“Astonishing people is in my blood. In 1910 my great-great-grandfather built an electricity generator with his own hands to be able to perform ‘The Journey Around the World in 80 Days’ with light bulbs. At that time, in many villages this was an attraction they had never seen before. My forebears lay awake at night wondering how to have trains going across the stage, imitate a snowstorm, make dragons spit fire, let angels appear from a heaven of powdered gold and so on.
In my great-great-grandfather’s day, the audience wanted to have soaked at least three handkerchiefs with their tears. When the curtain went up, everyone in that packed wooden shed had to shout ‘Ooooh’ like children. Every heart was meant to beat in time to the hearts of the beloved ‘I amorati’, acted with real pain. This sort of theatre with all its wonder has been lost, having been taken over by film-makers. Contemporary theatre went in search of a ‘deeper’ meaning.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Circus Ronaldo, on four evenings we put on the marionette theatre from ‘Fili’ once again. Old-style theatre with fragile sets and old, melancholy stage machinery. After the last performance, a film-maker friend asked me:
‘Danny, I came to see it twice, but now you’ve got to tell me how that dragon spits fire.’
‘But Peter, you make spectacular Studio 100 films with characters who vanish into thin air and with dazzling effects.’
‘Yes, but that’s all done by computer, whereas this is right in front of my nose and, just like a child I wonder how you do it.’
At times like that I believe even more in the magic of the pure. Love, simplicity and the passion of the imagination.
The puppet theatre from ‘Fili’ deserves a second life. For some of the marionettes and sets there is even a third life, because they first appeared onstage before the First World War. This format, with its great magic, still works well. Adults sit on benches like children, enthralled by a childlike play with adult actors. The actors act on a small scale, economically, with a minimum of power and grand gestures. It has a big effect, and nothing has to be enhanced. Like a rainbow, which requires no added word or gesture.
I want to extend the atmosphere, the formula and childlike imagery of marionette theatre into an evening of spectacle and visual delight. Acts of life and love. An evening that has the audience appeal of a freak show. A cabinet of curiosities, but the freaks are not misshapen people. The only curiosity is people in love! Come and see, come and see! How love deprives the body of reason. How love removes people’s masks.
The audience may roar with laughter, but nor is it spared the legacy of life’s pain, the illusion of being detached from it. The burden of guilt borne by those who once tasted forbidden fruit. If you thought you knew what love was, if you thought you knew how it feels to bite an apple, this performance will show you, right up to the top of the tent, that your life begins tonight.
The scenes are acted in the shadows of caravans and throughout the tent. The whole thing is a little like an old, dimly lit fairground that radiates no joy and where it smells of sweaty, perfumed desire.
To design the setting I shall be working with Andreas Ketels. His creativity and training, together with his passion for old stage techniques, create huge possibilities in the world of the theatre, circus and fair of the early twentieth century. With him I want to work out how it’s possible to perform throughout the tent yet still offer perfect visibility of every detail.”