Unusually for me, ‘An Invitation’ started with an idea for a story; I thought I was developing the idea for a novel to begin with. As such the story has remained the core of the piece, but because it is a murder mystery, the less I tell you about it, the better…
What I can say is that this is a piece about imagining violent stories, what we do with them, and our place in them. It is about these issues, because I have had to consider them while making the piece.
Alfred Hitchcock called his film ‘Psycho’ a ‘Nice, Clean, Nasty little piece of work’. This I suppose is my equivalent offer/response to the genre; this is the territory.
I had the idea three years ago; I can trace it back specifically to a run around the edge of a golf course while on holiday, the idea occurred to me after reading a Patricia Highsmith novel. Later still, after the piece had started to grow I could identify its roots: Murder documentaries, the TV series Mindhunter, Hannibal Lecter, and that Patricia Highsmith novel.
Often these ideas also take hold because of something deeper and long standing, so in time I thought I could track it back to watching Detective Colombo on TV, and then to reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Except that was a mistake, it wasn’t Holmes I liked – it was Moriarty, him and all of Colombo’s gallery of carefully murderous masterminds. It was always the pleasure of the elaborate plan that hooked me.
So, working on ‘An Invitation’ has been less the process of generating such a plan; but rather making a performance where that process is laid bare: What it would take to do such a thing? What are the implications of concocting such a plan, to entertain such thoughts. It is an odd turn of phrase we use, to ‘entertain thoughts’. Perhaps it speaks to the feeling that sometimes ideas have agency, and that best we can do is distract them…
In the research process I’ve had the privilege of talking to a homicide detective and a forensic entomologist (The scientists who can extract incredibly useful information from the flora and fauna that interact with a corpse). They’ve been able to ground the piece in some of the realities of murder investigations, as opposed to what we see played out in cultural representations. It was also interesting to discover that the police investigation guidebook for homicide, literally titled the ‘Murder Manual’ can be downloaded off the internet for free.
As further research I read Claire Dederer’s fantastic article ‘What do we do with the Art of Monstrous men’, and Maggie Nelson’s no less astonishing ‘The Art of Cruelty’ and ‘The Red Parts’. I watched various true crime documentaries concerning murderers and serial killers. I returned to Joshua Oppenheimer’s surreal and alarming documentary ‘The Act of Killing’. I reminded myself of JG Ballard and his crimes in urban landscapes. I reminded myself that whenever anyone says ‘we never imagined it could happen in a place like this’, that it always seems to happen in a place like this. I wondered what links the violence in culture and society, how inherently violent we are, why we generate and consume these stories?
4: A place for Violence.
It made me realise that I have, as I hope most people have, encountered almost all the violence in their lives, through representation, through culture. When I consider the violence I have encountered in my life, it is almost exclusively contained on the stage and the screen… It happens in a place like this. Of course it begs the question, should it be there at all?
This then turns us back to our existing stories, and what we do with them. What is the moral and ethical landscape of generating and consuming culture centred around violence; Where women are ‘fridged’ with alarming regularity. We seem have seemed content, if that is the right word, to consume The Art of Monstrous Men. ‘An Invitation’ is an attempt to wrestle these questions into some manageable shape, if not to provide any answers.
Its worth noting that ’An invitation’ goes a little further than just telling a story. The piece is about what has happened while I’ve been making it. How I’ve built the world of the piece and the responses of colleagues, friends and family to the research and to the piece as it developed. Further if you come to see the piece, it becomes about you, and your response.
6: The opposite of a daydream.
So what I can tell you is that for me is that performance is an act of live communal daydreaming. We gather and rather than suspend disbelief, we gather to sustain belief in something that is either unknown or unseen, or something we’d rather not consider, just for a little while.
As such, during ‘An Invitation’ we’re in it together. It’s both an immersive and interactive piece, but neither. You’ll go nowhere but your seat, and nothing will happen to you, except what happens in your head. I’ll tell you a story and you’ll play it out. In that regards, it’s also just a very traditional piece of storytelling and daydreaming… just weaponised…
‘An Invitation’ will be performed as part of Sprint at Camden People’s Theatre, London. 26th March.