One of Liverpool’s widest-reaching and most creative theatre companies, physical theatre specialists Tmesis, is returning with its latest show Beyond Belief.
The new piece explores how we cope with grief in the digital age, and journeys into “the unnerving future of life and death in our social media-obsessed, technology-blinkered society”.
“Playful, passionate and surprising,” is how artistic director Elinor Randle describes the company, which has expanded in recent years and is celebrating a new look this season.
“Beyond Belief is a company that can bring your loved ones back to life using ‘digital souls’,” she explains of the premise for the new show, which premieres at the Unity Theatre from 28 September 2018.
“The questions that sparked the process for me were: how do we cope with the knowledge that we will die? How will the world/we change as we live, grieve and die online? Is technology the new religion? What will this exponential growth of technology mean for the future of humanity?”
Beyond Belief, with its universal themes of death and grief, follows on from previous shows That’s Amore (about all things love and romance), and Happy Hour (on the culture of work); reflecting and exploring the stuff of life is at the heart of what Tmesis do.
The new show is performed by a quartet of the company’s associates – Adam Davies, Eleni Edipidi, Jennifer Essex and Charles Sandford – with text by long-term collaborator Chris Fittock and music by composer Meike Holzmann. New additions to the company include Tmesis working for the first time with The Kazimier to integrate digital elements to the set, and recent LIPA graduate Stephanie O Hara as designer of the “unique dystopian world” of Beyond Belief.
Elinor says: “I am lucky to work with a group of performers who each bring unique and different skills and strengths to the process, which is brilliant.
“What I enjoy and find exciting is working with people who are prepared to be part of the whole process; from the initial discussing of ideas, to the finished piece. We build an environment where each area can comment on the other, which I think builds a feeling of ownership of the overall piece- no element works without the other!”
The show will run at the Unity before touring, including a stop off at Ormskirk’s Edge Hill Arts Centre in October.
“Tmesis shows always develop and grow through touring and performing, as the show becomes more embedded within the minds and bodies of the cast they find new detail,” Elinor explains. “Also, until you have presented a show in front of an audience, it’s hard to tell what really works and what doesn’t. As I usually watch every show, it means I can continue to change and refine it each time.”
TMESIS was formed in 2003 by Elinor, Kate Cave and Yorgos Karamalagos, who all met when studying physical theatre at Hope Street Limited. Alongside their own performances, they founded Physical Fest, an acclaimed festival bringing practitioners from around the world to Liverpool for shows and workshops, and the only one of its kind in Europe (more on that below).
Today, Elinor is the sole remaining founder, and has admirably risen to the challenge of expanding the company and festival in both size and scope in recent years. She has not performed since the 2012 internationally award-winning solo show Wolf Red (right), instead dedicating herself to the artistic directorship of the company – but has not ruled out returning to the stage for the right project. “I was ready to direct,” she says. “It felt important, after always working with outside directors, to create an individual style and to develop my own vision and way of creating and working.”
Hope Street Limited closed down earlier this year after thirty years of offering support and training to emerging artists from the city. Its loss – in no small part due to losing its Arts Council funding – is keenly felt by organisations such as Tmesis. “Making your own work, and starting out as a company is really difficult and that early advice, support and guidance is invaluable,” Elinor says. “At Hope Street we got to train and make shows with some of the country’s best practitioners, and then, when deciding to set up as a company and start to develop work, were supported in that process – Tmesis wouldn’t exist without them.”
In that same spirit, Tmesis has gone on to develop its own educational strand, including a training company. It has offered bursaries and mentoring each year as part of Physical Fest and gone on to provide employment opportunities to boot; supporting new artists and young people is something the company is genuinely passionate about.
Still, the current climate is worrying for the future ecology of the arts as a whole, Elinor says. Like many others in Liverpool Tmesis receives no regular funding, creating a challenging environment in which to operate, “constantly adapting and finding ways to survive”.
To that end, the company is giving Physical Fest a year off, aiming to return refreshed in June 2019 with new ideas and more international work, presumably alongside the excellent family-friendly programme it has offered in recent years.
Tmesis continues to be one of Liverpool’s cultural success stories, and the city has always provided an excellent base. “It is great that we are still unique to the city as one of the only companies touring and working nationally and internationally, and with a festival that makes Liverpool a host for physical theatre work,” Elinor says. “It is also a great place to live and work, with so many fantastic arts organisations and people working hard to make things happen.”
Beyond Belief opens at the Unity Theatre on Friday (September 28) until Saturday, October 6 – visit their website for tickets and more information. It then tours, with a performance at Edge Hill Arts Centre on October 12.
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