Interview: Choreographer Mark Murphy – 'It feels like the kind of theatre only I could make'
V-TOL company is back with an explosive new show, Out Of This World, at Dance International Glasgow that's part medical drama, part love story
With matters of life and death happening on a daily basis, it's no wonder the medical world makes for such good fiction. Fascinated by what he calls 'the inherent drama' of the hospital environment, Mark Murphy has created a show that takes place inside the mind of one woman in a comatose state, as she wrestles with aspects of her life.
Blending film, theatre, animation, aerial choreography and special effects, Out Of This World heralds the return of Murphy's acclaimed company, V-TOL, which ran from 1991–2001. Since then Murphy, who started his career as a choreographer before moving into filmmaking, writing, directing and aerial work, has spent most of his time outdoors directing large productions such as the Commonwealth Games ceremonies in Manchester, Melbourne and Glasgow.
But when you're used to hitting audiences between the eyes with the wow factor, how do you dial it down to a whisper for the sake of a meaningful narrative? 'It's always a danger, because you can get carried away with the spectacle and people saying wow, that was really amazing what you did with your bodies,' says Murphy. 'But it doesn't interest me in the slightest to do a show that just says "look how clever we are". The story has to grab people first before anything else and have a mainline to their heart, otherwise it's all kind of useless.
'So we had to find ways to express what the characters are feeling, and let that be the springboard for what happens next – whether that's two people sitting in a room crying or people flying, film projections, explosive pyrotechnic action and special effects. They're all spokes coming off the same hub, which is the story – and that came from me banging away at a keyboard for the past few years.'
When Murphy says 'a few years', what he actually means is seven – because that's how long Out Of This World has been gestating inside him. Along the way he's picked up skills and knowledge from a decade of large-scale outdoor shows. 'The beauty of it for me is I've been able to bring lots of different forms to the show from all the other things I've been doing,' he says. 'So it feels like the kind of theatre only I could make because it's got my DNA in it from those other experiences that are all coming to bear in the one show.'
That said, Murphy is keen to point out that aerial flips and tricks are only one part of what the show has to offer. Underneath the technical wizardry lies the tale of a couple desperately clinging on to their relationship. 'If you strip everything away, it's a very simple love story between two people,' says Murphy. 'It's really tender and funny, with a huge emotional punch. I think people will walk out reflecting on how precious life is and what a fine line we tread sometimes – and I hope they'll be feeling a bit emotionally exhausted and holding on a little tighter to their nearest and dearest.'
Out Of This World; Tramway, Glasgow Fri 19 & Sat 20 May, also touring the UK throughout Apr and May.