival, is such a brilliant chance to reach a mix of audience – people who are up for taking a punt on something new!
What would you say are your core intentions as producers of a a play like Peeking in the Portrait?
To make theatre which is honest to the present moment. It’s easy when making theatre to forget about the liveness of performance – how every moment is happening for the first time, in a certain atmosphere, and with specific people. We want to preserve that feeling, and remind audiences that they have a say in what the show “means”.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing Peeking in the Portrait, what would you like that to be?
To let their imagination be set free and explored.
Now for the Quick Fire Round!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
Michael Chekhov, Pina Bausch, Anne Bogart and John Britton.
Favourite theatre genre and why?
Physical Theatre – because it has the potential to be anything!
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line?
Kindness is such an important thing in this industry – and in our society! So that extends to how you are as a company, as an audience, and as part of a fringe like Camden. If everyone remembers to be kind, then there is no need for “etiquette” as such!
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre to London right now, what would it be? What does London need?
More physical theatre in mainstream venues!
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence!
Photography is everywhere – see what happens when images come to life, and transport you into a bizarrely brilliant world.
So there you have it! Remember: Peeking in the Portrait plays the Camden Fringe at the Lion and Unicorn 10th – 12th August and you can find tickets here.