A Wigan actor has spoken of her involvement in a bold new touring production putting a very modern spin on a classic novel.
Laura Atherton, from Swinley, is in ground-breaking theatre company imitating the dog which is bringing its radical retelling of Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness to theatres around the UK, including The Lowry in Salford.
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The group has brought the tale bang up to date by changing the narrative around so it tells the story of a Congolese woman travelling from Africa through a war-torn Europe in search of Kurtz, who is suspected of going rogue.
And imitating the dog’s approach to theatre is as innovative and cutting-edge as its exploration of race, gender and exploitation, with the actors operating film cameras which screen live images to the audience as they are acting.
Laura, who joined the company at 21 soon after graduating from Bretton Hall and has been in the ranks for more than a decade, spoke of how exciting imitating the dog’s approach to theatre is and the ideas behind its latest production.
Former St John Fisher Catholic High School and Winstanley College student Laura said: “The lead character is Charlie Marlow and the rest of us play multiple roles for all the other characters who she encounters on her journey.
“We also operate cameras which capture shots shown on the screens above our heads. We’ve done this before but it’s the first time I’ve had that role.
“We also have five performers on stage discussing how we approach this novel written in 1899 and this is interspersed with the narrative. The audience sees the process we are going through.
“It’s a story that brings up lots of questions. We’re exploring the themes of the novel by changing Marlow’s journey without losing the important narrative.
“Marlow is still looking for Kurtz. She’s a private detective in Kinshasa who has to find this man who’s going against the grain. She travels through Europe and then has a decision to make on what to do.”
The new version of Heart of Darkness reflects its status as one of the most discussed and controversial novels of its time.
Conrad’s story of Charles Marlow travelling up the Congo River and finding lies, greed and darkness there has been the subject of a very famous essay by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe attacking its racism and is also the template of blockbuster war film Apocalypse Now.
Laura says imitating the dog’s take on it explores all these things, with the company saying it is also a searing story for 2019 at a moment when Britain’s relationship to Europe is under scrutiny and the country’s empire past has been subject to some nostalgia.
The new version, though, takes place in a very dark, different Europe, ripped apart by conflict and full of brutal camps through which the Congolese Marlow must make her way.
Laura said: “In this play Africa has not been colonised and Europe is in a post-war state. People running things have taken advantage of that and built up with a system using cheap labour which exists for making profit.
“Marlow meets various people along the way, some trying to help and some to hinder her. She makes her way through all the barriers she had to cross and heads up the Thames to London.”
Laura says working for such an innovative company is extremely rewarding.
She said: “Imitating the dog has been a big part of my life. The way we work is very creative and collaborative. We’re also using digital technology and film material. It’s very exciting to be creating a new piece of theatre in that way.”
Heart of Darkness, retold by imitating the dog, is on at The Lowry from April 16 to 18.
Tickets available from the box office on 0843 208 6000.