British/German arts collective Gob Squad have performed all over the world for 25 years. Now, they come to Brighton Festival with a brand-new show, Creation (Pictures for Dorian) where they will be joined onstage by six local Brighton-based performers.
Gob Squad is a British-German collective based in Nottingham and Berlin. Having worked collaboratively since 1994 in the fields of performance, video installation and theatre, they create mid-scale work that combines audience interaction with real-time video editing. The company often use popular culture to explore the complexities of everyday life and have a history of involving members of the audience in its performances. Yet, for the first time ever, Gob Squad have recruited local Brighton performers to take part in Creation (Pictures for Dorian).
Long-standing Gob Squad core member Sean Patten says: “We want to really lift the lid and explore beauty, aging, morality, mortality from different perspectives. [We’ve found] people older than us, and people younger than us, and people who – like us – spend a life on stage, or who want to spend a life on stage so that we can connect to them and find out what it’s like, and what it means to be visible in visible, looked at and regarded as an object of beauty.”
The chosen participants - three under the age of 22, three over 60 – all have some experience of performing, or in the case of the younger bracket, aspire to be on stage, with two of the young performers in their last year of studying drama at The University of Sussex.
One of the participants, Dorothy Max Prior, explains that: “I first read A Picture of Dorian Gray 50 years ago. Then, a budding teenage dancer; now, well into my sixties and still dancing, just a little more creakily… Gob Squad’s Creation isn’t a version of Oscar Wilde’s iconic book, it’s a kind of homage to it; an exploration of its themes, especially the central fantastical idea of keeping a portrait of yourself in the attic that ages whilst you remain eternally young-looking.
“Gob Squad are in the middle phase of their lives, as performers and as human beings, and they decided that they wanted to investigate both the idea of framing, of portraiture; and the obsession with looks, image, and ageing, using a cast of older performers (60+) and younger (aged around 20) student performers, who appear alongside the core cast as the models and muses. The show has a tight structure, but with room for improvisation within that structure. The guest performers are led by the hand throughout, often literally – moulded, guided, instructed. We are invited to respond not as lifeless mannequins but as ourselves… It’s great to be involved, and an interesting learning process. You can teach an old dog new tricks!”
Gob Squad member Sharon Smith explains that Creation is partly inspired by the members of Gob Squad hitting middle age and contemplating youthful vitality and good looks slowly ebbing away. “We wondered what it would be like if we were presented with people that reminded us of ourselves in the past, or who we would like to be in the future,” says Sharon, referring to their volunteers.
“We’re all about 50, not really looking forward or back. It’s a kind of waiting place – neither here nor there. That’s why we were interested in this multi-generational meeting.”
The project is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s character, Dorian Gray, who meddles in the domain of the gods with the aid of a magical painting. He suspends the process of ageing and remains young and beautiful forever, at a terrible cost to his soul.
Gob Squad is on from Wed 23 until Sun 27 May at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts