We create an epic rock atmosphere

| by Catherine Love

KILN's Olivia Winteringham talks about borrowing from Greek myth and plundering the heavy metal sounds of Birmingham for the company's show THE FURIES.

 

THE FURIES is a heavy metal-glam-pop-rock operetta and the audience experience it as a standing gig, so it’s best if you bring a drink in with you from the bar. When you walk in there’s wonderfully loud rock drumming and rather aggressive shredding on the guitar. We create an epic rock atmosphere. The audience walk in and around them are three steel decks, and then these three ‘furious’ women come out of the shadows and they sing the Greek revenge myth of Clytemnestra. They represent the three Furies that pursue Clytemnestra in the sequel to this myth, but we have used them as the front women of our rock band and they represent the three main characters in Clytemnestra’s story: Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Agamemnon. They also embody the themes of the myth: rage, envy and revenge.

It’s a series of songs, so the narrative is very fractured and it is best experienced by listening to how the sound of those songs makes you feel rather than trying to follow any kind of linear narrative. It’s certainly not a play. It’s very much about enjoying the atmosphere. I think that is suitable for what we’re trying to do with THE FURIES because it’s very much about us conjuring a feeling of overwhelming rage.

We started making the show in 2011 and it was at a time when we were in our mid-twenties and our first major romantic relationships were coming to an end, and that felt really painful. We wanted to use that really raw heartbreak and relationship meltdown to make a show, and so we hit upon the idea of the Furies and that feeling of white-hot rage that comes from betrayal, which is quite potent material.

But we didn’t want it to be autobiographical and about us. We like very theatrical things and themes that are really big, so we looked at the Greek myths, which are elemental and epic, and we borrowed Clytemnestra’s story. Having been betrayed by her warrior husband Agamemnon, who kills her daughter to raise a fair wind for his voyage to Troy, he returns home with a war trophy, Cassandra. Clytemnestra exacts her murderous and bloody revenge on the pair. We borrowed that story because the themes in it felt big and universal, but we didn’t want to adapt that or reenact it, we just wanted to borrow it and put our own spin on it - that’s what we like to do.

There are ten songs – all composed by us- and it’s stitched together with little bits of text, some of which is lifted from Aeschylus’ The Oresteia. It plays out the dynamics of the victim, or the one who feels like she’s been wronged, that's Clytemnestra; the betrayer or the other woman, which is Cassandra; and then there’s Agamemnon, who’s the abuser. All three are played by women.

It’s relevant that THE FURIES was created in Birmingham, which is a proudly industrial city - it was once the workshop of the nation - and now that industry’s all been ripped out. One of the decisions we made very early on was to plunder the city’s sound of heavy metal music, which is very male territory in some respects. Birmingham bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Napalm Death - they’re all men. And we thought what if we reappropriate that sound and aesthetic. We’re interested how that might translate to other countries. 

Graeme Rose, who is the show’s director (co-founder of Stan’s Café), was talking about the resonance it might have with people who have been through conflict because of the themes of war and violence and loss. We use a vocal technique in the show originally developed as a therapy for shell shock following the First World War. Alfred Wolfsohn was a stretcher-bearer in the trenches who suffered terrible auditory hallucinations as a consequence of witnessing the screams and cries of his dying comrades. His way of exorcising those terrible sounds was to vocalise them and that proved powerful and cathartic for him. So the voice work, which to some might sound like hysterical screeching, is actually very technical. There was an actor called Roy Hart who trained with Wolfsohn and set up a theatre company, and we then worked with one of the people who worked with Roy Hart.

We think it’s a brilliant opportunity to be part of the British Council Showcase, so we can have those important conversations with international promoters who may not be aware of our work. We’d like to tour THE FURIES internationally having already taken it to a few festivals across Europe. Because it’s so visually and sound driven we know that it works with a non-English speaking audience and we’re excited about exploring opportunity for touring this work, other current productions, and future collaborations.

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