Interview - Joe Bone from Bane
The noir shows that have stalked the Edinburgh Fringe for three years
This article is from 2011.
Joe Bone is a busy man. A few years back, he created the hard-boiled character Bruce Bane in the wake of a spate of old detective movies he'd been watching. Fast forward to 2011, and Bane has taken on a life of his own, spawning three stage shows, a graphic novel, a social media narrative and a forthcoming radio production. To get the full scoop, read on …
The List: Where did the character of Bane come from? Is he a reference to any particular characters/actors in cinema? How about any of the supporting characters?
Joe Bone: I came up with Bane whilst I was at Uni. I started talking to myself and then started to do five minute skits on comedy nights. Bane was inspired by the films I was watching at the time, I was watching a lot of noir classics like Laura, Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Maltese Falcon and so on, as well as more neo noirs such as Sin City or Basic Instinct. When the films finished there'd be a half hour period where I would be unbearable to whomever I watched the film with as I would assume the persona of one of the characters from the movie, I found it quite fun and it's something I always used to do, and I think a lot of folks do don't they? I don't anymore.
The inspiration is certainly not wholly noir however, and you can see that throughout Bane's development over the trilogy. At Bane's inception I was watching a lot of noir, for Bane 2 I was watching a lot of horror and sci-fi movies and so naturally their influence found their way into what I was doing. For Bane 3 well, I think I wasn't really watching to many films in the last year so it might have a different feel, in a good way as I think it's by far the best show yet. But throughout Bane I mix lots of different genres, playing on audiences preconception of cinema in order to add context and then play with that to create the comedy. Cinema can only take you so far when you're working in theatre so there are plenty of theatrical styles I'm using too.
The character being called Bruce Bane was due to it being very suggestive, he sounds like a character you've heard of. All the noir/graphic novel signs are there – the three obvious references are Bruce Banner, Bruce Wayne and Max Payne – and so Bruce Bane fits quite neatly into that world. But again it's all suggestion, like his outfit: it's not particularly noir, which would be a mac and hat – instead it's a grey overcoat and brown trousers, but it suggests as though it pertains to that world when combined with the other elements, while not pinning it down completely and so there is more freedom to move throughout styles and times.
The supporting characters are turned up to 11 and are drawn from everywhere. Certainly some of their names are, like Shelby Carpenter (from Laura), and some of their demeanours, like Al's and Neil's. They are the ones that I think make the world come to life as often they're quite colourful, ridiculous.
At what stage did musician Ben Roe become involved with the show? Was he involved in the creation of the concept, or brought in later as an additional extra layer to the performance?
When I'd perform five minutes here and there on comedy nights I always thought that it lacked music, that music would really enrich the performance. I've known Ben since high school and I first asked him to be involved a few years after I'd come up with the character. He'd never played live before but would always play fantastic stuff quietly in the corner of the room. I booked out an Arts Centre for Feb 2009 to do an hour long version of this character I was kicking around (I'd actually booked it out to do a monologue called Radio by Al Smith – a great little piece that I'd applied to the AC for tour funding, but I got rejected and so couldn't afford the rights. They asked if I could do something else and so I said, 'I've always wanted to extend this character …'). Ben was reluctant at first as he'd not done live stuff before, but eventually he agreed and we got into the rehearsal room together and it was great. I saw that Ben's music was exactly what this character and show needed. Ben's stage presence was equally important, as he allows the focus to rest with the actor and never draws attention to himself, which requires real patience and commitment to the cause, so he really works wonderfully for the show. He also contributes additional stage material, and I test everything on him; he acts as a dramaturge as we have no permanent outside director and the relationship really works. We premiered in Feb '09 and we've been going ever since. We never thought it'd be any good (we still have reservations) but it's taken us around the UK, to Italy, Germany and we're off to Malaysia and Brazil this year, with America on the horizon; so it's far exceeded anything we could've possibly hoped for.
The rapidly expanding Bane universe (three premieres in as many years) is now spreading off-stage – tell us a bit about that?
I think that Bane really works in other media – certainly the world of Bruce Bane – and so I've started to see if I can create things for him off stage. A lot of the time the other forms of Bane, I think, will work far better than the stage shows but we'll have to wait and see. Now that we've got three live shows, I can start to look at touring and creating stories for him in other media without the burden of knowing that I'll have to write and rehearse a whole new show – I think we may even take a break from premiering a new Bane next year. This means I can focus my efforts on other media forms and touring, as we're looking at taking Bane on the road more extensively. New York's a primary target, as well as UK venues and European dates. But in terms of extending the Bane universe …
First of all we have a Bane comic book which has been illustrated by William Hartley of sketch group Clever Peter; it's based on the first ten minutes of Bane 1 and it's great – that'll be coming out very soon, and we're looking create a lot more, to go beyond the story space that the live shows offer so that the comic becomes something unto itself and starts driving the Bane world.
We're doing some radio stuff in the autumn on the BBC that'll require a completely new type of writing as I won't be able to rely on the physical mime to conjure the space. It's exciting as I think it'll be fun to do as well as a natural place for Bane's world to sit – the noir stories really went from the page to the radio first, so there's a really rich tapestry to ensconce ourselves in.
I'm also telling a story over Twitter which starts on Monday the 8th of August – it's set 20 years before the first stage play and the first person noir lends itself nicely. Sample tweets: 'Feet up inside the Chevy, hanging low outside McKyles place, no sign of anyone. I could hear the bark of dobermans through the darkness and I wondered if I'd be feeling their teeth anytime soon.' Then 20mins later: 'Bingo. McKyle and what looks like a five dollar on his arm. I'm leaving my coat in the Chevy, I don't want claret on my cotton …' And so on. This is something that is fairly unique and I'm really excited to see whether or not it'll work. I think in the future the different Bane media will really start to communicate with each other, fleshing out that world and creating a vibrant universe.
Are there plans for more episodes, or is three in one Fringe season plenty enough? And do you have any non-Bane plans for the future?
Three is enough for now, however you just never know – prequels, etc. I have lots of plans for stuff outside of Bane in terms of new live shows, so we'll see if I can get round to it. I'm writing some stuff for TV, so that's new, and I'm working with other theatre companies when I'm free. I really want to head to NYC with the shows as I've never been to the States and so much of Bane is inspired by American culture and fiction that it seems like a natural habitat to move into. We'll go next year and hopefully we'll have some success, but for now there's plenty of stuff to do right here with Bruce Bane hot on my heels.
Bane 1 (Tue/Fri), 2 (Wed/Sat) and 3 (Thu/Sun/Mon), Pleasance Dome, 4–28 Aug (not 15), 5.20pm, £10 (£8). Follow @thebanestory on Twitter from Mon 8 Aug.