American theatremaker Richard Foreman’s King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe, in which a ruddy-faced Trump-like figure takes the title role, is currently receiving its UK premiere at the London Theatre Workshop. Director Patrick Kennedy explains why he relishes the “nauseating” challenge of staging Foreman’s work…
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe is the third Richard Foreman production I have brought to the UK following on from Dr Selavy’s Magic Theatre (2014) and Hotel For Criminals (2016). Each time I start work on Richard’s shows, I feel a nauseating sense of unease both at what I’m reading and the resulting mental imagery it generates in my brain.
What you see on stage at the London Theatre Workshop is that nauseating imagery that appeared to me, and through the skill of the actors, is replicated finely into a moving stage picture.
It’s highly unlikely you will have ever seen a Richard Foreman production given that he has only had one show performed here back in 1996. Therefore you are highly unlikely to know what to expect or how to digest the show – it truly is a theatrical experience like no other.
Foreman sees consciousness as a perceptual ‘mechanism’ that filters the world through the senses, and he believes that habit has taught people to limit their sensory input. To free them to explore their perceptual potential, Foreman constructs a rigorous attack on habitual ways of seeing the world and seeing art.
In his work, he insistently aims to reshape spectators’ perceptions by focusing on form and structure. He creates perceptually challenging environments that force the audience to participate actively in constructing the theatre experience.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) August 15, 2017
In contrast with realistic theatre (which strives to provide catharsis and to resolve its ambiguities and questions in a happy conclusion), Foreman’s art avoids moral issues and the linear development of traditional plots. He forces spectators to expend their energies on “blasting” themselves into productions in which the entire framework of traditional theatre—plot, characterization, and settings—has been discarded. The required perceptual work replaces the usual theatre experience, in which the audience passively awaits catharsis through identification with a hero.
Your best bet when coming to London Theatre Workshop then is to sit back, buckle up and prepare to be taken through a whirlwind of sound, song, text and movement. Enjoy the images as they are presented and enjoy trying to decipher the full meaning of the show.
And when you find out, do let me know.
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe continues at London Theatre Workshop in Leadenhall Market until 26 August 2017.