Going To Space: Heart of Darkness

We're talking to Hannah Edwards of Heart of Darkness, a one man staging that deals with the harrowing underside of savage European colonialism.

It’s ridiculous the breadth of stuff up here. Whatever your thing is, Edinburgh has it, whether it's late-night cabaret, intense kitchen-sink drama, dance or two German guys playing a symphony on a Volkswagen with power tools.

Tell us about your show

Heart of Darkness is a new one-man staging of Joseph Conrad’s novel - the story that inspired Kubrick’s Apocalypse Now. After a successful run in Cambridge in 2013 we’re now bringing the show to Edinburgh. From the deck of his idling steamboat, 19th century ship’s captain Marlow tells us the story that’s been haunting him for years; the story of how he went down the Congo river in pursuit of a rogue colonial agent and saw first-hand the savage underside of European colonialism.

Given that the whole book is a first person narrative, it’s perfect for adaptation into a one-man show. George Johnston, the adaptor, has kept the twisted beauty and lyricism of the original whilst reorganising the narrative such that it becomes more linear and makes more sense for an audience. 

But we’re not just presenting the story. What we see is the story as Marlow remembers it, distorted by the horror of events and coloured by his disjointed state of mind. This journey saw the shattering of every illusion he might have had about the nobility of empire and even the fundamental decency of those society calls ‘sophisticated’.

Of course nowadays we all know about the injustices of empire. Still though, we rarely draw the line that connects grandiose expressions like Nelson’s Column and the visceral reality of a brutally exploitative regime. The empire Marlow encounters is the Belgian – not British, but many of the excesses described in the book are equally applicable to the British operation.

Why did you decide to take your show to Space UK this year?

There’s always lots of exciting, experimental stuff going on at Space. There’s a lot of physical theatre, new writing, all the way from the playful and absurd to the really quite dark. We really liked the atmosphere. We’ve put together a show that we think fits the brilliantly weird energy that seems to be hanging around the place. The people who are attracted to that seem like the same kinds of people who’ll like our show.

Also, appropriately for their name, Space have some really fun spaces to play with. Space Triplex is new this year, but we have every reason to believe it’s going to be a perfect space for the show. A nice intimate thrust space means Guy, our actor, can get nice up close and personal with the audience – always an advantage for a show with a significant storytelling element.

Why Edinburgh? What’s the attraction?

The Fringe seems like the closest to the Rabbit Hole in Alice in Wonderland that real life ever gets. It's frenetic and exhausting and terrifying and exhilarating and joyous and it’s such a great place to spend a month.

You’re getting to put on a show you love and have worked hard on every day for a month. Plus, you’re surrounded by thousands of other performers doing the same thing, and in so many different kinds of shows.

It’s ridiculous the breadth of stuff up here. Whatever your thing is, Edinburgh has it, whether it's late-night cabaret, intense kitchen-sink drama, dance or two German guys playing a symphony on a Volkswagen with power tools.

The most intensely fringe experience any of us remember is watching the Railway Children – sitting on phone-booths on the mile and loudly flyering in full Victorian gear – being attacked by a troupe of zombies flyering for their post-apocalyptic romantic comedy show. You just don’t get that anywhere else, and we love it. 

Have you brought a show to the festival before?

Not all together as a group, but separately. Guy did a comedy show here in 2012 called Almost Nothing To Do With Frogs (**** Broadway Baby) a kind of high-octane adventure comedy, a slightly different style to this year’s show! Our AD Ollo has been coming here for quite a few years. Most recently he was a writer/performer with the interactive theatre troupe, Oneohone (***** Broadway Baby), there are a lot of different kinds of experience that have gone into the show this year. 

How did you create your show?

The process for creating the show was a slightly odd one, as there are normally more directors in the room than actors – a director and an AD to our one actor.

While the script was set by our author George Johnston, there are no stage directions, so all of the action was devised in rehearsal. We had a lot of fun playing around with the balance between action and narration; where is Marlow talking to the audience? Where is he so engaged in his story that he’s acting it out for them? Where is he playing someone else?

We spent a while devising very distinct physicalities and vocal tones for the various different characters. We very much play them as Marlow remembered them, however, not necessarily as they were. Naturally you remember what was different or significant about people when you think of them, their characteristics get heightened, and this proved a useful hook for putting them together in rehearsal.

That was one of the crucial things we found useful in rehearsal. This is not an objective story; these are one man’s memories of an extremely traumatic experience. Conrad’s prose is beautiful but dense, so making it personal was one of the most important challenges. Some things might be remembered exactly but some might be heightened and warped to nightmarish proportions. That’s what you get from the show that you don’t from the book. Not just reading a story, but seeing close up what the experience has done to the man who went through it. 

If your show does well in Edinburgh (I'm sure it will!), what do you want to do with it next?

Well, we’d love to take it on tour. With a fairly minimal set and not a lot of actors to pay/feed we could definitely fit it all in a van and cart it round the country. Or just to one venue. To London maybe or to literally anywhere that’ll have us.

Marlow’s storytelling is compulsive, he has to keep telling the story because he still doesn’t know how he fits into it or how it fits into him. He cannot stop – a bit like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. None of us are any less keen to keep telling this story to whoever will listen! 

Production Company: Scandal And Gallows Theatre

Venue: The Space Triplex Studio

Dates: 7th-29th August

Times: 20:10

Twitter: @HoDFringe15

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