In August each year the Edinburgh Festival takes many people away from London and up to Scotland. Meanwhile, mainstream London theatre carries on regardless. Eight years ago, however, the London fringe decided to strike back and launch a season of its own - the Camden Fringe Festival, which this year has some 180 productions in venues from Highgate to Covent Garden.
One of the most anticipated of these shows is Petar Miloshevski’s The Beautiful, at the Tristan Bates Theatre, attached to the Actors’ Centre, on 13 and 14 August, at 5.30pm. Petar is from Macedonia – from a town called Bitola, Macedonia’s second-largest city. An actor since the age of eight, he trained in his own country and in Bulgaria, at Sofia’s National Academy of Theatre and Film Art. He came to live and work in London six years ago.
In 2012 he performed The Beautiful, as a fifteen minute piece, in the Old Vic Tunnels, which at the time were used for a wide range of shows and performance art. That performance was the embryo of what will be presented at the Tristan Bates, as TheatrelandTalks discovered when we met Petar Miloshevski to discuss his work.
- The Beautiful got an amazing response at the Tunnels last year. It now runs for an hour, so it’s a much longer piece…
It is. The performance I gave was the starting point for what is now The Beautiful at the Tristan Bates theatre, but it was simply the origin, the inspiration. Just as artists might take a small sketch to create a full canvas, or a simple melody to build a symphony. It was the idea behind the title of the show that I wanted to develop.
- You tend to work in solo shows, which are variously described – for example, on the Continent one-man shows tend to be described as mono drama. What term would you use and how would you categorise your style?
There’s no straightforward term over here to describe what I do. Just as Pina Bausch called her work something different – it wasn’t ‘modern dance’, it was ‘dance theatre’, so my work is also different: if I had to define it I’d say it was theatre with heightened physicality. The movement isn’t dance but it is choreographed. While I draw on a lot of sources, I get my main inspiration from music.
- And your preference for being in solo shows?
They’re the best way to express myself. It’s through them that I get the maximum delight from my profession, my vocation, as a theatre maker.
- But what’s behind that impulse to make theatre?
I’m curious to explore why people behave in a certain way. Why they commit good or bad acts. Everything in us is so deeply rooted. Where does anger come from? You need to search for the root cause for every character’s action, for their response in every situation in any given space.
Petar’s previous show, Hope, won a clutch of awards, including ‘An Award for the Transmission of Impulses of the Human Soul in the Language of Movement and Poetry’ – possibly the most poetic award category ever invented – at the International Chamber Theatre Festival in Hanover, Germany, earlier this year. But back to The Beautiful…
- It’s an intriguing title.
That’s the idea! Is it because the character looks beautiful, or has a beautiful experience, or is searching for the nature of beauty?
- In its earlier version it was about someone obsessed with beauty yet who was falling apart – physically, mentally, morally…
That’s right. The character is trapped in a world of his own creation. He can’t see what his actions are doing to him. The irony of his situation is beyond his grasp.
- The show may be solo but it is multi-media?
That can be a misleading term. It’s multi-layered. I use texts by people as varied as Rimbaud, Bulgakov and Plath. The lighting plays a vital part, as does music – and movement.
- How do you treat the texts?
They’re integrated into the performance but in an unexpected way. I might change the gender of the person, or the tense (past to present, for example) or the situation they’re in. The progression is an idea, followed by research to get appropriate texts, then making something new of and with them.
- In Hope you were simply dressed. In The Beautiful you have a stunning costume.
Yes! It’s by Antonella Petraccaro-Gysler. It needed to be beautiful, for obvious reasons, but it has also been designed to distort the character’s body, to make him more mysterious, to remove misconceptions about what the character should look like, to blur the sense of who he really is.
- Other than the clothes design, you’re credited for everything else: writer, actor, music, lighting, direction – and set!
That’s why these shows are hard work! But the reason I create and perform them is I want to get my theatrical ideas across to an audience and I have a very strong – and individual – sense of how to achieve that.
- But you do have a producer?
Kerry Irvine. I’m delighted to work with her–and Antonella. Kerry came to see an early performance of Hope and fell in love with it. She came round to the dressing room after the show and said ‘I have to produce this show!’
- So at least that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about!
I want to concentrate on my work – and my relationship with the audience.
- Given your background and that you’ve continued to perform in Europe, do you find audiences over there very different from English ones?
I find their attention very different! When I was in Kiev earlier in the year, for example, everyone was completely focussed on what was happening on stage. No unwrapping sweets or munching crisps. It was very hot, but people didn’t even swig from bottles of water. The contrast with England is very marked. The way people behave is extraordinary. I feel like shouting out ‘Who’s in charge here!’ It’s madness.
- So, no crisps at your show?
The Beautiful is a very intense experience – which is why we’re not letting latecomers in. I hope people will be focussed on what the character on stage is going through – not whether they feel like another sweet!
- And how would you sum this up?
The Beautiful imparts a sense of beauty with a sense of dissociation: of a deranged, obsessed person who disintegrates, as a person, before our eyes. It’s also about the subtlety of existence – trying to perform as easily as possible. Especially when you are playing someone who is confused, who is going mad, it’s all the more important that the ideas you are trying to get across come over very easily. Even in deranged moments, the idea they express must be as effortless as a feather floating in the air.
- Madness can be fascinating, or frightening. Is this show unique in making it beautiful?
It’s certainly unique, but what matters in any piece of theatre is not whether it’s beautiful – or ugly, or challenging. What matters is whether it moves you. I hope that that’s what The Beautiful does.