Belt Up bring Tartuffe and Trial to the Fringe
The award-winning physical theatre company provide an inspired spin on some enduring classics
This article is from 2009.
If the Fringe is about anything, it’s about an inexhaustible ability to surprise an audience, whether it be with a crazy venue space, a thrilling new script or a suitably memorable performance. Belt Up (Nothing to See/Hear) produce all three in spades, alongside a rather impressive knack for causing a stir.
‘Last year was phenomenal,’ says James Wilkes, one of Belt’s writers and directors, of their show at the 2008 Fringe, Women of Troy. ‘I suppose you could say we ended up with an underground following. People would leave their number in a “visitors” book at the end of one show and we would text them later with the location of another secret show.’
He continues: ‘We have a very direct interaction with our audience during the show and when that show was finished, the audience trusted us and really went with us to the next place.’
Sometimes notching up as many as seven different shows a day, the company developed a cult following, switching as they did between classic and contemporary works. This year looks set to be no different as they bring forth their reinterpretations of Moliere’s The Tartuffe and Kafka’s The Trial, as well as performing their trademark ‘secret shows’.
‘We wanted a mix,’ says Wilkes. ‘Tartuffe’s been a work in progress for almost three years. At no point was it going to be a traditional reworking, like a typical French farce. We always wanted to modernise it and play up the culture to make it more relevant.’
Characters from the play will be ‘out and about’ between the show, in character, and each member of the cast will have their own twitter account, where fans can keep track of them, in character.
‘We wanted to see how far we could go with it, so the cast will be going out to the pub in character and hopefully become mini-celebrities.’
Their production of The Trial is equally ambitious, says its writer Dominic J Allen. ‘I was keen to take The Trial in a new direction: all the metaphors in the play relate to machinery and breaking down, so I wanted to play with the idea of the whole play being a machine, with the protagonist being sort of like a squeaky cog in the wheel.’
As ever, audience interaction is paramount, though Allen is reluctant to give too much away. ‘We often have a half joke that we can’t do dress rehearsals because our shows depend so heavily on the audience,’ laughs Allen. ‘It’s a risk and a thrill.’
As the recipients of last year’s Edinburgh International Festival Award, their Steven Berkoff-influenced style will further see the York-based company flex their wares as part of a new project at this year’s EIF, in Behind the Scenes, where they will showcase new work.
If they’re feeling the pressure they’re keeping it well hidden. ‘It’s like that difficult second album,’ smiles Wilkes. ‘You just hope you can give it new life without losing the original spirit.’
C Soco, 0845 260 1234, 5–31 Aug, 8.55pm (The Tartuffe), 11.20pm (The Trial), £9.50–£11.50 (£8.50–£10.50).