I Remember All, a spectacular new film and performance work staged at The Harris Museum and Art Gallery by Maeve Rendle, was inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Continuing her research into literary and dramatic moments of transcendence, Rendle has taken fragments of a monologue from The Seagull to create a new, looping script that resonates powerfully with the present cultural and political moment
The monologue is from a play within the play written by the central character Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov. Tired of the status quo in modern theatre, Konstantin’s experimental new work is performed to friends and family against the backdrop of a misty lake at dusk, using the natural landscape and elemental conditions with limited special effects.
In Konstantin’s play, aspiring young actress Nina plays the Soul of the World, a mythical character whose adversary the Devil prevents any new life from springing forth. Nina is in awe of the theatrical establishment, represented in the scene by Konstantin’s mother, herself a famous actress, and the feted novelist Trigorin. Whether a result of stage fright or poor acting skills, Nina rushes through an epic monologue describing the succession of barren millennia that will pass before spirit and matter unite in wondrous harmony.
In a conversation about I Remember All, Rendle recalls the moment where, in a recent stage version of The Seagull, she waited for Nina’s monologue with baited breath only to find that it was rattled off in a hurry, its allegorical power wasted. In print, the monologue tears itself off the page. On stage, it seems to be a device to reveal Konstantin’s artistic heroism, Nina’s naivety and the dismissive attitude of an impervious audience. In a discussion at The International 3 last year, Rendle described the moments of epiphany that catalyse her work. Whether arising in the process of reading a novel, seeing a play, or through some other lived experience, a moment of involuntary recognition signals to the artist that something requires attention. Her initial task, she suggests, is to extend the moment in time and space so that it can be properly explored.
I Remember All stretches Chekhov’s text out by putting it on repeat in the mouth of Scottish actress Nicola Ferguson who, in a sense, plays both Nina and the Soul of the World, creating layer upon layer of interpretation and performance that echoes the repeating, mutating cycle of life described in the text. As Nicola attempts to deliver her looping monologue a second time, a chorus of mezzo-sopranos launch into the familiar but unexpected backing melody of Lou’s Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. What results is one of those game-changing moments in art when two things you never imagined together are now fused into an indivisible new whole.
This is an extract from Experiments in Epiphany, commissioned by The International 3. The full text can be viewed at www.international3.com
I Remember All was commissioned by The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, with additional support from the University of Central Lancashire and The International 3.