The next interview in our stagey chat series is with Hector Harkness, co-director of Viola's Room by Punchdrunk. Viola's Room is an audio-driven immersive experience and is narrated by Helena Bonham Carter.

Get yourself comfy and join us for the next segment of Stagey Chat!

Hi Hector, how are you? Thanks so much for chatting to Stage to Page today! Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us how you first got into the theatre industry?

I’m good, thanks for asking! I’m the co-director of Viola’s Room, working with Felix Barrett, the artistic director of Punchdrunk, who I’ve collaborated with for many years. I got involved with Punchdrunk right at the start of my career, when I was a performer. Like many theatre makers I started out doing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it’s there that I met Felix and we got talking about a show he was planning in a disused school in South London, called Sleep No More. So I performed in that originally, and then most of Punchdrunk’s other London shows for a while, until I moved over to the directing side. Since then I’ve been creating and developing all sorts of projects, each of them quite different in form but always with our shared sensibilities as a company. 

Your latest piece of immersive theatre, Viola's Room, is opening this month. Can you tell us more about this extremely unique sounding experience?

At Punchdrunk we are always trying to break new ground. After our last London show The Burnt City we want to try something really different. Using everything we have learnt over the last 20 or so years we are trying to tell a story in a new way. Giving audiences a really intimate experience. Most of our big shows contain one on one experiences that allow for small intimate encounters to happen between an audience member and performers. This is one big one to one experience! The show is based on a Victorian gothic horror called The Moonslave. It’s a brilliantly mysterious and enigmatic short story, and it was the inspiration for an intimate one-person show Punchdrunk created very early on in our existence. Now we’ve decided to revisit the story and reimagine it, working with the writer Daisy Johnson to turn it into a new kind of adventure. 

How will Viola's Room differ from previous well-loved Punchdrunk productions, including The Burnt City, The Drowned Man and Sleep No More?

It’s a very different kind of physical experience. Previous Punchdrunk shows are partly about the thrill of exploring a space at will and piecing together your own adventure. In Viola’s Room you’ll flow through a story, beat by beat, riding the wave of it. We’re asking audiences to step into the dark and let us take their hands on a journey.  What’s exciting for us is the opportunity to tell a tale from beginning to end, to distil what we love about sensory experiences into a compact design installation with a spine-tingling story at its core. 

Helena Bonham Carter is the narrator for Viola's Room. How was the experience of working with her?

Helena has the kind of voice that moves between soothing bedtime story and darkly secretive and mischievous. In the recording studio she threw herself into discovering the right tone, and like all our work on this project it was an experimental process which Helena jumped on board with. As is often the case when we make intimate work with text, we found that imaginative tasks (like whispering the text to a sleeping baby) meant we found a level of intimacy that’ll hopefully feel really visceral for our audience, like Helena’s right there with you in the dark!

My blog is called Stage to Page. But if you could turn any book, from page to stage, what would it be and why? 

I’m really interested in adaptation of literature into live experience, and in fact my work would usually start with a source text, even if it ends up with very few spoken words in it. Something I really enjoy in fiction is an unreliable narrator: it’s a particularly literary trope which is challenging to convey in the theatre I think, but a good challenge! So it would be fun to work out how to adapt Nabokov’s Pale Fire, for instance, which is such a slippery, wordy novel, but contains endless delights and hidden meanings. 

And finally, why should people book tickets to Viola's Room?

Viola’s Room is for anyone who remembers the magical thrill of being read a bedtime story and slipping off into dreamland. We think it’s unlike anything you will have seen before, so if you have an appetite for mind-bending new experiences, please come.

You can book tickets to Viola's Room in London, here.

No comments