Arts Interview: Walking Shadows


Interview with Director, Michael Lewis

Coming up at Webster’s Theatre, 25th-28th March

Soon to take place in the West End’s very own Websters Theatre is Michael Lewis’ tremendously popular, quirky and convention breaking Scottish farce. Based on Lewis’ personal experiences of working backstage, this “play within a play” indicates that the real dramatic ordeals of tragedy, comedy and humour are actually out of the audience’s vision.

The cast is layered with talent, the music is innovative, there is a mayhem-causing child who remains silence, and of course a Shitzsu named Tiggy who has an acting debut. Lewis defies the expectations of a farce and promises a visual masterpiece that has been named an “ordered disorder” by exploring the fuzziness of what is real, and what is not.

Walking Shadows is described as “hilarious and quirky” using brand new music and standing as a modern, full-length Scottish farce. Where did the ideas come from?

The title is from Macbeth “Life’s but  a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” I challenged myself to  write a farce as I knew it was a really difficult style of theatre to pull off successfully. It’s all about the construction. Also, I  have experienced amateur theatre from a number of different perspectives. In act one we feel the pain of a frustrated, and rather short tempered director as he struggles with the dearth of talent. I also wanted to be very playful with the rules of theatre. The Dalai Lama once said, “learn the rules so  you know  how to break them, properly”. In Walking Shadows I repeatedly defy the normal conventions of theatre going is many  ways as I can. It’s great fun.

What is the story behind Walking Shadows?

It is  the story  of a dreadful theatre company putting on play, then seeing behind the scenes as the play is  performed. It is  based on my experience of working backstage in many  productions and seeing that what happens on stage is nowhere near as dramatic, or as tragic, as events backstage. It features a talented cast, including a mayhem-causing child who remains silent, and a performing dog.

Are there any downsides to the play being predominantly comedy-based, or is being taken seriously the last thing you want?

People recognise that the play works on a couple of levels. A pretentious critic may even cite the Brechtian device of disassociation; it can be viewed as making a commentary about the blurred lines between what’s real and what’s made up. We see actors continually  making the  step from backstage to  being onstage. We meet the actors, then we see them playing other parts.  But we know the difference,  of course.  Then we realise we’re in a theatre watching some actors…..
However, as a farce,  it  is  very  visual and you can simply sit  back and enjoy the ride.

This is the second year running Walking Shadows, has it changed much from its first performance?

Yes we have a few new cast members, including someone who  is replacing me,  as I performed in it last year too. I  wanted to sit back this year and enjoy it as an audience member. I also need that  perspective to direct, particularly  Act Three which is  very  tricky to pull  off successfully. Last year’s audiences loved it, though, and I felt I had to take it to a wider audience. Webster’s theatre is an ideal venue  for Walking Shadows.

In the final act, you’ve said the performance is like “two concurrently running plays,” how difficult was this to rehearse and perform without getting lost in this tricky atmosphere?

It’s a nightmare. Even as the writer and director I often get confused. Act three consists of about 45 pages of stage directions which is tricky  enough in itself. However performing against a backdrop of another play is a bit bonkers. It’s exhausting trying to keep track of it all. It’s always difficult trying to create disorder; it has to be an ordered disorder.

Is it more Glasgow student oriented now it is performed in the West End? How relevant is it to young people?

I  can honestly say that Walking Shadows has an enormously  wide appeal. I  hadn’t intended this when writing it but last year I was surprised by  how many young people, and not so young people it resonated with. There is something for everyone because it operates on a couple of  different levels. If you have experienced amateur theatre you will recognise many of the antics and you will like Walking Shadows. If you hate amateur theatre there is every  chance you will love Walking Shadows.

So, you have a special canine guest star in the play! How do you know what makes the perfect dog star?

This is a bit risky as we don’t how the dog will perform on the night,  despite  the audition and rehearsal process. When it works, it  works really well and the audiences love it. If it doesn’t quite work,  well, we’ll just have to deal with it. We’ve selected dogs with the right nature, we think , and some talent.

STV covered your dog rehearsals! How chaotic was this exactly? And do you have someone to cover any unwanted dog business?

The dogs were generally well behaved and we had one outstanding dog Tiggy that  we will be using for four out of the five shows. We had auditioned a number of dogs. I put the call out for some budding Michael Canines. We were looking for a potential Brad Pitt Bull Terrier, Collie Firth, King Charleston Heston or Spaniel Radcliffe. Unfortunately  no  Spaniels turned up for the auditions and we lost the chance to pun the names Craig and Day Lewis. But we did settle on Tiggy Tails, a shitzu, who will sit on his hind legs for ages with his  tongue out. Tiggy won a Dogscar for landing this role.  He was a natural and performed his trick well and  consistently with Kieran, our dog handling actor. However when the cameras rolled for  the live broadcast Tiggy just  couldn’t be  bothered. I got a lot of hassle from family  and friends watching who thought I  should have picked other dogs instead!

Tell us in one sentence what to expect from a trip to see Walking Shadows?

Seeing Walking Shadows is the best fun anyone can have with their trousers on. And being a farce, not  everyone on stage gets to keep their trousers on…

Catch Walking Shadows at Webster’s Theatre, 25th-28th March

Book tickets here.

[Emmie Harrison- @emmieeharrison]

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