News, happenings and goings on from the Old Fire Station, Oxford
Ahead of his autumn tour across the South East, award-winning theatre maker Chris Goode talks to journalist Catherine Love about revisiting the 2006 production of Longwave, and how it feels to be back in the rehearsal room.
“I am really interested in putting spoken language on stage, but I’m not very interested necessarily in that primarily being about telling a story through language,” says Chris Goode, writer and director of Longwave. The show has plenty of words, but none of them come out of the two characters’ mouths. Instead, the central story is told without dialogue, while the only speech comes from an increasingly menacing old wireless.
“So much of the piece is about a really minimal approach to trying to telegraph emotional narratives,” Goode explains. Longwave’s two characters are scientists, trapped together in a shed in “some sort of presumably post-apocalyptic landscape”. As they attempt to make sense of their surroundings through games and experiments, the wireless – which is almost a character in its own right – is their only window on the outside world. “It’s a way of letting the outside world come into this otherwise very hermetically closed environment,” Goode adds.
Longwave was first made in 2006 and is now being remounted eight years later for a new tour around the South East. Thinking back to its inception, Goode remembers that “the most fundamental thing about the show had to be that they wouldn’t speak”. Instead, performers Tom Lyall and Jamie Wood communicate everything through gesture and body language. Unsurprisingly, silent comedy has been a significant influence.
“I’ve been thinking about Laurel and Hardy and the way that even though a lot of their work was in talkies, you were always watching two people who were used to doing so much just with gaze and a raised eyebrow here and there,” says Goode. Because of the lack of dialogue, the show is reliant on the dynamic between Lyall and Wood, which Goode believes has been key to its success. “They can run the same scene 30 times and it will still be new the 30th time because they’re still very live to each other.”
The radio, meanwhile, plays a crucial role in the storytelling. “It was very interesting to allow the radio to articulate lots of things about their relationship,” Goode reflects. “Obviously at a very basic level it’s just about company for them, but then they disagree about wanting to have it on versus not wanting it on versus wanting pop music playing. That’s an initial way that the audience gets to read certain things about what different people they are and how long they’ve been stuck together.”
Eventually, the wireless takes on a life of its own, which Goode describes as “very alarming and sinister” for the two protagonists. “I was interested in what happens when we can’t shut off that barrage of noise and information and other languages and other people, when the movement of that stuff into our lives is kind of unstoppable,” he says, referring to the constant stream of information that characterises modern life. But the radio also plays another role.
“There’s something about the seductiveness of radio,” Goode continues. “If it is a metaphor for anything in the show, it’s not just about barrages of communication and information and broadcast media, it’s also about love and what happens when love starts to overwhelm us and how scary that can be. We were playing a little bit on the idea of waves; the idea of this enclosed space gradually flooding with these long waves coming in through the only aperture that opens out onto the world.”
Returning to Longwave after several years away from it has thrown up several challenges – not least the simple difficulty of reconstructing a show without a script – but it has also provided the opportunity to make improvements. “One of the nice things about going back to a show is that always when you make something there are things that have never really had the time that you wanted to give them,” Goode tells me. “So we have been able to finesse some moments.”
“For me it’s a very romantic project,” Goode adds, describing how this process has allowed him and the rest of the creative team to retrace their steps. “It’s like going back to where we had our honeymoon.”
Longwave is at the Old Fire Station on 26th September. Info here.