Caroline Horton, maker of intimate, searching and powerful theatre, was nominated for an Oliver Award back in 2013. If you caught her in ‘Mess’ at The Firestation in that same year (or anywhere else for that matter), you’ll know why. If you didn’t, well your luck’s in, as Caroline returns to The Firestation this March with ‘Penelope RETOLD’.
Set on the island paradise of Ithaca, the hour long performance explores the world and mind of Penelope. She’s married to Odysseus, the world famous war hero and she’s had enough of waiting quietly.
Made with input from soldiers and military spouses, ‘Penelope RETOLD’ is an irreverent collision of classic myth, ‘The Odyssey’ and contemporary rage, told through poetry, songs, comedy and YouTube clips.
We borrowed her for a quick chat, away from R&D at Birmingham REP, to talk performing, the challenge of solo shows and pigeons.
You’re touring Penelope RETOLD in early 2015, can you sum it up?
It’s a solo show about Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, who’s been left alone and ignored for too long by her ‘brave’ and wandering husband. She’s bored and angry, at her wits end.
What first attracted you to the story?
Sarah Brigham commissioned me to create the piece for Derby – and as soon as I heard the idea, I became fascinated by what Penelope must have been going through on a daily basis. I set the piece when Odysseus – having been away 19 years – returned for a night then left again….
How do you go about devising a show, where do you start?
With research – collecting like a magpie – bits of text, images, photos, poems, songs, music and then the improvising begins – and games always games.
You interviewed soldiers and their spouses for this production. How was that experience?
It was only spouses I interviewed. It was fascinating – and a reality check.
Waiting for someone’s return is boring and lonely and painful.
Penelope is presented on her bed, amongst a pile of bedsheets. Where did that image come from?
Their marriage bed is made by Odysseus and referred to in Homer’s Odyssey – the image really stayed with me as where Penelope was trapped somehow – by love as much as anything else.
You use Youtube clips in this show, do you think it’s important for contemporary theatre to pick up on digital tools?
No – not really – it just suited this moment.
Does theatre need to be ‘live’ and if so why?
I love live performance but the NT Live screenings are supposed to be amazing so…
What is it about working solo that you keep coming back to?
It’s a huge challenge. I also make pieces with other people so I do mix it up. And every solo show is different. I love the close relationship you get with the audience and the challenge of maintaining that alone.
How do you know when you’re done?
It’s opening night.
What are your greatest challenges as a performer and producer?
I don’t know – it’s different for different projects. I can be a bit blockheaded and or tearful when the pressure hits – but hopefully I’m good at apologising too!
Do you see yourself as a theatre maker, or is that just where you end up?
Yes – it’s what I wanted to do from about 20 or 21 and why I went to study at Ecole Philippe Gaulier – I admired companies and artists who had trained with him and were making their own work.
Performing is a very particular addiction, can you remember a moment that tipped you in?
Reciting Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘My Shadow’ age 8 in front of the whole school. But I wanted to be a vet ’til I was 17.
How did you feel about the Olivier nomination, what was its impact on you?
I was stunned and very honoured. I’m not sure what impact it had – all these things (awards, prizes) help to get people to engage with your work – so you can keep doing what you love.
How do you wind down?
I’m not good at it. Yoga and meditation when I make space for them.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Made in Chelsea.
What’s on your Netflix ‘watched’ list?
David Lynch movies
What’s in your headphones?
Is there anything you don’t like about theatre?
When I forget it’s only a play… and the world’s not going to end…
Tell us something we don’t know?
My favourite birdsong is a pigeon’s. Homing pigeons have been recorded flying at speeds of 110mph which is faster than a cheetah can run.
Photos by Robert Day
Penelope RETOLD is at The Firestation, Windsor on 24th March.