Physical theatre production BLAM! promises 'Die Hard meets The Office'
The Danish production is coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013
This article is from 2013.
A Scandinavian physical theatre group transforms the workplace into a blizzard of movie-based anarchy. Anna Millar asks Neander’s leader whether BLAM! is set to be a game-changer
An elevator pings. Throaty laughter drifts round the corner and four beaming faces appear. ‘Coffee. We need coffee, please.’ Twelve hours ago, these caffeine-craving cohorts enjoyed a rowdy standing ovation in Reykjavik’s main theatre. Six hours ago, they finally crawled into bed after a ‘few’ after-show drinks. ‘We don’t really do low energy,’ laughs Iceland native Kristján Ingimarsson, settling in with a wide smile. He’s not wrong.
As artistic director of Denmark-based physical theatre company Neander, Ingimarsson’s latest project BLAM! is as boisterous as it is bonkers. That it’s been heavily backed by the original co-producers of mega-hit STOMP should give some hint at its potential global appeal. Dubbed ‘Die Hard meets The Office’, BLAM! taps into an audience’s desire to escape the everyday. As three bored office workers kill time by ‘blamming’ – for any non-blammers out there, it means re-enacting favourite movies – a creepy, sadistic boss lurks in the background.
Without giving too much away, water coolers morph into ET, a stack of pencils transforms one character into Wolverine, while Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino and Batman all get a look-in. Neander’s unique and stellar cast commits to each and every role, as an identikit open-plan office reconfigures itself into a makeshift battle zone. The result is a physical theatre show with both an edgy allure and a decent lick of mainstream charm.
Ingimarsson is leader of the pack alongside Lars Gregersen, Didier Oberlé and Joen Højerslev, with each one bringing his own effervescent slant to proceedings, whether it’s classic slapstick, physical feats or daredevil back-flips from the top of filing cabinets. ‘I’ve been experimenting for years with different styles,’ explains Ingimarsson. ‘I wanted to do something that was fun but had a good theme and I’ve always wanted to take movies into the theatre. They have their own body language and their own rules, so they’re easy to twist. It’s fun to play with people’s expectations; I wanted to find the opposite of what we see in movies, so I struck on the “boring” office idea.’
Hours of exchanges and workshops have finally arrived at the spectacle you’ll see this August, when they take over the Pleasance Courtyard’s biggest space. If their enthusiasm alone could get bums on seats, they should be in pretty rude health for the run. But they know it’ll be a challenge. ‘All the characters from the movies are there: the nerd, the muscleman, the asshole, the good-looking hero. That’s obviously my part,’ laughs Ingimarsson. ‘Each of us brought something different from our own passions. One of us loved Jackie Chan, so we thought, “OK, how can we get Chan in there?” Then in another scene, “OK, maybe some Pulp Fiction here”. It became a process of getting from one place to another while having as much fun as possible.’
Certainly, the set helps ground the show, giving it a humour and reality amidst the madness, with almost every office gadget and appliance you can think of – pencils, phones, staple guns, filing cabinets, lamps and chairs – being used to recreate some of cinema’s most iconic characters and moments. ‘As the show goes on, scenes are built, while characters and movie styles are taken on,’ explains Ingimarsson. ‘In workshops, we were trying to make weapons out of this and that, while staying true to the office environment. The set is organic. It’s physical. It’s playing us as much as we are playing the set. The audience wants to find out the possibilities and we want to show them, and surprise them where we can.’
While moments in everything from Rambo to Reservoir Dogs, and references to the likes of Iron Man and the Hulk thrown in as well, BLAM! is more than just a fanboy’s playground. And though the narrative thread is loose, there’s an emotional range to be found as the story unfolds, with basic human emotions coming to the fore. The underdog is king here and while it’s an all-male, testosterone-fuelled frenzy, man, woman and child should equally relate to Ingimarsson’s bigger message about what we demand of our heroes. Like the best superhero and action stars, BLAM!’s characters are searching for something while dealing with their own flaws. Ingimarsson nods: ‘It’s fun and silly but it’s also about having the ability to fight back and to have the bravery and skill to say “enough!” There needed to be a humanity and vulnerability in there.’
That fragility, of course, has much to do with the repressed office setting. And beyond all the costume tomfoolery and circus trickery, Ingimarsson hopes that BLAM! will strike a chord. ‘The workplace today is more skewed than ever. We have come to accept that these tiny impersonal cubicles are our life. People don’t question it. These characters have hopes, dreams and fears and by putting them into these fantastical worlds, we show what we can learn there. Hopefully, that’s universal and everyone that comes can relate to that.’
It’s almost time to finish up. Water and coffee have been supped, an hour’s animated to-and-fro comes to a close and the reality of what this show might mean for Neander kicks in. At the age of 44, Ingimarsson hopes that ‘this is the one’. He’s enjoyed acclaim and triumphs before, but BLAM!, he feels, is ‘something special’. If it replicates its Danish and Icelandic success in Scotland, their next step is to go on tour. Ingimarsson stares out of the window, Reykjavik’s ethereal landscape staring back. ‘We’ve been working in this business for many years. It can happen or it cannot happen, even if you have a great show. So many things have to fall into place, but I think we’ve never been closer to it. We just want to show people what’s possible.’
BLAM!, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 3–26 Aug (not 7, 13, 20), 5.55pm, £10–£15 (£8.50–£13.50). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £8.