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The4Story Building

Tom Scutt documents the realisation of his company NekoNeko’s debut production, which takes them on a first step from graduating students to emerging artists, using puppetry as one of their tools.

As graduating Theatre Designers at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, myself and Rhys Jarman were eager to produce a piece of work that responds to the needs of a modern audience. In a six-week period we designed and wrote an hour long show that was performed not in the theatre but in the workshop behind it. In The4Story Building, four short stories – two familiar, two new, were framed and supported by installation, live action and puppetry. We were primarily concerned with two things – the role of sound and the human interaction with place and object.

The roots of theatre in the art of storytelling became our main focal point. We aimed to stretch the audience’s ability to listen. How far could we take this? How long can a modern audience that has grown up on the powerful visual language of cinema and television sit as a group and simply listen? Our need for aural stimulation led us to sound designer Ollie Thomas who became instrumental in the process of recording and composing new music with us. Actors were sought to provide the voices for the main character of The Old Man taken from Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies, the narrators for Carroll’s Jabberwocky and Poe’s Tell Tale Heart and the girl in our new story The Call. We explored sound to its fullest by performing Tell Tale Heart in complete darkness with the menacing, whispering voice as the only focus. In the darkness, with no visual distractions, the audience connected.

Our second angle of approach was our relationship with the objects and places we are surrounded by. As designers this is of course central to our role and, where relevant, we wanted to support the stories with a sense of place and something visual to help develop a mood. This is where puppets came in. We discovered that puppets could bridge the gap between human and object by opening another world to the audience. One where easels and umbrellas had lives and could emote. A story could be seen through these puppets and not just heard through the voices. The idea of creative rebirth and retelling was expressed by several Old Man puppets – each with their own umbilical cord that tied them to their respective stories: a phone line, a television wire, a rope. These cords connected the ‘human’ puppets to the world of inanimate objects – emphasising our reliance on the objects we use every day.

We found we could turn a simple umbrella into Lewis Carroll’s Jub Jub Bird or use a gas mask on an easel with washing line wings for the Jabberwock. Harnessed to words and music these objects lived. The flexibility, simplicity and expressive nature of puppets was, and is, the perfect supportive medium for the art of storytelling.

We aim to continue this exploration in our student collective NekoNeko – a six strong group of puppeteers, actors, designers and musicians. Through the economy and expression of simple, raw materials we wish to restore a sense of storytelling into theatre. In a world in which we find it hard to make rational sense of anything, a new dramaturgy has emerged – one of fragmented images, performance montage and unfounded expression. The linear story with its start and finish has been weakened by our inability to listen and attend. Through The4Story Building and our future work, we hope to regain a sense of the magic of the story.

Though a variety of media including film and live action, but primarily puppetry and sound, it is our aim to take the audience on a journey and not leave them puzzling over what they are seeing. Puppets engage an audience. They are real and yet not real, object yet human, living and dead. In this way they speak volumes that the human itself simply cannot.

NekoNeko is Tom Scutt & Rhys Jarman, students of the BA Hons Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (2003-2006). The4story building was first performed at the RWCMD workshop 16-20 February 2006, and was produced in collaboration with Ollie Thomas (BA Hons Music Technology)

For further information about the show or future work please contact Tom Scutt email: tel: 07813 660273