Writer and performer Annie Siddons presents this story of brotherhood, loss, incarceration, escape, survival, desire, art and resilience.
Raymondo and Sparky have been locked in the cellar underneath their house for six years. An accident involving a pigeon enables their escape. But do the brothers have the requisite skills to survive a haphazard and cruel world?
Tell us about the genesis of the show. Were you interested in how people adapt to the outside world after years of captivity – or inspired by the spate of news stories of this kind from a few years ago?
Yeah, a lot of people have asked me that. It’s interesting how life and art sometimes imitate each other (see also Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and the recent ‘Piggate’).
But actually no, not really. The boys come from an abusive background and I had personal reasons for wanting to explore that – but the cellar is also a metaphor for being trapped or limited by circumstance, and having a tiny life through no fault of your own.
I’m interested in the idea, popular right now, that there is some kind of level playing field and that success is simply down to hard work, and failure down to some moral failing or fecklessness. It’s a false idea that leads to a deeply selfish society. We’re all interconnected, and we have responsibility for each other, and some people have a profoundly bad start that holds them back, no matter how hard they try.
That all sounds a bit bleak, and the show touches on some bleak things but I feel duty bound to say that it’s also absolutely hilarious. You might cry, but you will laugh also.
What is it about their new-found freedom that the brothers most struggle with?
They are free – but they still have so little autonomy or control over their existence. They’re still totally vulnerable to the vagaries of the outside world and dependent on that world not being hostile to them, which obviously, being the world, it is.
But they do encounter beautiful things as well – simple kindness, love, adventure and japes, and they grow into incredible human beings despite their unpromising beginnings.
Aside from your storytelling, the show features an atmospheric live score of guitars, loops and keyboard. What does the music contribute?
I wanted to make a really stripped-back show that comprised only a few elements. The writing is very visual so I decided not to add an overwhelming visual element. I’m not a fan of shows that do all the work for you as an audience member, leaving no gaps for you to fill with your own mind and experience.
The music counterpoints, enhances and comments on the story. It’s a story full of massive contrasts and I think the music accentuates that. Marcus Hamblett’s score is sometimes really delicate, and sometimes a bit more punchy. I’m so pleased with the music. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The show is demanding to do – physically and emotionally – and the music sort of carries me through.
Marcus is a wizard. He’s from Bristol, actually. We met because I became an insane fangirl of one of his bands, an incredible 13-piece dark orchestral folk band called Sons of Noel and Adrian. I kept going to gigs and being absolutely mindblown by the sound and emotion of the band and its textural complexity.
Sounds like quite a few moods and emotions thread through the piece – fear, humour, love, bewilderment… does any one emotion carry the day?
Love – of all kinds – romantic love, fraternal love, and maternal love. And art – in its broadest sense. I’m absolutely not saying everyone has to be artists, just that we all need that sense of creativity and purpose.
Also resilience. Raymondo is absolutely determined to survive, to continue, even when absolutely all the odds are stacked against him. I sort of admire him for that because I don’t think I have always been that tough myself. That’s the brilliant thing about creating characters, they can be better or worse versions of yourself.
Also, the boys also have a sense of wonder at the world – and that idea of seeing everything through fresh eyes (as they literally do, as they have been locked in a cellar), is a useful one in a world of instant gratification and overstimulation.
Is there much humour too?
I think the humour is more in the storytelling than in the content of the story, although Sparky, Raymondo’s younger brother, is clearly a comedy genius. Raymondo feels responsible, so he doesn’t have that much time to make gags – and he’s also a teenager and in love, so he’s a bit more serious. But for me as a maker of work, humour is absolutely paramount. The bleaker the situation, the more important it is to be able to laugh at it.
Raymondo by Annie Siddons is at Bristol Old Vic from Tuesday, September 29 to Saturday, October 3. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/raymondo.html