Crusoe is a physical theatre piece written and performed by Gavin Robertson, whose solo hit, Bond!, from last year’s Fringe, earned him multiple rave reviews, and subsequent performances in Europe, the US, and Australia. In his new play, he blends precise movement, bold images and an original soundtrack with a darkly comic script to illustrate the various worlds of a hitman, a middle-aged white male, and an Alzheimer’s sufferer. The Wee Review’s Laura Ingram questions him about his latest solo show, which can be seen at Zoo Venues on alternate days from 18 to 28 August.
Crusoe is billed as “a focused blend of precise movement and bold images, supported by an original atmospheric soundtrack”, and it is clear from the description and the reviews that your physical theatre background has been significant in the development of the play. Were you looking for a subject that best-suited your skills as a performer, or did the idea come first, and the form later?
Good question! I was looking for an idea that lent itself to being a solo show. I’d already decided I wanted the artistic challenge of holding a stage on my own, of experiencing that unique relationship between audience and performer, and spent some time looking for the idea. Crusoe – or at least the motif (which is really what it is in my show… a metaphor) – leapt out finally as it’s all about being alone. That decided the narrative too in the end, as the show is about men who are alone, for varying reasons, and also explores the idea that Earth is alone in the cosmos.
Can you define the term “physical theatre” as you interpret it?
For me it’s a form where a story isn’t relying on text alone to push along the narrative. It embodies movement in some form and a way of creating stage pictures that engage, delight or stimulate the audience.
What sources did you use while researching the script, or was it more a case of delving inwards?
It was all about delving inwards, yes. It’s quite a personal story for me. I embody “men” in general who are at a point where they’re asking, ‘Is my life the one I actually want?’ The writing uses my own experiences and some borrowed of course, but it’s philosophical in nature with some dark-ish comedy at my expense!
You wrote and first produced Crusoe in 2012. Do you ever go back and alter or significantly redraft your scripts after you’ve put them to bed for a while?
I don’t really, no. I spend a short, intense period getting them “right” in the first place as much as I can. Some details change after that but I’m engrossed in the creation stage up to first performance, then I’m in danger of it feeling repetitive to go back and edit or make big changes.
In your company, you wear many hats – performer, producer, writer, director. Do you have a favourite role, or does it depend on the project in question?
I think that varies. I also write and direct away from my own work and that’s intriguing too. I think mostly perhaps I enjoy the performing, but only just! At that point it’s as if the other “me” quietens down and I can focus on the piece as it’s being done in front of the audience. Of course the writer-me, the producer-me, etc., all jump up and down at various points, but I suppose the performer-me gets to have the part that’s most focused. But I do love the whole creative process… the writing, the devising. I also design the lighting in my head at the same time. Creating is a busy period!
Does it make a difference to your writing process to know that you are the intended performer for a particular script (as in the case of Crusoe)?
I don’t think so. Not to the writing. Definitely to the interpretation. For example, if I’m creating for myself, I look for movement sections where I can progress the narrative without actually talking. Plus, I hate learning lines! I know what my skills are. I’ll create to suit my skill-set, and in a certain precise, chic presentation style, I suppose. As for the actual text that characters need to be seen to say, I’ll write what needs to be said – whether that’s for myself or for another performer. The narrative drives the text and the movement ultimately.
Where do you stand on the appropriateness of directing your own work yourself? Is it hard to let others interpret your writing for you?
It really depends. Often I know exactly what I want to happen and how, so I do direct from within a piece if necessary. I guess that might be tricky for the other actors! I do – with the solo work – have someone on the outside who will collaborate on structure and actual physical images sometimes, but a lot of it comes from within, I think. The last two shows, I’ve worked with Nick Collett, and we now have a good shorthand that helps move things along.
What are the aspects of Crusoe that audience members most often say they enjoy?
Definitely the physical aspects. I create pictures and images and they interpret those as the story unfolds, although one of my characters has Alzheimer’s, I play him truthfully without being sentimental, and he gets a lot of comments. I think there’s a lot of stuff out there that people respond to in terms of mental health, and we’re seeing a rise in shows that venture into that territory. Oh, and there’s one scene in a nightclub that people definitely find funny!