Gordon Osràm's Funeral
The site-specific send-off for a fictional performance artist is anything but Accidental in an immersive new production from the boundary-pushing theatre company
Talking to Richard Lavery (33), director of the Accidental Theatre Company, it's clear they're a different artistic outfit – in a good way. For a start, forget the idea of theatres and proscenium arches, their new production of Gordon Osràm's Funeral will be performed this month in Riddell's Warehouse, a piece of Belfast's finest, crumbly – but safe – Victoriana built on Ann Street in 1865.
On a wild day, Richard and I head to this newly discovered performance space, which was at one point part of Musgrave Street Police Station. As we arrive, past the yellow sign warning not to climb on the scaffolding and over the period-weight pavement – this was an iron merchant's warehouse back in the day – the pathetic fallacy is putting in overtime.
Winds howl, if not actually crack their cheeks a la Lear, the rain lashes the plastic roofing, creating a spooky sound. And everywhere you look, you can imagine ghosts - behind the wood and iron struts, up on the first floor and in the second floor galleries. In fact, Lavery tells me those behind Crumlin Road Gaol's ghost tours have used the space for atmospheric evening shows. You can imagine it worked rather well.
'It is a handsome building with a great atmosphere,' he says. 'Not the best place for a farce or comedy, but although there are passages of humour, Gordon Osràm's Funeral isn't exactly that.' So what is the show about?
'David Kinghan, a young writer who's done work with Tinderbox, has written it,' adds Lavery, fatigued after five weeks of 'devising and development' and two weeks of rehearsals. 'It's a show that we tested in 2012 and is about this man, Gordon Osràm, who is a performance artist and is producing his last great work, his swan song if you like.'
He can't tell me the whole plot, which doesn't follow any obvious beginning, middle and end narrative shape, as it would bristle with spoiler alerts. But the piece does address one of the key questions of our age, the notion of who we really are.
'The play is about identity and each of the central characters personifies one type of identity. It looks at how personal relationships affect us and how society shapes us, also how we let it. As Lavery adds, we never quite know how others see us. And the director isn't talking about the self-centredness, the kind of fag end of Romanticism that Zoe Williams dissected brilliantly in The Guardian last week.
'The West is obsessed with narcissism, yet the great dictum was 'know thyself'. We bat about the role of technology and the way it can remove personal responsibility.'
If this sounds fairly European rather than British, Alan Ayckbourn fare, that's because it is. Lavery founded Accidental when he returned home after a stint working in London, then at Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, precisely to create a more experimental, outward looking creative company.
'I used to go to the Lyric, the Grand Opera House, the old OMAC and enjoy the stuff, but it didn't relate to my Belfast, my life. At Citizens', I'd produced work by Beckett and quite a few European playwrights and wanted a more Irish, more European model.'
So expect video work, noises off and the famous Accidental immersive approach. in other words, the audience will have a choice as to how involved they wish to become with the action. And the company produces post-modern marketing as they sell different types of ticket, with one actually allowing audience members to take part in the filming. 'Of course, if you want to sit or move and simply experience the play, that's possible too.' says Lavery.
There is a process when Accidental put on a show. First, there's the germ of the idea, then the creative team produce a book of inspiring ideas. 'With Lost Martini, our last production, we gathered cuttings, visual ideas and so on to aid the creative process. We've done the same thing this time.'
Coincidentally, as the team were working on Gordon Osràm's Funeral, news came through of David Bowie's death. 'It made you think of how an artist dies, as in a way, he stage-managed his own death, with the video for 'Lazarus''.
One shift from the 2012 version of GOF is the acting line-up. Originally scripted for three men, three women now take the roles; Clare Black (Colette Lennon), Jessica Young (Megan Armitage) and Juliette O'Hagan (Vicky Blades). Nuances within the production have changed. Apparently the sequence with an Abba soundtrack also has new oomph. It should be intriguing and present a genuinely unusual theatrical experience.
As the production's website teases, Gordon Osràm was an internationally-renowned performance artist whose career spanned almost three decades. Spending the last years out of the spotlight, the reclusive Osràm has now crafted his own 'funeral' – an exhibition celebrating his career and resulting in an original performance piece, one last great work of art. The only way to discover what that amounts to is to attend.
Gordon Osràm's Funeral performs at Riddell's Warehouse, Belfast from March 15 - 19. It then tours venues across Ireland with shows at The Complex, Dublin (April 13 - 16), Shambles Market, Armagh (April 20 - 21) and The Playhouse, Derry~Londonderry (April 23). The production is part of this year's Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics. To book tickets visit www.accidentaltheatre.co.uk/gordon-osrams-funeral.