Assistant Director Brendan Lucia on Valhalla
Assistant Director for Valhalla, Brendan Lucia, gives his thoughts about the show and helping to create it.
Who runs the world? Norma, the weaver.
A 12 year old girl has tied up her babysitter, re-decorated her house and left the door open. There are shadow trolls and Norse Gods roaming the corridors, business-people battle Vikings wherever you look, and a group of witches have nested in the attic… This show has been a lot of fun to make.
When Fourth Monkey asked if I wanted to assist Rich Rusk on a hugely ambitious production at the Monkey House this summer I jumped at the opportunity. Having worked with Rich once before I couldn’t wait to get back in the rehearsal room with him and when he talked me through his idea for the project my excitement only grew. We were going to take over the whole building. There would be site specific scenes devised by the company in every room, performers would play multiple characters on any given night and four separate groups of audience would move through our world at the same time. So. Much. Fun.
Underneath all the madness, Valhalla tells the story of a little girl, Freya, who is struggling to deal with a traumatic event that has turned her life upside down. We have combined the world of Norse myths with the backdrop of modern London, the show deals with our city’s most pressing issues and aims to open up a conversation about them. In the current climate, now feels like a crucial time for theatre to inspire discussion.
Above all else, we really wanted to try something different. Something new and exciting. What we have attempted to create is a unique experience for each audience member; a personal adventure through this story, during which they can make choices about the path they take and will witness performances which are entirely specific to them. Audiences will be invited to participate in the journey, but never forced to do anything.
“I love the spontaneity of all these little moments. Obviously, it’s been rehearsed, but every time it’s performed for an audience there will be surprises for us. It has to be fresh every time we do it, specific for that audience.”
Anna Lumkin- Norma, the weaver
For me, personally, this show has been unlike anything I have worked on before.
The planning that has been involved in structuring individual tracks for thirty actors and forty audience members through four performances a night has been equally incredibly daunting and wonderfully rewarding. All the headaches and late night maths sessions are forgotten when solutions to problems that you’ve only seen on a spreadsheet, or in your head, suddenly materialise in the real world right in front of you.
“I’m enjoying the challenge. Darting between audiences, switching characters, going from intense physical sequences to self-written comedic monologues.”
Risha Silvera- Hel, Queen of the Underworld
In order to realise the plan of unique experiences for each audience member we have needed to create a lot of material. The cast has been split into a multitude of different devising groups. Every actor has at least one monologue or duologue that is performed for one or two audience members only at some point in the piece, they have all devised and written these themselves. On top of that, all actors are involved in large group sequences, from expansive movement pieces to an escape room that exists in a room-filling spider’s web.
Staying on top of all of these different elements and supporting so many different performers in so many disparate scenarios can be tricky, but it is always worth it when the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. When you bring two sections together and a solo performance is suddenly elevated by an ensemble sequence that takes the story forwards in a whole new direction, things start to get really interesting. Each separate section pushing the next on to greater heights. The fun to be had when blending two vastly different worlds is seemingly never-ending. What would happen if Norma, the Norse weaver of fates, existed in today’s world?
Another first for me with Valhalla has been the sheer scale of building the show. Running performances around the entire building has meant a vast amount of work for the design and production teams. The infrastructure for our giant spider’s web has been in development since the start of the rehearsal process, custom built set pieces have been created to make rooms come to life and light installations add magic to every moment. Our stage manager Lizzi Adams has worked tirelessly to keep everyone and everything on schedule.
Set and costume designer Zahra Mansouri has outdone herself. Turn a corner and you’ll find a troll attached to the ceiling by her hair, with hands made of twigs that reach out towards you. In the room you’ve just left you met Hel, Queen on the Underworld, in all her feathered, crowned, Godly glory. As you continue on your journey, you’ll meet a shapeshifting witch that can change her form at will.
“I feel like it has a real solid heart, this piece. We’ve all gone off and made different sections by ourselves, but we’re all tied to the same core. We all know what the show is about, and we all care about it. A child trying to navigate grief and imagination. It’s easier to go off on a mad tangent when you know what you’re coming back to.”
Anna Lumkin- Norma, the weaver
I have worked with this group of actors at different points throughout their final year of training. During the making of Valhalla, I have watched them grow and flourish. Not only as performers, but as writers, directors, choreographers, composers, artists, cardboard blacksmiths, fate-deciding loom wielders and puppeteers. This production has given them the chance to test themselves and all of their varied skills, and they have risen to the challenge.
I can’t wait to see how this crazy, wonderful piece of theatre develops over the course of the run.
Bring on opening night.
Oh, and remember, Norma is always watching.