Part nursery rhyme, part domestic drama, Tumbling After charts the story of two young couples as they 'stumble in and tumble out of love'. RedBellyBlack Productions return to the Fringe with a controlled blend of romcom disaster and sharp physical theatre that examines how we love – or how we don't. Henry St Leger caught up with the company's artistic director and actress Kate Goodfellow, along with the rest of her cast: Robert Boulton, Steven Laverty, and Marietta Melrose.
It's that heightened emotion we can portray through movement to affect the audience in a different way than you would on TV
Your last show at the Fringe was a solo effort, Smoking Ban. What made you expand the cast for this one?
Kate: This was the sort of work you can only create in an ensemble. When you're attacking relationships, it's vital to have that many voices in the room. Because we speak from so many different angles, so many different age brackets, even different countries. We all had vastly different upbringings and have completely diverse views on relationships. All four of us disagree on how we view marriage, relationships in general, partnerships, whatever.
Why did you decide to tackle this story in such a physical way?
Robert: Love's been done a thousand ways onstage. As soon as you start saying exactly what people do, you get away from the emotional content of it, which is often so much more abstract; it goes deeper than what actually happens to these people.
Kate: I find that so many people have attacked this subject from one angle, and I found a lot of people have found the show easier to relate to because we've combined different ways of communicating. Otherwise you just think, 'Oh god, not another love story'.
So you've found a different way of saying the same thing.
Steven: The medium is important. I do think that film does realism so much better than theatre can, in a lot of ways. So why try and do something through theatre the way that film would try and do it? It's like when Shakespeare goes into verse; we go into physical movement for the same reasons. It's that heightened emotion we can portray through movement to affect the audience in a different way than you would on TV.
Kate: It's the same with a musical. When they run out of things to say, they siiiinnngg.
Marietta: The whole show feels like a sketchbook of all these different moments. When you remember your previous relationships, you remember physically how you've been with that person – say in bed – and the exact moment you distanced yourself. The memories come back to you physically.
You don't remember night-long conversations with your ex...
Kate: But you remember the moment you wanted to punch them. Or the moment you wanted to hug them. So we felt the way we communicated that had to be gestural. It's movement that people relate to most. Dance can often be very, very pretentious. And it makes a lot of people think, 'it's not really my thing, I don't really get it'. The difference with physical theatre is that you do get it. You feel it. We're not here to teach you – we're here to relate to you.
Steven: I've actually come from a wrestling background, where you do stylised fights, and it's the same kind of thing. If you see people on the street brawling, it's messy, but you can still recreate that in a stylised way, and keep all that aggression and all that anger, but make it so that people can actually understand that visually.
And, visually, you've made the staging very clear – the symmetry of the two homes, the masking-tape walls, the labels of 'windows' and 'doors' in place of set, and the way the beds are placed vertically in full view.
Kate: The beds started with a photo I saw this time last year: a montage of six images of a couple asleep in bed. They're just spooning – big spoon, little spoon. And I thought, you can make up a story from each image. I instantly thought of a show where the punchline to each chapter is just seeing them in bed, and watching how that physical connection disintegrates through their relationship choices.
So how you're lying in bed each night is a clear tableau for the day.
Kate: Yes. It's the headline for the next chapter for the story. You can see at the start, we're all entangled and drunk and sexed up and loving, sprawled all over the bed. But when we've had a fight, or done wrong, we don't want to be touched. We've all seen shows where beds are on the flat and I think, god, you miss so much, visually.
I suppose that you wanted the staging, with the rest of the play, to communicate its message to the audience as clearly as possible.
Kate: I'm a fan of just cutting out the unnecessary. Even props. What is actually necessary in the show is the beds, the vital furniture, and us. It's not about our houses; it's about our relationships.
You've said a lot of the story is drawn from your own lives – is any of it explicitly autobiographical?
Kate: [laughs] Oh my god yes. They're literally our own stories. All our monologues are us – as actors. My speech on telling someone you love them was something I wrote about a boyfriend nearly two years ago. And Steven's monologue is directly about a breakup he had. That's the most important part of the show: we are definitely talking about our own past relationships.
Steven: It's not quite us, and it's not quite the characters. It's this sort of middle-ground persona.
So does it feel like you're opening old wounds every night?
Steven: Sometimes. It's a strange show to do because it's really fun – particularly 'going out', going to the club, that's really fun to do. But the caveat of that is when you build up all this positive energy and all this honeymoon intimacy: by the end, you have to go through the pain. It isn't pleasant to do, but it is very cathartic. There is an element of relief, I think. We don't come offstage with the anger and aggression we had five minutes before the end.
The tagline for the show is 'a nursery rhyme for tangled minds', looking at Jack and Jill and so on. Was it specifically meant to be a kind of modern fairytale?
Kate: I chose a nursery rhyme because the characters are instantly relatable. They're a universal concept. Someone says, 'Jack and Jill', and you know they're supposed to be together. So when you find out that they're living next door to each other, everyone goes, 'we don't need to put all this shitty subtext in and fill the audience in on our backstories'. They get it immediately.
And nursery rhymes repeat themselves. The history of nursery rhymes is actually really dark. They're really screwed up. But they're also these really cute stories with amazing moral lessons. And they repeat themselves, but we never actually learn from their actions. And I realised, in a relationship sense, I've gone for the same person, the same type of person, four times. And it never ends well – why don't I learn?
Tumbling After: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/tumbling-after/706964
RedBellyBlack Productions: http://www.redbellyblack.co/home.html