Interview: Tom Mangan Talks Rendered Retina’s Form

Rendered Retina are bringing their show Form to the Camden Fringe this year after winning the Les Enfants Terrible Award and Best Show at Paris Fringe in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Expect non-verbal storytelling, explorations of the world of work and 20,000 paper balls… The show plays the Camden People’s Theatre 19-21 August (tickets here) so I caught up with Co-Artistic Director Tom Mangan to talk all things Form…

Tell me a little about the company. Where, when and how did Rendered Retina come to be?

Rendered Retina was officially formed in 2016, though as a company we began making work in 2015 when studying Contemporary Performance at the University of Winchester. What I would say however, is that the 3 members who founded the company (of which I am one) first became friends in 2006 at the age of 12! Since forming we’ve toured the UK and Europe, we also just won the Best Emerging Company and B-Fest awards at the International Youth Arts Festival.

Form looks at an ‘attempt to escape…routine’ – is this a take on the daily grind of work, social life, family life or a combination?

I would say that it’s definitely a combination of things. It starts off being one man’s attempt to escape the monotony of his office job and the daily grind, but as the show progresses there’s questions about the balance between working and playing. Why do we work? Why do we stay in ‘dead-end’ jobs? Our office escapee leaves his co-workers behind so what are the consequences for them? 

What drew you to a piece incorporating physical theatre, clowning and mime? What draws you to that physical world of storytelling?

I think this combination of styles came very organically. The three of us love cartoons and animation, the facial expressions and exaggerated physicality you can get from these artforms is something we love and used as inspiration (with a splash of Mr Bean as well). The clowning aspect was purely down to the show being primarily about play, it seemed natural. There’s fun to be had in using mundane objects to create other worlds so I think we couldn’t have done it another way.

As this is a non-verbal story, what for you are the challenges and rewards of producing this kind of work rather than more traditional theatre?

I guess we thought the initial challenge would be in the storytelling. We know where the story is going, but will an audience follow? It’s almost like an hour-long game of charades that you have to be very good at. But because our creative process had such a focus on things coming naturally there’s a flow to the piece that makes it easy to follow. The rewards of doing a piece like this is it can transfer to any country, it doesn’t matter what language you speak and it also doesn’t matter what age you are. It really opens up your audience demographic.

The show promises to be both ‘hilarious and moving’ – how do you go about marrying the two within this particular narrative?

We always knew the show we were going to make would be extremely playful and fun. We also knew that only one of the 3 office workers would set off on this journey but as we got further and further into the show/this office worker’s daydream there was an increasing sense of loneliness. You still get the playfulness and imagination but with an added sense of detachment. There’s also concern for the colleagues we see desperately trying to keep the higher-ups satisfied whilst this worker is off on his voyage. I won’t give it away but there’s bit towards the end that’s had some of our audiences in tears. 

Tell me about the proud promise of 20,000 paper balls used in this show…

Ahh yes, the infamous paper balls. We always knew we wanted to cover an office in paper and use them as a symbol for an increasing workload and our escapee’s increasing detachment from reality. Believe it or not, we counted them! Each one was hand scrunched and took about a week of solid scrunching to complete, after a solid week of flame proofing. A lot of the paper was scrap, used or recycled. It’s also been the same paper for 3 years. Every few shows we have to re-scrunch a few hundred or so, so we have a routine (art imitating life there).

Rendered Retina has played this show to great success previously, winning the Les Enfants Terrible Award 2017 and Best Show at Paris Fringe 2018. What does it mean to you to bring the show to the Camden Fringe this year?

It’s very exciting to be a part of Camden Fringe this year. We’re always looking to bring the show to new places and new audiences so to be a part of a fringe as big as Camden is a great opportunity and challenge for us. So far the festival team have been nothing but friendly and supportive so we’re really looking forward to it.

If you could have audiences take just one thing away from seeing the show, what would you want that to be?

This is a tough question. I don’t have one particular thing that I want our audiences to take away with them as everyone reads different things into the performance. I guess I would love people to go away from the show and look at an object they use everyday in a different way.

To close, in one sentence, why should audiences come to see Form?

Audiences should come for an hour of laughter, escape, visual splendour and to see how many different ways we can use a stapler!

Now for the quick fire round of general theatre related questions

Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?

In terms of theatre companies that have inspired us, Gecko I would say are our theatrical idols. I remember seeing their show Institute for the first time and it blew me away. They are also so lovely in person and a perfect example of how to present yourself. In terms of the theatre we make, the world inspires us. There’s so many amazing stories to tell and images to see, all the inspiration we need is in front of us.

Favourite theatre genre and why?

Oooh, tough one! I would have to say Contemporary Performance because it’s so diverse and exciting. It might be a cop out because it can combine every art form and style but I guess that also makes it inclusive which is so important.

Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic.

I think any chance we have to critique or ask questions about etiquette or the unspoken rules of theatre should be welcomed. Some of these ‘rules’ could be excluding certain groups from going to the theatre, and the theatre should be a welcoming place to all. As a recent example I look at Emelia having shows where parents could bring babies and that went down a storm. We can always improve, but distracting performers by using your mobile phone is a no from me!

Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?

A few years ago my twin brother broke his ankle during the first 5 minutes of a performance. To his credit I didn’t know anything was wrong until afterwards. We had another show to do straight after so my friend who was sitting in the audience (having not seen or rehearsed the piece we were going to do) became my brother’s arms as he returned to the stage on crutches.

If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, what would it be?

Well I think more inclusive opportunities are needed, there are still many groups that haven’t got access to certain projects or callouts. The big one I’ve seen recently is a focus on communities and organisations giving opportunities to local artists, which is great. I think the next step is to also target the areas where there aren’t really any large organisations to offer these opportunities; I say this as our company is based in Thurrock which is too far outside of London for us to be considered ‘London-based’ but also not far away enough to be considered ‘regional’ meaning many sources of funding or opportunities pass by. There will be other areas like this I’m sure so more opportunities in those areas would be welcome!

So there you have it! Remember, Form plays the Camden People’s Theatre 19-21 August and you can find tickets here.

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