Interview: Slope creators Stewart Laing and Pamela Carter discuss 2014 revival
The pair explain how they brought new lease of life to production of the 19th century love triangle
Stewart Laing and Pamela Carter revisit the tale of two men as they slip to the bottom. Gareth K Vile finds out more about Slope, take two
Untitled Projects' first production of Slope used Tramway's distinctive scale to create a work that used Stewart Laing's design skills to encase the torrid tale of French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine in a custom-built set. Reviving it eight years later, this time in the Citizens' studio theatre as part of Glasgay! and hooking up with KILTR for a live stream of each performance, Laing and playwright Pamela Carter have adapted the script for its new location.
'I wrote it originally to Stewart's design,' says Carter. 'So once you take that design away, it's a different proposition. It was always about spatial relationship between the audience and the event – it was about naturalism and not recognising the audience!'
Carter's script focuses on the love triangle between Rimbaud, Verlaine and Verlaine's wife, Mathilde. But while most examinations of the melodramatic affair between the French poets concentrates on Rimbaud – the youthful, passionate anarchist – Laing observes a different focus in Carter's script.
'Verlaine is the pivotal character in Pamela’s play,' he says, 'how he tries to manage a longing for order and also a desire for chaos and freedom. He's an older, alcoholic man who wants everything: the comforts of his bourgeois marriage and the adventures with a young man just obsessed with chaos.'
Laing adds that Carter's rewrite has paid particular attention to the role of Mathilde. In a play featuring two dynamic men and one women, it would be too easy to cast her as a shrew or obstacle to creativity, But key to Slope's dynamic is the conflict between all three characters.
Another change in this production is the use of a live stream: Slope stood alone in Untitled's work as not having a video component (their Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner featured 'found' footage of the source performances). The collaboration with KILTR, who developed their streaming capacity during the run-up to the referendum in September, marks a recognition of cinema's increasing interaction with theatre.
'Originally we thought of a conventional format,' explains Laing. 'We'd get the production up and running and bring a film crew in. But thinking about what acting is to a camera, rather than a live audience – would actors do a different performance on the night of the broadcast? – we decided to broadcast every night so the performers are modulating to the camera and the small audience.'
So while the production nods to the rise of event cinema, such as the National Theatre's blockbusting streams of classic plays with star acts, it forges its own space and, rather than emphasising the location of the show, opens it out to anyone with a computer and internet connection.
At heart, however, both Laing and Carter recognise the importance of the actual physical performance. 'The visual, technical and spatial aspects of theatre are the most interesting parts,' says Carter, and Laing admits that while other projects have crossed borders of genre and style, 'a lot of the things we do aren't plays'. This iteration of Slope will also be published as a script, something the company has not done before.
Shifting from the version performed at Tramway to this updated script and setting does reveal how Laing and Carter approach theatre as a holistic form, a collaboration between words, movement and venue. Carter's rewrite, which she regards as 'more muscular, more athletic' was determined by the change of venue. 'It is like removing a character,' adds Laing. Yet at the same time, the play is not merely a formal exercise but a compassionate examination of the battle between art and domesticity. 'That is what the play is about,' Laing concludes. 'Verlaine is trying to have both and it is impossible.'
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 22 Nov; Traverse, Edinburgh, Wed 26–Sat 29 Nov.