Past Half Remembered: an interview with New International Encounter’s (NIE) Alex Byrne

PastHalfRembered

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Next week (27-28 March) in Sherman Cymru sees the opening of Past Half Remembered, winner of a Herald Angel Award and Total Theatre Award at the Edinburgh Festival 2006.

“The story was interesting to us. We wanted to make a story about the woman’s life and what happened to her and also one set against the background of Russia in the 20th century. That’s the pillar. We made the show at the end of the 20th Century and looking back,” explains Alex Byrne, director at NIE. “It’s a romance about two people falling in love and trying to be together but history intervenes and changes their lives. I was interested in this story because it connected to major events of the 20th Century and often those stories are made through the eyes of major figures but this one is about a person who wasn’t but interesting things happened to them.”

The show takes place around the story of Maria Michaliovna and jumps around her memory of a changing 20th Century Russia using a five piece band and a mixture of languages. The show is based on the records of some Canadian photojournalists who made the trip from Vladivostok to St Petersburg,

“I looked at a bunch of information about Russia in the 20th Century and there were a group of Canadian photojournalists who made the trip from Vladivostok to St Petersburg and in each place they stopped, they recorded someone’s story,” Byrne explains. “The final story is in St Petersburg where they went to the birthday party of a hundred year old woman who told them her story. We didn’t do the story exactly but we used it as a starting point.”

But how does the show which has toured around the world translate to different stages and places all looking back at a Russia that no longer exists?

“We made the show with a core of storytelling in English. Most audiences across Europe could understand that and follow. In some ways it’s a very engaging story and clear too. In Japan we played with surtitles. We’ve often told the story in different languages,” he continues. “We play around with that and mess around with it. I try to always make shows where if you can’t understand any of the languages, you still understand what’s going on. You have a de facto situation where in Europe most people understand English as a second language. If you’ve got a core story in English, people can follow that.”

Although the show might sound serious, audiences can expect a well balanced mixture of comedy and tragedy when they watch NIE’s first Cardiff performances at Sherman Cymru next week.

“It’s interesting to talk about the show. It sounds very serious with the Revolution and the Second World War. One of the things that we’ve tried to do with all of our shows is to treat sometimes very serious and heavy material in a very light way and to find the comic and foolishness of it,” says the director with a tone of sympathy. “This is a serious and silly show. Of course you can expect to engage with history, memory and the past but also you should have a great time when you go to the theatre.”