Physical Fest 2012 launched last night with a revival of the very first work by its founders, Tmesis.
Yorgos Karamalegos and Elinor Randle met at Hope Street Ltd’s Physical Theatre Programme in 2002. Over the years, they have developed a strong international reputation for their innovative, visually stunning, and thought-provoking physical theatre work.
The annual Physical Fest is a week-long programme of performance and workshops that attracts practitioners from all over the globe. Now in its ninth year, its reputation as the only festival of its kind in Europe, if not the world, is stronger than ever. And it is still something that genuinely excites Tmesis.
Karamalegos says: “It started really simply, we wanted to bring the things we found in London up here, and it came together, covering a niche of different theatre types over a short space of time. Once it had proved itself as something that worked, it was a matter of inviting people who worked with physicality to take part.”
This includes a wide variety of performers who themselves influenced Tmesis. Perhaps the festival works so well because as its producers, they are open-minded about the opportunities to learn more about their craft, not just from seasoned professionals they personally admire, but for first-timers and non-performers who come along out of curiosity.
Seen as a bit of an umbrella term by some, physical theatre is a name that is as useful as it is misunderstood. “It is a really wide genre, which seems ridiculous as all theatre is physical,” Randle says. Part of the raison d’etre of the fest and the work of Tmesis is to challenge thinking and move the genre away from stereotypes (particularly “bad comedy”, they say).
“People are still very ignorant about the importance of the physicality of performing,” adds Karamalegos. “But as an approach to acting, you can’t believe the freedom it gives an actor to deliver.”
This, of course, is a subject that fills books, fuels theories and isn’t easily condensed, but Tmesis pride themselves on the inclusivity of the Physical Fest and are always keen to explain their philosophy.
Randle says: “The really nice thing about Physical Fest is it has always been open and always been mixed, all levels can work together. It’s professionals from all over the world, recent graduates, even an opera singer came to a workshop once… it’s not elitist and everyone can learn from each other.”
Tmesis will be running their own workshop next week, the delightfully named Seeking Pleasure, described as “a way to dive inside the body to find what it is that the body needs each day, how it wants to move, also re-discovering how it can move”. It is this method, letting the body take over from the brain during performance, that inspires the work of Tmesis.
Other hightlights include tonight’s Fest Live, showcasing a range of international works, and the annual Physical Jam at the Bluecoat on Wednesday (May 30), where performers will improvise to create something never before seen.
Randle and Karamalegos had hoped to launch the festival with a new piece directed by Nigel Charnock of DV8, but due to illness this wasn’t possible. Instead, they returned to and adapted their first ever piece.
Tmesis is based on Aristophanes’ speech from Plato’s Symposium about the origin of love, beginning in a time where there were three sexes; the man the woman and the hermaphrodite. The piece tells the story of one of these eight-limbed creatures with two heads and their conflict with the gods, a described as “a mesmerising evolutionary journey from the ancient Greek years to the modern man”. Thanks to the company’s almost innate talent for storytelling, the result is a great deal more accessible than it may sound.
The work, which has become “ like a second skin” to Tmesis, has changed organically over the years. With an original score by Barry Han, the 35-minute piece showcases two incredible performers. Randle and Karamalegos spend the majority of their stage time working as one, an energetic and breathtaking collaboration enhanced by their obvious chemistry and very generous, open style of operating. Their work is always a beautiful and rewarding watch.
Despite now living in different cities, they say that wherever and whoever they work with, they both look forward to getting back together as Tmesis.
Randle says: “We really love working together and creating things. It takes years to work that well with somebody, and when you do, you have to keep hold of it. Every time we perform it is still really exciting.”