Souvenirs of a Killing
Part two of an ongoing project from Company of Sirens
Funded by the Arts Council of Wales and the National Lottery
“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can”
F.Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
In the summer of 2019 Company of Sirens produced Twelve Cabins Twelve Vacancies. It was based on events that led to the death of my father and linked to the plot of Hitchcock’s movie Psycho that was broadcast as he slipped away. It was described by the Guardian as “a fascinating meditation on grief”.
I wanted to continue in the same vein and create a theatrical autobiography in ascending parts, each part linked to an artwork experienced at the time.
Hence Souvenirs of a Killing, the title another lift from a Hitchcock film, this time Vertigo, recently voted best film of all time by the BFI.
In 1973 a good friend was taken from her home and held ransom in appalling conditions. She subsequently died in tragic circumstances.
The local film club was showing Vertigo. Madelaine played by Kim Novak became a clear symbol in my impressional mind for what was and what might have been.
The film deals with among many other things, themes of dislocation, falling, dropping, and has a spirituality at its core that translates into the personal.
Like most organisations, with the onset of Covid 19 we had to adjust our approach to the development period.
My colleague Angharad in Berlin with whom I collaborated on Twelve Cabins was helping me create the piece, together with valuable contributions from Sightlife Wales (formerly Cardiff Institute for the Blind) who I worked with last year.
We discussed personal stories of grief and loss that apart from dealing with bereavement, dealt with coping with aging, separation and dramatic changes of circumstances.
In light of the current situation the process seemed incredibly apposite.
We also explored ways in which the eyes can be used to signal and sign language and intent.
There were performances of the work in progress scheduled for mid June that were clearly not going to happen.
We decided that I would develop the text here while Angharad, working with a Berlin film maker, would create a short film using the text as voiceover. This was inspired by a mutual love for the poetic films of Andrei Tarkovsky.
We would then produce the stage version when events permitted, aided by the film and research work and a first draft working script.
The quotation from The Great Gatsby above seemed to me appropriate. The longing to recreate the past and the inability to return there seemed to me a human necessity, one perhaps only art can even attempt to satisfy.
Could there be a longing so intense that it creates what it desires?
Like Gatsby, needing someone so badly you cannot picture living without them. To quote the text to Souvenirs.
“Then it happens. I know it. A message saying so merely confirms news some secret pulse had already received. I look up at our faces in the clouds and begin to fall backwards in a spiral. Vertigo overwhelms me as I clutch at objects to address my falling, broken promises, neglect, indifference, fears, laughter, joy, all come apart in my hands.
Then I let go, safe in the certain knowledge of home.The whole thing was maybe a dream. That’s one way of approaching what happened, a way as good as any other”
The connections with the film Vertigo as with Psycho in the previous piece appear to me to be fascinating and clear.
This is part two of what i would like to be an ongoing project linking an artwork to personal experience so that the memory of the event is soundtracked and enveloped by that artwork so that with the passing of time the artwork takes over. The memory cant exist without its context.
We believe Kim Novak in Vertigo to be possessed by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes. In the gallery she enters the painting of Carlotta as the viewer focuses on the tunnel created in her hair then goes into the tunnel.
There is a constant reference to falling and loss of balance and a clear sense of regret.
All of these factors are contained in the “real life” narrative the piece explores. The text again.
“It was a time of spirit and rambling conversations of mysticism and transformation. We would talk about possession.Being possessed with the spirits of the past.She believed she was being haunted.She dreamt about falling. Falling down steps, stairs or off a high building.She never of course reached the bottom. Something arrested her fall.Did she jump or was she pushed?Was she attempting to fly?The answers are quite clear to her now.”
Chris Durnall July 2020
Review from New Welsh Review for last years production of Wolf Tattoo also by Lucy Gough
REVIEW by Nathan Llywelyn Monday
NWR Issue r26
The Wolf Tattoo
However hard the playwright tries, the theatre tends to be us and them. Usually, the audience return to a St Mellons, a Pontprennau or a Birchgrove. The curtain always closes, even if it isn’t visible. But this play was different. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ disintegrated into ‘the pack’ – not ‘me’, or a ‘him’, or a ‘her’.
I walked in from a heatwave into a hotter environment. Four bodies lay on the floor like biblical Nebuchadnezzars – sweating beasts clawing the ground. Waiting.
Cue the characters. There aren’t many. Avian Flu has taken its toll. Humanity is contracted to five individuals. Graf (Gwydion Rhys) and Rose (Sarah Morgan) are seventeen and in love. She is pregnant; he is part of this cultish gang which ‘pack’ at night on the concrete wasteland, dressed in real wolf skins. Another member of that gang, Shenks (Jarred Ellis Thomas), spends the play dribbling, sweating, swearing; he even pisses himself at the end. It’s a bit much actually. Then there’s Rose’s friend, Ash (Non Evans) and the curious tattooist called Snakeskin (John Rowley) – my favourite character.
There are some beautiful moments in the play which usually involve Graf and Rose, even though their dialogue is somewhat repetitive. I would have liked to have experienced more between them, instead of f*** this and f*** that. I don’t necessarily mean words. The programme does say that ‘language has broken down’. But language is much more than the spoken word, isn’t it?
I was both fascinated and disturbed by the opening scene, in which the cast writhe in a cultish, drug-fuelled agony. Apparently, this scene contains devised movement which Chris Durnall developed out of the physical vocabulary of British Sign Language. I didn’t necessarily pick up on that but I was thinking Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa on steroids!
We were arranged in a square. I felt the charcoaled ground and was surprised when I held chipped playground rubber which, in the half-light, built up this wasteland. The lighting flickered throughout the play; it was all a bit unheimlich and disorientating until a thread of red colour broke through the darkness. It was a welcome change, even though there was a sense of Star Trek’s ‘red alert system’ about it; coming on, as it were, when something bad was about to happen.
And a lot of bad things did happen. Gough explores the toxic gang-culture which scars our cities. She creates a culture that is dominated by masculinity – animalistic, primordial, and scarily
current at the same time. Solo kill becomes an initiation in a world where the knife is strapped to the belt again. Even as I wrote this review, Malaciah Joseph Thomas suffered multiple stab
wounds and died at a house in Corporation Road, Cardiff. He was only twenty-years-old and it happened a mile away from Chapter Arts Centre where I viewed this performance. The play carries on and
is eerily mirrored in our neighbourhoods. Buttons may be pressed in distant deserts, but ultimately, this is a landscape where blood is spilt on the streets and hatred is seen in our eyes. The
old ‘Cain and Abel thing’ kicks in again and again. I can hear you say, ‘It’s got nothing to do with me… I’m respectable.’ Wasn’t it Cain who said, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Nothing has
changed. The same wolf lurks in each and every one of us.
Here, evolution is portrayed like a memory and progression is a myth. The character Snakeskin is a mystery – does the name suggests a satanic figure who takes Graf’s soul? Or is he the absent gang leader – a cloaked Mephistopheles? Could he even represent the remnant (the skin) of religion, which separated good and evil; he tattoos hearts and wolves, wanders here and there, marking his words (like his customers) with wisdom and woe. Whoever he represents, I wanted more. But perhaps the whole point of Snakeskin is his absence and the uncertainty surrounding him.
Is there any redemption in the play? I think there is. Rose ‘chooses life’ and yearns after something more than the desolation of wolf and wasteland. There is a hope which is only ever whispered
among the disillusioned characters. She carries the next generation, who, like every one of us, has both wolf and butterfly within. It will be up to that child whether they will embrace the
natural instincts and wear the wolf skin. Or perhaps they will ‘choose life’ by saying ‘no’.
I thoroughly enjoyed the play, and left its heat for the heatwave again a ‘wiser and sadder man’.
Nathan Llywelyn Munday won the 2016 New Welsh Writing Awards with his debut novel, Seven Days, A Pyrenean Adventure (Parthian).
COMPANY OF SIRENS present
The premier of a new play by Lucy Gough
Directed by Chris Durnall
‘Misery has made me a fiend’
When someone kills, when their crime is so terrible, so incomprehensible, can we still call them human? Who is to blame? Who and what creates monsters?
Taking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as inspiration, THE CREATURE takes place in the mind and the prison cell of a young boy in a secure unit, as he attempts to avoid taking responsibility for what he has done, but also tries to understand it.
Following last years acclaimed production of THE WOLF TATTOO by Lucy Gough, COMPANY OF SIRENS present a specially commissioned play from the same award winning author that explores the origins of criminal behaviour and asks what it is that makes us monsters.
Developed through work with young offenders in prisons and secure units. THE CREATURE is a powerful new play dealing with an issue central to our lives.
“It is this feel of almost continuing menace that holds us throughout the gripping story and the extraordinary performances of the cast that gives us such an amazing and satisfying theatre experience” (Theatre in Wales review of The Wolf Tattoo)
“Gough’s text deftly shifts between the naturalistic and the surreal—the universe she creates encompasses not only lupine youths tearing people apart in forests, but also supermarkets and mobile phone signals” (Wales Arts Review on The Wolf Tattoo)
Presented with the assistance of the Arts Council of Wales and the National Lottery and Chapter.
NORMAN BATES IS INNOCENT!
How much do we really know each other, even those we love?
TWELVE CABINS TWELVE VACANCIES interlinks personal tragedy with the events of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal sixties horror classic PSYCHO.
“Dad died during the first broadcast of Psycho on network TV. Earlier that evening it had been scorching hot in the back yard. There was no breeze. I was 12. And I knew.” At the same time Marion stepped into the shower. This is the moment”
Blending memory with poetic imagery COMPANY OF SIRENS new piece TWELVE CABINS TWELVE VACANCIES traces Marion Crane’s journey to the Bates motel and one boy’s entry into a world where things don’t remain the same and where foundations shake.
Written, conceived, directed and performed by Chris Durnall with Angharad Matthews, and original music by Rhys Anderson, TWELVE CABINS TWELVE VACANCIES is about the nature of loss and how events are captured and treasured in the memory
COMPANY OF SIRENS have presented Welsh premiers of plays by Philip Ridley, Anthony Neilson, Jennifer Haley, Neil Labute as well as local writers Lucy Gough, Ian Rowlands, Tim Rhys, Mike James and Mark Ryan. Last years production of The Wolf Tattoo by Lucy Gough was called “an astonishing and powerful piece of pure theatre” (Theatre in Wales)
Tuesday 11th June at 8.30 and Wednesday 12th June at 6.30 and 8.00
Chapter Theatre. Box Office Market Road, CantonCardiff, WalesUKCF5 1QEt: +44 (0)29 2030 4400
Chris Durnall is running a summer school from 29th July to 2nd August 2019 and again from 12th August to 16th August 2019 Places are limited and details below. More details can be had by messaging Company of Sirens here or direct to Chris on firstname.lastname@example.org
Suitable for professionals who want a refresher course or people serious on developing skills for camera and stage
The Workshop is now taking final bookings for the 2019 Summer School This five day non-residential course will take place at The Workshop’s studio in Cardiff Bay over two seperate weeks. The course is dependent on a minimum of eight participating students and the total fee is £ 250.00.
Course tutors, Chris Durnall and Peter Wooldridge. have devised a programme which explores a non-performance approach to acting, where the narrative is driven by thought process rather than text.
Two places left. No payment will be required until commencement.
Photographs Jan H Andersen
http://getthechance.wales/2017/10/19/interview-chris-durnall/ New Interview from Chris
Company of Sirens new production will be The Wolf Tattoo a new play by Lucy Gough. The production is supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Chapter and directed by Chris Durnall. It runs at Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff from 19th to 30th of June 2018 with further dates in Aberystwyth and Bridgend.
The Cardiff based company has presented acclaimed Welsh premiers of new work by authors including Philip Ridley, Anthony Neilson, Jennifer Hailey, Neil Labute and Ian Rowlands. The company are recognised for simple effective staging and uncompromising visceral productions.
“Company of Sirens work is vital and entirely unsentimental” Guardian
“Graf and Rose are seventeen and in love. She is heavily pregnant, he is part of a gang that pack at night out on the concrete wasteland, dressed in real wolf skins.
Language has broken down. Rose is Graf’s reason for living.
The Wolf Tattoo is about love and survival and what it is that makes us human.”
The production will be supported by four practical workshops at Chapter,and preparation work with young people in Aberystwyth and Cardiff exploring the text and demonstrating the techniques developed during the companies recent R & D..
These workshops in Chapter will be open to all including deaf performers and will demonstrate how character can be developed from physical impulse.
The Wolf Tattoo
Wed 20 Jun, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
There’s a sense of anticipation in the air tonight at the drama about to unfold on the floor in front of us at Chapter Arts Centre as award-winning writer Lucy Gough and Company of Sirens productions present their latest work The Wolf Tattoo.
In a post-apocalyptic world, survival means being part of a pack. If you aren’t part of a pack then you are dead meat. In a dog-eat-dog world (or in this case, wolf) the packs roam the concrete wastelands dressed in real wolf skins, taking what they can and killing when instructed. Graf, a young pack member is desperately in love with his girlfriend Rose, but when she finds out that she’s pregnant, the young couple are forced into making difficult decisions. Gwydion Rhys and Saran Morgan play the troubled couple, while Jarred Ellis Thomas plays Shenks – a fellow pack member, who brings a quite superb physical performance. Non Haf plays Ash, the best friend of Rose, torn between her loyalties to her friend and her knowledge of the pack while a mention must go to John Rowley, whose role as the tattooist Snakeskin gave the production a genuinely sinister feel. With a modest set, the actors excelled at using what they had to work with, turning a room the size of your average high school gym into an urban wasteland/homely setting/a tattoo studio with ease.
The production aims to deal with a lot of social issues that we are seeing all too often in young people, with gang culture and knife crime prevalent in modern society. Such is Graf’s loyalty to the pack that he finds it difficult to see another side to life, which is a story that can resonate with a lot of our youth and Shenks’ issues always seem to find closure with a knife. As the UK currently has the highest rate of knife-related fatalities it’s ever had, this feels rather prescient. Company of Sirens also looked to explore the potential of physical non-verbal language throughout the production and this is achieved in style, with the incorporation of sign language into proceedings. At around 55mins long, the pace of the production ran smoothly, giving what time there was to get maximum insight into the characters, but I felt that the last 10 minutes or so, seemed to rush to a conclusion. They could have put more time into a climax that ultimately left a bad taste in the mouth.
But that’s not to take away from the superb work from all involved and The Wolf Tattoo is as fantastic as it is thought provoking; well worth your time and money. Chris Andrews
Company of Sirens , Chapter , June-20-18
The audience is sat on either side of the narrow stage that runs the whole length of Chapter’s Seligman Studio floor. It is strewn with small black leaf-like, glittering pieces and the bodies of the actors, all but one who sits, enigmatically at the side of the stage.
The lights go dark, heavy rock music fills the air. The actors rise and gyrate menacingly to the music strongly setting the strong atmosphere of the play. The script, by award winning writer, Lucy Gough runs allegory and reality side by side. We seem to be in the world of youth, could be now, could be the future. The young men running in packs like wolves, while the young girls stand by almost innocently.
The two boys wrestle in a friendly manner. Away from them Rose, given a magnificent and tender performance by Saran Morgan, toys with a wolf skin that she has destroyed. She seems afraid as she struggles to force the life back into it.
One of the boys, Graf, another outstanding performance from Gwydion Rhys breaks away from the fight and joins her. She is clearly very much in love with him. His love is more uncertain. There is a strong moment between them. Seeing the audience on the other side of the stage, it might be thought would weaken the verisimilitude but in fact it heightens the strength of the theatrical experience.
Rose tells Graf that she is pregnant and asked him to break away from the ‘wolf’ pack and come and live with her, with her baby in the real world. It’s Graf’s struggle with this dilemma that gives us much of the continuing tight narrative of the play. A production so well sculpted by director, Chris Durnall.
Shenks, a hundred per cent committed pack member, a fine, rough performance from Jarred Ellis Thomas urges Graf to get back into the pack. Graf’s wolf nature seems to have been weakened. An elderly, philosophical tattoo artist, named Snakeskin, emerges from the blackness. Graf wants his lover’s name ‘Rose’ tattooed onto his skin inside a heart. The continuing gripping, overwhelming tension is intensified as Snakeskin, such a strong, quiet, penetrating performance from John Rowley, raises the needle to Graf’s arm.
Rose is aided in her fight by her good friend Ash, more innocence and strength from Non Haf. They seek out a place of rescue that is surrounded by huge hanging tubes of red light. Jacob Gough’s lighting of the whole play contributes very largely to the continuing taught atmosphere that now surrounds us.
The pace hots up as these compelling characters move towards their destiny. More tattooing and ‘skin’ poetry from Rowley. The action continues to hold us in its tight grip. It is this feel of almost continuing menace that holds us throughout the gripping story and the extraordinary performances of the cast that gives us such an amazing and satisfying theatre experience.
With The Wolf Tattoo, Company of Sirens ventures into territory it, under director Chris Durnall, has previously visited with Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur and Jennifer Haley’s The Nether—a dystopian future.
The seating in the Seligman Studio is laid out in traverse, and the central playing space is carpeted with charcoal chippings. Abandoned tyres and broken cellphones are artfully arranged on it as are, as we enter, the majority of the cast. Presently, they rise and begin thrashing about to Queens Of The Stone Age’s hymn to druggy abandon, “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”.
Despite this being a recurring aural motif, however, it quickly becomes clear that Lucy Gough’s play focuses on more natural highs—love and violence. The wolfskins scattered amongst the detritus (costume design by Llinos Griffiths) indicate that we are in some kind of urban wilderness.
Gwidion Rhys’s Graf and Jarred Ellis Thomas’s Shenks are feral youths who run with a murderously vicious gang who either are or imagine themselves to be werewolves of some kind. Graf, however, has a loving girlfriend, Rose—Saran Morgan—who informs him that she is pregnant, and that his commitment to her should entail leaving the gang.
The cast is rounded out by Non Haf as Ash, Rose’s cynical but understanding friend, and John Rowley as Snakeskin, the tattooist to whom Graf turns in order to get Rose’s name inked on him as a sign of devotion. Snakeskin is the sole representative here of the older generation, whose actions have led to the world falling apart.
The action revolves around the fate of Graf’s wolf-pelt, his badge of acceptance into the gang. When Rose finally loses patience with what it represents, she takes action which endangers them both.
While the nightmarish, futuristic tone is palpable, courtesy of the drone-inflected soundtrack and Jacob Gough’s moody lighting design, the true theme of the play seems to be an eternal one—the complexity of adult relationships.
It seems logical to assume that it was Graf’s wildness which first attracted Rose to him. Now that she seeks stability, however, she needs him to become less wild. Their failure to reach an accommodation makes tragedy almost inevitable.
Gough’s text deftly shifts between the naturalistic and the surreal—the universe she creates encompasses not only lupine youths tearing people apart in forests, but also supermarkets and mobile phone signals. The performers are reliably skilful, but seem at their best when dealing with the realities of love, grief and world-weariness.
There are a few elements which don’t work as well as they might: perhaps a choreographer could have enhanced some of the more animalistic moments; and a “quest” strand seems to fall a little flat in the small performance space.
Nevertheless, The Wolf Tattoo is an intriguing and inventive take on “the pack mentality” and the difficulty of leaving childish things behind.
Company of Sirens with / a good cop bad cop present the Welsh premier of / yn cyflwyno’r perfformiad cyntaf yng Nghymru
The Nether by / gan Jennifer Haley | Directed by / Cyfarwyddwr Chris Durnall
“At the play’s end, the world - both real and virtual
simply doesn’t look quite the same”
Funded by the Arts Council of Wales and the National Lottery / by arrangement with Samuel French
Cefnogwyd gan Y Loteri Genedlaethol trwy Gyngor Celfyddydau Cymru
Company of Sirens with Goodcopbadcop present the Welsh premier of Jennifer Haley’s hugely controversial and brilliant play The Nether
The Nether is a virtual wonderland that provides total sensory immersion.
Just log on, choose an identity and indulge your every desire.
When a young detective uncovers a disturbing brand of entertainment, she triggers an interrogation into the darkest corners of the imagination.
The Nether explores the consequences of living out our private dreams and desires.
Dealing with issues such as pornography and the internet, ethics and freedom of speech The Nether is a haunting sci-fi thriller that explores the consequences of living out our private dreams
“This play is mind bend, ethically challenging and ingenious…..structured quite brilliantly, like a hall of mirrors” The Times
“The internet has changed us as a species, and The Nether asks big questions about how we go forward”
Company of Sirens recent productions have included Welsh premiers of Philip
Ridley’s DarkVanilla Jungle, Tender Napalm, Mercury Fur and Anthony Neilson’s
explosive plays Stitching and The Censor. These have demonstrated the company’s vision in creating emotionally charged, visceral productions of exciting new plays for the first time in Wales.
good cop bad cop have worked as professional performance makers in Wales since 1990, as key members of Brith Gof, Pearson/Brookes and as founders of Das Wunden. Their work has been characterised by a continuous willingness to experiment with both the form and content of performance practice. This has resulted in gcbc being acknowledged by the British Council as key exponents of contemporary British
The Nether brings together these two companies for the first time in an intriguing collaboration for Jennifer Haley’s award winning sci-fi crime thriller.
Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Market Road, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1QE /
Theatr Seligman, Chapter, Heol y Farchnad, Treganna, Caerdydd, CF5 1QE
15th – 25th March 2017 at 20:00 and 25th at 14:30 /
15fed – 25ain Mis Mawrth 2017 20:00, a 25ain am 14:30
Tickets / tocynnau £12.00/£10.00 chapter.org/the nether
chapter.org / 02920304400
Age 16 plus / Oed 16
More information: Chris Durnall 07834600941
Company of Sirens
Dark Vanilla Jungle
By Philip Ridley
Tour September/October 2015
Seren Vickers as Andrea
Directed by Chris Durnall
Following its acclaimed Welsh premier in March Company of Sirens are touring Philip Ridley’s extraordinary one woman play about a young girls search for love and home.
"go and see this remarkable, unmissable performance now! Seren Vickers... gives the most, captivating, strong and charismatic performance" Theatre in Wales
Supported by the Arts Council of Wales the National Lottery and Shelter Cymru
By kind permission of Knight Hall Agency, London
Old Red Lion
6th 7th September 8.00
11th 12th September 7.45
16th 17th 18th 8.00
St Peters Road
19th September 8.00
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
25th September 8.00
Lovely testimonial from Bizzy Day producer of The Other Room
Q "What's the best thing you've seen recently"?
A "It was actually a little while ago now but I honestly can’t stop thinking about it. Company of Sirens, in collaboration with Theatre Iolo and Chapter, did an astonishing production of Philip Ridley’s 'Mercury Fur' with young actors from the Royal Welsh College. I was absolutely blown away by the acting. Cardiff really is brimming with extraordinary talent and for that to be showcased in a gritty, challenging play was really special."