On Making ‘The Notebook’ – An Interview
Sheffield April 2014
Questions by Anna Krauss
AK: Why did you choose to make a performance based on The Notebook?
RL: All of us read The Notebook in the late 80s sometime and one of the first things that strikes you about the book is the incredible simplicity and brutality of the language. It’s written from the perspective of the twin brothers who are protagonists of the story and everything is focused on what they do and what they see. The really simple, stripped down, attitude towards narrative is very engaging. It was one of those things that we were drawn to, without really figuring out whether we’d do anything with it. Years later, when we were rehearsing another project, we started using voices speaking in unison and that, in turn, brought us back to The Notebook. In the first rehearsals we started to read it, Robin and I, reading it together in unison.
TE: The ‘we’ of the text in the book is tied to the twins refusal of a separate identity. It’s a pretty uncanny narration and all the time you’re reading you’re aware of the impossibility of the ‘we’ they propose – this ‘two people as one’. But when you put the same thing into performance the uncanniness shifts – it’s material, it’s concrete, it’s not the abstraction of a text on a page. I mean – it’s not an idea anymore, not something proposed in language – it’s a fact, two people, two voices. It’s immediately theatrical and dynamic and it’s performative in a very simple way. That was definitely one of the attractions to the text.
AK: What is the story about?
RA: At a basic level it’s about two boys who get sent to stay with their grandmother during the Second World War, because the city they live in is being bombed the whole time and their mother can’t look after them or feed them. It’s about how they deal with their new situation in the countryside and the brutalization they undergo – at the hands of the Grandmother but also at the hands of other people they encounter – the local priest, foreign soldiers, the local policeman and so on. At the same time what is interesting about the twins is that they retain a kind of morality. They speak a lot about things that are absolutely necessary – food, or boots to walk in the snow –and for them this idea of people’s needs informs a sort of moral code. The way they act throws up a kind of mirror on normal social engagement – it is disturbing and horrifying; but it’s also refreshing that it’s critical of the way people behave; their hypocrisy and double standards.
TE: It’s a story about a war – but it doesn’t have really a big part for soldiers. It’s written by a woman, it’s a book about children and women and old people and the wounded. So it’s a story about the life that continues while the fighting is going on – it’s about civilians and a collection of marginalized figures who suffer the consequences of the war without being any kind of major players in it. It’s also about the way that the climate and situation of the war impresses itself on people and does violence to them. For me that’s really relevant to the situation that we find ourselves in now, in 2014, even if we’re not in the middle of a war. We are in a middle of many different kinds of violence, which are perpetrated and which misshape all of us on a daily basis. I’m talking about the economic crisis and the manufactured tensions about borders and immigration, about the culture of surveillance, about the various remote wars in which we are involved.
AK: And is there any difference between the process on this project and the process of making something like The Coming Storm?
TE: Theatrically this new project is really simple and it contrasts to performances like The Last Adventures or The Coming Storm where we’re working with many diffferent ideas, people, music and costume to weave something that’s deliberately chaotic. In The Notebook we’re working in a much more focussed way. It’s just two people on the stage, they’re dressed identically, and the performance is a lot of spoken text. What all this does is tune you to smaller details – details of how things are said or of their relation to each other or of the different ways that the work makes a relation to the audience. It operates in a very narrow aperture and every decision you make is a small decision, there are no big dramatic moves to make. But together all the small decisions really count for something; they really change things.
RL: It’s unusual for us to work with a text, because we’re often working from improvisation, generating texts and other things collaboratively. Working from a fixed object as we are in The Notebook brings with it certain pleasures, but also certain difficulties. The book has a shape which you have to deal with, it has a particular energy, a particular structure. We have to find a way to deal with and negotiate those things.
AK: DO you present the whole text? Or did you make cuts?
TE: We did start with the whole book but that took around 4 hours for us to read aloud! So, yes, we made cuts. I’d say we are down to about half of the text, tho we really try to make a coherent line, and preserve the major architecture of the novel. What we’re trying to do is bring the kind of sensibility that we have from the other work to bear on this text.
AK: How is it performing in unison?
RL: It’s interesting when you have to share a text to that extent. Not all of it is unison – sometimes you’re passing smaller pieces backwards and forwards so there’s a sense of completing each other’s sentences. The really curious thing about the unison is that you have to take all of your breaths in exactly the same places. So you find yourself stood next to each other listening for the other persons breathing. We’re not really counting time, just listening for the intake of the other person’s breath.
RA: We’re reading. There’s something quite simple and straight forward about that. We’re standing there; two blokes, both the same sort of age, not too dissimilar in height, so we could be the twins; it’s clearly what we’re referring to, but it stays short of actually pretending that we ‘are’ those boys. There is a kind of obvious connection and link but when you do the math it doesn’t really add up – that’s what’s happening a lot in the piece, a simplicity that becomes complicated, a gesture to representation or inhabitation but something that stays subtle, understated.
For current tour dates and to watch the video trailers, go to The Notebook project page.