Mappa Mundi: Still Life
at Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Tuesday 20th – Wednesday 21st October 2015
As part of its tour.
Mappa Mundi – Wales’ most established touring theatre company – hit the road again this autumn, this time blending the ghost stories of renowned horror writers Edgar Allan Poe and M.R. James with their own slice of Victorian Gothic to produce their latest work ‘Still Life’ – ghost tales to chill the soul!
The tour starts at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, on 25th September, before visting RWCMD Cardiff; Newbridge Memo, Newbridge; Borough Theatre, Abergavenny; The Hafren, Newtown; Taliesin, Swansea; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth; ending at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on 22 and 23 October.
Full of haunting imagery from the Victorian era, Still Life is a celebration of 19th Century horror, given a deliciously dark Mappa Mundi twist. Elements from Poe’s classic stories – the beating pulse of The Tell Tale Heart, the ghoulish clowning of Hop-Frog and the terror of The Raven and The Black Cat – together with celebrated ghost writer MR James’ ghoulish fables – A Warning to the Curious, The Mezzotint and Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad – form the basis of a compendium of terrifying tales.
The production is directed by Lynne Seymour, a founder member of the company who has appeared in many Mappa Mundi shows over the years.
This year’s cast includes Keiron Self – star of BBC sitcom My Family and also a founder member of the company, Richard Nichols (Director of Mappa Mundi’s Much Ado About Nothing 2011), Francis Pandolfo, who starred as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2012), and Lizzie Rogan who shone as Cecile in Dangerous Liaisons in 2010. Mappa Mundi have this time worked closely with Magicians Morgan and West during the development phase of the production to bring elements of magic and slight of hand to the show.
The tales within Still Life are linked by a Victorian photographer obsessed by death, with his own demons to exorcise come the strike of midnight. Still Life is influenced by the Gothic horror genres in particular the works of American writer Edgar Allan Poe and British writer MR James, both of whom were renowned for spine chilling tales of terror and suspense, which held audiences of the late 19th and early 20th century spellbound. Still Life is set in the 1890s and draws upon many of Poe and James’ themes and also on the Victorian obsession with photography and the afterlife.
Photography at that time was a relatively new invention and recent discoveries in the development process meant that even the ‘ordinary man in the street’ could afford to have a photograph of his family. It is hard to think of a time without photographs now, flicking through a family album or using your phone for a snapshot is something that we take for granted, but in late 19th Century Britain, it was still a rarity. One of the grislier offshoots of the move from the expensive daguerreotype to the more affordable albumen process was that of the Memento Mori or ‘memory of the dead’. Families would have pictures of their loved ones taken…….after death. Not simply as a record of a loved one who had passed but dressed, posed and arranged with other family members to seem alive. Those who had died before this process became available were often exhumed to sit for the camera.
The story is led by one such Victorian photographer, at the forefront of this ongoing science, and we follow his journey from a portrait photographer to one who becomes obsessed with Memento Mori and beyond. Through his discoveries we become embroiled in a series of stories surrounding the photographs he has taken and the people he has met. And as we discover ‘ the camera can capture truth but it can also lie’.
Director Lynne Seymour says “Mappa Mundi have always been interested in giving the classics a contemporary edge and what drew the company to the stories of Poe and James and the genre of Gothic horror was the primal fears these stories can still evoke. Technology may have moved on and we may consider ourselves to be more scientific but we still fear things that go bump in the night, the dark, the unexplained, the ‘other’. Horror and suspense has never gone out of fashion. As a company we have always strived to create an atmosphere within the theatre, our challenge with Still Life is to take our
audience on a journey into the unknown, to use the traditional method of slight of hand and true story telling to unnerve and give our audience a unique and memorable night at your theatre.” For after all, as Poe himself says…. ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.’
Wales based Mappa Mundi started out as a theatre company dedicated to producing the works of Shakespeare and other classic plays, and over the past twenty years have built an excellent reputation for producing accessible, thought provoking and entertaining adaptations of classic theatre which now tours the UK over to much critical acclaim. Still Life is the latest in a series of co-productions between Mappa Mundi and Theatr Mwldan, which have also included The Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Guest directed by Peter Doran), Dangerous Liaisons, She Stoops To Conquer (Guest directed by Peter Doran), Canterbury Tales, Moll Flanders and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Still Life tours Wales this autumn between September 25th and October 23rd. Tickets for Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s performances are available from the ticket office. Phone 01970 62 32 32 or go online www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk