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  • INTERVIEW | Henry McGrath | Origins by Animikii Theatre

INTERVIEW | Henry McGrath | Origins by Animikii Theatre

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Animikii Theatre are a physical theatre company created by Henry McGrath and Adam Davies. With the help of the Lowry’s Developed With scheme, they are bringing their gritty and intensely powerful production of Origins to the Lowry before heading on a UK tour. 

Animikii Theatre are a training based ensemble company and pioneering force of physical theatre. They have taken their inspiration for Origins from the Genesis story Cain and Abel, a story in which Cain murders his brother Abel in cold blood. Haunted by memories and figures from the past, Cain retraces his steps back to Eden in pursuit of answers.

In a thrilling performance, Animikii Theatre have used movement, sound, and rhythm to create a pulsating production that takes the audience on a journey.

Henry describes it as: “Drawing out the story and the psychological thriller of Cain moving through different memories, worlds and dreams. We are aiming to do that in a really appealing, thrilling and electrifying way on stage.”

I sat down with Henry, co-director of the production, during his lunch break in-between rehearsals. His passion and dedication towards the piece is evident through the way he talks so intricately about their ideas and what they are trying to convey with the production.

I wanted to delve a little into his drama school training at RADA, and where his love for physical theatre came from. He explained: “My love of physical theatre started when I was at university, I heard about practitioners such as the Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. All of a sudden at uni I had heard of these strange practitioners from eastern Europe who began to experiment in the 60s and 70s working through telling stories through the body and through rhythm and musicality.” Henry then began to explore that at uni and slowly began to build a love for more avant-garde ways of working, whilst training at RADA it allowed him to deepen his understanding of physical theatre.

During his training he met his co-director of the company, Adam Davies. They found they had similarities in what they wanted to achieve post graduation; which was the formation of a training based physical theatre company.

As well as working for Animikii Theatre, Henry works for the Polish theatre company Song Of The Goat, a company that has been in the industry for twenty years. He described the difference between theatre in England as opposed to Poland: “I get a sense from Poland that the work is trying to be less mainstream, trying less to always honour the audience’s understanding of the show.” Poland are more about approaching it in a different way, from an energetic perspective. Henry added: “They are all about trying to make work that vibrates with an audience, that is energetic, rather than through traditional ways of storytelling.”

It is clear Henry has a lot of experience in physical theatre, I asked him where the inspiration for the piece Origins came from. “It came progressively and naturally,” he told me. Whilst studying at RADA together, Henry and Adam had been working on bible studies and Henry had studied a Cain text, the Cain and Abel story which is a short passage in the book of Genesis. “We discover that Cain kills Abel but we don’t really know the reasons for it. So quite quickly Adam and I thought about the fact that we are two young men trying to make a piece that work very closely, and have the characteristics of brotherhood. So we returned to our work from RADA and began to excavate it’s potential,” Henry explained.

There are no words in the piece, it is all done through physical action, Henry said: “We eventually decided to move away from text and dialogue and set up a relationship that is grounded in an ancient time.” The piece is done through dynamic movements in order to create physical storytelling.

The hour long performance is set to music created by Oscar Thomson, “We work very much intimately together,” Henry explained. “Oscar is an extraordinary musician and composer. He witnesses the work, and we might give instructions or ideas of what kind of quality we are searching for, but he predominantly follows his own impulses, the music has to relate and draw out the landscapes that we are choosing to show.”

“Lighting, movement and physical action plays such a huge role, neither can exist without the other.”

Although Henry is in the trailer for the piece, due to another job he is now only co-directing the production, so they have got in an actor named Charles Sandford to take the role of Cain. Henry enjoys solely co-directing the production as opposed to directing and performing as he is able to take a different perspective on the piece. He finds it interesting watching Charles and discovering his interpretation of the role, “Charles is in a fantastic position because he is coming in as an actor, he wasn’t co-creating the piece from the very beginning,” Henry said. “He can come in as an actor and say who is this character? What are his intentions? What is his journey through this piece?”

Origins has been in the process for slightly over two years but they have had eight weeks of contact time in the rehearsal space. At the start of the rehearsal process, “Charles began to learn about the role and progressively we began to dig into the material, open it up and find new content,” Henry explained. “We then began to question whether the audience are beginning to understand the journey, whether the biblical content was right, if the relationship was clear. Then slowly they became closer to finding it’s rhythm and energy.”

Throughout the rehearsal, the company do scratch showings to people they trust in order to get feedback. Henry told me: “We show to people who haven’t seen it before and can’t anticipate what they are about to witness, it is useful to receive that information for us to learn what is being read and what is being misunderstood.”

As a company they are trying to find clarity in terms of the story, “We are trying to tell the story in a new and exciting way,” Henry said. “So what plays a role in that excitement, is the physical action that we choose to incorporate in the piece. We need to know that the content is being understood and what the physical action gives to the audience’s understanding.”

Animikki are going to tour Origins around a few theatres in the UK such as Southbank in London and rural venues in collaboration with their rural touring partners Cheshire Rural Touring Arts and Spot On Lancashire Touring. They will finish their tour at Liverpool’s Physical Fest, afterwards they will be planning for Spring 2017 bookings and taking the production internationally.

In regards to the future of Animikki, still working with Adam and Charles, they are hoping to recruit some females for their next production. Henry couldn’t reveal what production the company are planning next, but he assures me it is going to be very exciting.

Origins will premiere at the Lowry on the 28th and 29th of April and tickets can be found here.

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