The Laudanum Project: Grand Guignol Automaton

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The Laudanum Project: Grand Guignol Automaton

Think of your most graphic dream, your worst nightmare perhaps, and chances are it’s still not as vivid and evading as the story-telling by theatre group The Laudanum Project. We had a chat with Nick Ravenswood, one of the main men behind the group.
Hi Nick, thanks for taking the time to chat with Forte Magazine, how are you and what are you up to at the moment?
I’m really good thanks. At the moment I’m getting The Laudanum Project ready to do their last two shows of The Grand Guignol Automaton. We’ll be playing Castlemaine Gaol on the 10th of October and The Butterfly Club in Melbourne on the 31st of October. This has been our most extreme piece so far so we’ve had a huge amount of fun with it but it is finally time to put it to bed. With The Laudanum Project we are a bit like an old penny dreadful, there is always a new story just around the corner which means more scheming, writing and rehearsing.
First things first, how did you come across the story of Sandrine Moreaux?
Sandrine came out of my head. All of our stories do. With The Grand Guignol Automaton I wanted to write a story that took The Laudanum Project and their aesthetic into a place where they hadn’t been before and a large part of getting that right was about creating a central character that was female. Pretty much the whole of The Grand Guignol Automaton is about mirror image, self perception and how we can, very easily, invert what is reflected back at us both visually and emotionally. I felt it was really important that Sandrine needed to embody as many extreme opposites as possible. She is terrified yet courageous, she is beautiful yet believes she is ugly, she is innocent but has a worldliness beyond her years and most importantly of all, she is both victim and aggressor.
Your ‘Grand Guignol Automaton’ show is said to be your most nightmarish work yet, what makes that so?
I guess it’s got a lot to do with the graphic nature of the story. There is a large portion of the narration that deals with the intricacies of Sandrine’s self-harm and her rapid slide into mental collapse. When I first wrote the script I was determined to get an element of pornography into the poetry that laid Sandrine’s actions bare in a very real way. Having said that, I also wanted the surgical nature of the monologue to tip over into absurdity and become dreamlike and surreal which can end up being pretty unsettling for some people. There’s always been a confrontational quality to what we do but this show is kind of out on its own.
The character/narrator Alphonse Cheese-Probert makes another return in this show, how long did it take to perfect his personality/look?
Not Long. As a matter of fact, there are some that would say he came together way too easily! Alphonse is basically an amalgamation of my different childhood fears and nightmares, so you could say that he’s always been there.
Your shows have also been said to stick in the mind of viewers for quite a while, what would be your advice for first time attenders?
Pay close attention. There’s a lot going on and if you stop holding our hands you may well get lost. We’ve never been big on treating our audiences like fools so as a result we are able to paint pictures and tell stories in a way that is pretty unique. I think people find themselves dwelling on the shows afterwards because they are exposed to a level of intensity and atmosphere that is completely focused and unrelenting for the hour that they’re in their seats. I suppose it’s a little like having a really bad nightmare and recalling snippets of it the following day.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat with Forte Magazine, do you have any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers?
“For the storyteller to successfully extract and examine the ancient and shuddering organs of childhood terror he must first transform himself into a surgeon, an explorer and finally, an historian. Once the incision is made and the bulb of concealed memory is carefully pulled from the abdomen of the infantile subconscious, the soaking and primal map of human experience may at last be read. However there is a trick! A sly diversion. The flooded tributaries and tunnels of this freshly exposed viscera are not the ultimate holding cells of man’s reptilian dread. No indeed. To find this our adventurer must first go back to where it all started. He must return to the gaping wound that he himself inflicted, and peer inside. For it is within that black and empty pocket with its broken mountings and torn sinew where the essence of pure fear resides. It was present before thought, it was present before memory and it was present before consciousness. Some would say that it’s our life’s blood but the storyteller knows better. He always knows better.” – Alphonse Cheese-Probert
Thank you for having me/us.
When & Where: Old Castlemaine Gaol, Castlemaine – October 10 & The Butterfly Club, Melbourne – October 31