Isolation and humanity’s dark side: ‘Shining’

By Pablo Laguna who played Delbert Grady in Bath Spa Productions/David Glass Ensemble performance of ‘Shining’

 

On the afternoon of the 17th March we were told that the six remaining performances of Shining were cancelled. This decision was taken as a measure to combat COVID-19. After eight performances distributed across four days, this collaborative project presented by Bath Spa Productions and the David Glass Ensemble came to an end. Shining was our own revision and tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s film, based on Stephen King’s novel. Now, I can’t help but find irony in the fact that a piece which depicts the dangers of isolation was cancelled due to the population needing to go into lockdown. I guess there is life in theatre as much as there is theatre in life.

What I found most interesting about the process was how we made our own and unique interpretation of such a well-known classic. Because of how well written the script was, we started the process already having a story and the main dialogue. This advantage allowed us to focus on the different themes of the piece and dig deeper into the specific areas we felt were more interesting and resonant. When doing this, I personally believe we discover what was the most interesting aspect of the piece, how human and relatable the story of The Shining is. One of the ideas we tried to communicate was how the events that take place at the Overlook Hotel are not too far away from reality.

Wendy seems to have no idea of who she is as an individual except for trying to fit in the role of a stereotypical wife and mother. Jack is a sad middle-aged man married to a wife he doesn’t love and has a child who reminds him daily of how he is tied up in his marriage. He is a frustrated man full of insecurities. His inability to provide for his family, his sexual frustration, his constant failures when trying to write, thus making him feel like an incompetent masculine figure. These feelings and doubts echoed to us as an ensemble because they exist nowadays. Masculinity and femininity are terms which become more fluid and abstract every day and the incapacity to speak out and share our insecurities devour both the young and old.

However, had the family never traveled to the hotel, probably none of the horrible events they suffered would have happened. They would have remained trapped in a sad life but distracted by the noise and buzz of modern societies. Being isolated was what oriented Jack into madness. Isolation brought him silence and his own voice asking him the questions he had tried to escape. Isolation provides you with enough time to discover who you are instead of who society has tell you to be; thus leading to disturbing discoveries. It certainly did for Jack, as anger and insanity took over.

Of course, there were ghost and specters on Shining. Creating them during the rehearsals process was very interesting as I observed how different the responses can be. Often, we found how some moments and actions were laughed at by members of the ensemble while the audience watched them scared or unsettled. Like on the film, the specters were a vital part of the story as they guided Jack into the path of destruction. However, on Shining their portrayal was a different one compared to Kubrick’s. Our interpretation painted them as barely human, evil beings which have put on a costume which still can’t hide their true self. More importantly, on Kubrick’s version they could be seen as the driving force manipulating Jack, whereas in our adaptation we tried to make clear that they were the temptation, the apple, but it was Jack who decided to take a bite. This relates directly to one of the pieces main themes: it was a human being, not any paranormal force, who under a specific condition (isolation) gave himself into his most dark and violent instincts.

During the performance they could decide how close to the scenes they wanted to be and they also had a certain freedom to move around the stage. At the same time, we walked around them, directing them, interacting with them by grabbing their hands, whispering at their ears, etc. Allowing them to move freely around the space gave the audience an insight into Jack’s sense of isolation and being so close to the action made them feel the story more personal. However, they still knew they couldn’t do anything to save the family, just watch how it all went down. The audience weren’t just mere spectators but in a way they became members of the ensemble, which made it an immersive piece. Furthermore, I believe that it was the implementation of moveable set what helped us to achieve an immersive experience. During the piece, big pieces of sets (a kitchen, a bathroom) were moved around the space in order to initiate new scenes and to create a feeling of tension and insecurity. Even though the movement was choreographed so it was always safe for the audience and the actors, its frenetic quality forced the audience to be present and tense.

Shining is without doubt the biggest project I have been involved in. I am proud of having been a part of a piece which I can say is contemporary to our times and because of this, interesting. Every day throughout the process I learned at least one new lesson. I discovered many things about the actor’s craft, about what it means to be part of a professional production as well as the challenges and the many rewards it awards you with. I will always be grateful to all the team, made up by great professionals, who gave everything they had and to David for directing us.

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