BoxLess Physical Theatre are a newly formed company, founded by graduates of Italia Conti’s acting course. Their first show, LOOP, is a piece of unconventional movement and storytelling, a tale of people evolving with the music they listen to. Physical theatre is the key here, using actors that aren’t trained in dance but who have a natural, instinctive rhythm.
I caught up with artistic director, Zöe Grain, and LOOP playwright and co-director, Alex Knott, to discuss the upcoming show and their inspirations in movement and music alike. It’s a clash of The Smiths, David Bowie and a bit of S Club 7:
Where did the idea for LOOP come from?
Zöe: We had just graduated and set up the theatre company – I originally auditioned for dance schools and was told that I needed to lose weight to be a dancer. So, that wasn’t happening, but why should I need to limit to my body shape to be able to move? I knew a lot of people who we trained with that were really good movers, but never given the opportunity to go to dance lessons.
I’ve always lovedDV8andFrantic Assembly – I wanted to focus on the unconventional “movers” and say that everyone can dance or express themselves. For the first show, I wanted to do something set in the 1980s – it’s the music that what I’d grown up listening to with my mum.
Alex: The production grew out of that idea, something around family and the 1980s. We wrote a couple of monologues for Second Sons’Play Time Festivalof new writing, which was also at Theatre N16, so it feels like we’re coming back to where we started. We devised some movement within these monologues too.
When it came to writing the rest of it, we wanted all the characters to be in one family, so it became a story across 50 years. It starts with the matriarch and then her daughter, who meets the man she falls in love with and then skips forward to today and their own child. Everything cyclically links, like a LOOP. There are reflections between the past and how it relates to the present.
Zöe: The music also goes around in a similar way – things that my mum would listen to, like the Northern Soul movement, have a domino effect on the next genre.
Alex: We use some contemporary and abstract music to set the movement and give the show a timeless quality. There are moments of stylised theatre but in the middle some natural vignettes too. We’re trying to blend styles – it’s not just a straight play or a dance piece, but a fusion of lots of different things.
Is the idea of fusion one for the theatre company as a whole?
Zöe: We’re in our first production so we’re still finding our own style. We use movers that haven’t necessarily trained in dance – they’re actors or theatre trained, but have a natural flair for movement too. We’re giving them room in the process to see what they can bring out of themselves.
Does the lack of formal training help?
Zöe: Definitely, I trained in ballet for 18 years and it took at least four years to break out of that form. But they instinctively move in line with their emotions and that comes out a lot in LOOP. There are some dramatic scenes that then break into movement because they can’t give anymore with words alone – they have to say it with movement. You won’t notice the movement is there, it’s flowing all the way through until you get to the static scenes and carry on with the journey. It’s got a real ensemble feel in that respect.
Alex: It’s a very minimalist staging as well – four black boxes, very few other props and costume that says what it needs to say. The rest should be focussed on the cast and the movement.
“I originally auditioned for dance schools and was told that I needed to lose weight to be a dancer. But why should I need to limit to my body shape to be able to move?”
What is the dream scenario for the work and the theatre company after the run at Theatre N16?
Zöe: For the show, we would love to be in The Vaults Festival next year and then possibly to a bigger theatre following that. For the company, we are planning out our next show, a one-woman piece that’s in its really early stages.
Alex: We’ve talked about the new work being even more movement based, every piece of text being accompanied by a movement to highlight that style of storytelling.
Zöe: We have an early idea too about a movement scratch night, for emerging dance or theatre companies to trial and experiment with work that don’t conform to dance stereotypes.
Are there people or companies that you take as inspiration?
Zöe: Frantic Assembly – Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith last year was a real influence on LOOP, incorporating the family elements.
Alex: We also saw Betroffenheit at Sadler’s Wells – the storytelling was unparalleled, Jonathon Young as a choreographer did so many interesting things with the budget. But that’s why fringe is so exciting, you’re pressed to find ingenious ways of doing things because you don’t have the budget or space.
What is your all-time favourite song?
Alex: “Life On Mars” by David Bowie. He’s been the biggest influence on my life – that’s the song that will play at my funeral, which is shame because I won’t be able to hear it!
Zöe: I don’t know mine, maybe “Been Listening” by Johnny Flynn, it’s a song that calms me down. Or “Bigmouth Strikes Again” by The Smiths – anything from the 80s.
Who influenced your taste in music growing up?
Zöe: Definitely my mum. I remember in the car us playing a cassette tape – we didn’t get a CD player for ages – and we listen to a tape called Japan. It was really obscure music that she thought was a classic. Then, the car got sold with the cassette tape in it – she actually cried!
That spiralled onto The Smiths, Adam Ant, anything 80s. Then Alex bought David Bowie into my life, I hadn’t really listened to him before.
Alex: We got a record player and my mum donated all of her old records to me. We’ve got stuff that has her name written on it from when she was growing up in Northern Ireland, things I wouldn’t have appreciated if I’d heard it digitally. We’ve got a first edition of The Beatles Red album – they sound so much more immediate when they’re coming out of a crackly speaker.
I must also admit that I was an S Club 7 child. Nowadays I love a mix of folk and rock, but S Club 7 is still my guilty pleasure.
Zöe: I used to love all the albums of Blue. I fancied Lee Ryan. Also, Busted – Charlie and those eyebrows!
If you could sum the show up in three words…
Alex: I’ll do one word, you do one word and then we’ll say the third word at the same time. I’ll go with ‘Family‘ for my first one.
Zöe: Ooh I don’t know – you’re the words, I’m the moves. I’ll dance it out *fluid body ripple*. No, ‘Fusion‘ is my second.
And the third word at the same time…
Alex: …What was your word?
Alex: Ok, family, fusion, hope and fun.
Zöe: I like hope more than fun. Cross fun out. It’s not fun, you’ll have a terrible time…
Alex: What are you doing?! “All about hope, but it’s not fun”. No-one’s gonna come!
Zöe: OK wait – family, fusion, fun. Triple Fs – Shazam! Have that for free! It’s not free though.
Alex: Oh God, it’s not fun and it’s not free. I can’t wait to see it already!