Rotherhithe is about to be host to an extraordinary show 14-25 July – The Desire Machine – that’s taken two years to build the creative ideas, partnerships and the team. Uniquely it is designed for performance in Brunel’s Tunnel Shaft. Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder are the core team of the Arbonauts, a Southwark-based theatre company who have created this much-anticipated event centred on the extraordinary space that is the Shaft. I met them during rehearsals.
‘We like to retain a sense of mystery and intrigue,’ says Dimitri about their approach to promotion. ‘If we give too much away, our audience comes with assumptions and preconceptions that can limit their imagination. But we can certainly say that it will be an experience for all your senses. We are working with some very experienced artists such as Lee Berwick who is experimenting with an ambitious soundscape for the evening. We certainly found when we ran some secret showings last September that it came across really well.’
[The book] deals in distortion and illusion but is also playful and full of surreal elements
So where has the piece come from?
Helen told me about the three months of research and development that has gone into The Desire Machine. ‘We got into discussions with the Brunel Museum about using the space after coming across it on an Open Houses weekend. We knew when we got into the Shaft that it was perfect for our work. In the past, we created a performance especially conceived for the Nunhead Cemetery. Our conversations with the Museum in Rotherhithe started two years ago and we were able to spend three months in developing the piece in 2014.’
[We can] offer residents of Southwark a £10 discount
‘The jumping off point was the extraordinary novel written by Angela Carter “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”. We are not attempting to bring that somehow to the stage but rather it is an inspiration for our engagement with the Shaft. The book deals in distortion and illusion but is also playful and full of surreal elements. The show is funded by Arts Council England, local developers Sellar and Southwark Council, all of whom have been hugely supportive of the performance and its development. Sellar has enabled us to offer residents of Southwark £10 off full-price tickets. All you need to do is book the ticket at the reduced price and then bring proof of address showing your residence is in the borough.’
…a hallucinatory world where figures and voices blend and echo for a thrilling, voyeuristic encounter.
What have you done before this venture?
‘We were five years in Nunhead,’ explained Dimitri. ‘Helen did her degree in Performance and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths and mine was in Fine-Art at Camberwell. Our backgrounds have brought us into contact with a wide range of amazing people so we’ve been able to bring together a team around this show who share a deep commitment to creativity and physical theatre. The combination of performance, installation, aerials and an intense soundscape rely on a great team of creative collaborators from set, costume, lighting, sound and performance. They’ve all got great experience and we know the audience who join us on this journey for the evening will enjoy a theatrical experience both intimate and immersive.’
On the two Saturdays we are teaming up with the Midnight Apothecary to offer audience members a botanical cocktail on the roof of the shaft as part of their visit
‘We are committed to making site-based performance that’s inspired by the collision of forgotten spaces and fragmented stories. With that in mind, we are holding six weeks of workshops with Year 10 at Bacon’s College this Autumn, giving them an opportunity to explore places around here that can inspire their own performance. We are grateful for Sellar Development for their sponsorship and are really excited about what we will create with them. And The Desire Machine is built on our core values of experiment and collaboration. We hope the audience who come along will be both curious and adventurous, that they prepare for a spectacle that plunges them into a hallucinatory world where figures and voices blend and echo for a thrilling, voyeuristic encounter.’
More information and for tickets: arbonauts.org
The show runs 14-25 July (Tuesday-Saturday) at 20:00; tickets start at £15 (+£1.32 fee) for concessions and Southwark residents