Ahead of The Bloomshed’s show ‘The Nose’ on Friday and Saturday night, we decided to take a few moments to talk with director and writer James Jackson—you’ll also spot him in the two shows as an actor.
For those unaware, ‘The Nose’ is a retelling of Nikolai Gogol’s infamous story. The Bloomshed has brought the tale into the modern-age, making it relatable, startling and an excellent commentary on a society obsessed with appearances.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with CHYA, how has the show been going so far?
We’ve had a really great time performing the show in Sydney and Melbourne and the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive. The best responses we’ve had have come from people who have never seen live theatre before. It’s great to see that we’re actually getting people interested in the form.
This work is a high-octane endurance piece, so I have to admit our bodies are pretty sore after three weeks of it, but we’re super excited to be performing at CHYA.
So far you’ve performed in Melbourne and Sydney, what made you decide to show regionally in Geelong?
There are a number of reasons. Tom is a Geelong boy and so we thought we should do a season down here—not only for his friends and family, but to pay homage to the city where we rehearsed The Nose. But it also stems from a feeling we share that Geelong is rapidly becoming Victoria’s most exciting cultural hub. The decision to revitalise Geelong’s art precinct proves to us that there’s an interest in creative work here. Last but not least, we want to keep performing the show in as many places as we can—even if it’s for our own experience and enjoyment—so when the offer arose we couldn’t refuse.
How important is it to visit these regional towns?
Absolutely essential. There’s a glut of work being made (and overlooked) in Melbourne, work that would be more appreciated in regional cities like Geelong. I think our task as artists is to reach as many people as we can. The Bloomshed began out of a backyard shed in the suburbs. When we were there, our aim was to connect with the local community. Over the years, I don’t think we’ve lost that ambition.
What drew you to retell the story of Nikolai Gogol’s the Nose?
I think it began from laughter at the absurdity of it. A man wakes up one morning to find that his nose has disappeared. The story is a strange combination of tragedy and farce, which I find very attractive. Personally, I’m interested in stories that are a little bit ambiguous in that way. Stories that sit awkwardly between two things.
Given you are reimagining the story, what kind of differences can audience members expect for those who are familiar with the original?
We took a pretty ‘fast and loose’ approach to adapting the story. Gogol’s original served as a starting point, a series of plot points from which our critique of society emerged. Those who are familiar with the original will recognise some of the settings in which the original takes place as well as some of the characters. We’ve amplified certain aspects of the original to an absurd degree. We’ve also cut a lot. Strangely enough, I think Gogol would be pretty happy to see where his story has been taken. All we’ve done is updated The Nose to suit our hyperactive hyper-mediatised age.
As a director and writer, is there a challenge when working with an existing story in what to keep or alter?
I think we’re all brought up with this idea that the author has authority over their work and that it’s disrespectful to play with it. It can be difficult to shed yourself of that preconception. Lots of people don’t like to see Shakespeare’s plays cut down to one hour. It can be hard to get the balance right—between respecting the original work and adapting it to suit the ‘now’.
In adapting The Nose, we never felt any fidelity towards the original. All we were doing was using it as a springboard. Or, to use one of my favourite metaphors, we cannibalised it and made something totally new. Those who are familiar with the original should be able to see how the original ideas in the story have been altered and grown into something completely new. I think that adds a level of pleasure to witnessing the work. But we wanted to make a work that stood on its own—that audiences could enjoy without having read the original.
The show comments on a society obsessed with appearance, given that and the rise of social media, do you feel the show is more relevant than ever?
I’m frightened by the direction we’re headed. It seems that the ancient adage ‘Know Thyself’ has been replaced with the modern mantra ‘Express Thyself’. It feels like our era has turned everything inside out – what is kept inside is now outside and vice versa. To be obsessed with appearance is to be obsessed with surface, and that way of thinking spells a death to critical engagement with the world, not to mention ‘deep thought,’ which we’ve desperately needed since 1975.
Multiple performers act the various personalities of the “CEO”, what were the thoughts behind this decision?
It works on a few levels. Firstly, we wanted to suggest that this character, Kovalev (the CEO), is not just one person but many different people. He is the embodiment of a particular ideology prevalent in the west. Kovalev is the neoliberal hero, the representation of the dominant way of seeing the world. All of us have an aspect of Kovalev within us. It’s ingrained. Secondly, on a more practical level, it was interesting to watch how each of us brought something different to the role – each us of play Kovalev differently and I think for an audience that makes the character more engaging, more interesting to watch.
For those on the fence in seeing the show, what would you say to convince them?
This is a five star show that’s been loved by people who claim to “hate” theatre. Even in the unlikely event that you don’t enjoy it – the show only goes for an hour!
Tickets are available for the Friday, August 10 and Saturday, August 11 shows at Courthouse Youth Arts. Purchase your tickets via the website.
Image via The Bloomshed.