“I’m not a good communicator in my life, I’m a bad communicator. And all the work I do is about bad communication and the damage it does. And I know the irony of that, that I’m trying to create this sense of communication with a load of strangers that I’ll never see again.”
A woman, a guitar, a trampoline. A pop album, in a theatre. A show about co-dependency. These are the bones of Everything I Do, a new show from new company One Two One Two. Anyone who’s seen the band Maud in Cahoots perform will need no introduction to One Two One Two – formed by sisters Zoe and Maud Ní Riordáin, the company is an extension of their band, a new home for their unique form that blends pop and theatre.
The Ní Riordáin’s thing is writing an album of pop songs and then performing the album in a theatre, with some shaping around it. It’s not quite a gig, it’s not really a play at all, but there’s a narrative there, to be read between the lines of unabashed pop lyrics and minimal choreography. They did it with Recovery in 2016, a live concept album that explored family dynamics. The show seemed to come out of nowhere, surprising viewers in how such a simple concept could hold an audience so completely.
“At the centre of it all is mining these pop songs for meaning, these things that you write instinctively or intuitively. It’s applying theatre dramaturgy to pop music. I guess the whole reason to pursue these stagings of albums is the access that everybody has to pop music or music that’s simple or lyrics that are simple. It’s interesting to challenge that with abstract forms of expression, and it has to happen in a theatre. The context is where a lot of the ‘drama’ of the show is. I think when people come to see the show, there’s an immediate sense of mystery, like, ‘This isn’t the way I normally listen to pop music – why am I listening to this like this?’ There’s no question of clapping or standing up and I love that.”
With Recovery, Zoe directed while Maud performed. This time around, it will be Zoe on stage, through an unplanned turn of events that saw her alone on a residency in Italy developing the show while Maud was having a baby. The new show is in some ways a continuation of the story that began with Recovery, which painted a portrait of a child struggling within the maelstrom of family tensions. The trampoline, which appears in both shows, is a signal that we’re inhabiting the same world.
“This is the child in Recovery – that’s who I am on stage really. And what I’m looking at when I’m looking at the audience is everybody as a child.”
In the same way as O’Donoghue (choreographer of AFTER) mines her performers’ personal lives for the raw material of the show, Ní Riordáin mines the pop songs she’s written. I ask why it’s pop music that’s her first point of expression and not a drawing or a piece of text.
“It’s the way I’ve found that stuff comes out of me that sounds like my own voice. When I start writing, a lot of the time it’s just with two chords that make me sing in a way that sounds like my speaking voice. I don’t think really when I’m writing a song, but whenever I try to write dialogue or text, I become really self-conscious because I’m thinking. It’s also the training I had, I learnt the cello when I was six.”
The work is still in development as I’m speaking to the artist and the company is at the point of deciding ‘what to share with the audience’. Everything I Do is in the same category in the Fringe programme as AFTER: ‘Mavericks and Innovators’. It’s a new designation for Fringe and the thing that seems to link the shows in this category, which are all quite distinct in their form, is a type of deep world-making where the artists spend a lot of time collaborating and devising. Our of this comes a wealth of material that they then carve a show from. It’s quite a different way of working than starting with a written script (though both AFTER and Everything I Do both feature some pre-written text).
“The work is now in the middle of me and the audience and Maud, and the other collaborators. We’ll probably end up showing a third of what we’ve made, or maybe even less. I’m not getting hung up on whether it works as a piece of theatre. The main thing is creating an experience – the priority is always to have a space where people can feel something quite deeply.”
Though not all of the material created in the development process gets seen on stage, it’s there behind the performance, in the same way as our own inner worlds, our constant stream of thoughts and emotions, underpins the things we say out loud. One of Ní Riordáin’s avenues of research during development brought her to look at the life of early-twentieth-century architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, the man known for creating the geodesic dome. She started watching his 47-hour-long lecture series, titled ‘Everything I Know’ (a coincidental parallel to the title of her own show), and learning about his family and background (“You know when you look at someone’s Wikipedia page… I tend to go straight to the personal life.”). The inventor is in the fabric of the show, but not explicitly in the performing of it.
“I’ve channeled him a bit in trying to find a sense of childhood wonder. He also represents the positive side of co-dependency – the way the geodesic dome is structured, every single bit is dependent on all the other bits. The tension is what holds it together.”
It’s a simple and effective and beautiful image for the familial bullshit many of us can relate to, the ‘can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em’ syndrome. But it’s also an interesting insight into the mechanism of the show that, while the geodesic dome is an image for the performer, it will never be an image for the audience. There will be no direct reference to Buckminster Fuller on stage. Instead, there will be a woman, a guitar and a trampoline. A pop album, in a theatre.
Words: Rachel Donnelly