1917 revisited

Jul 14 2017 | By More

A century isn’t so long in 1917: A Phantasmagoria

As the world focusses on the centenary of 1917 in terms of events during the First World War, Edinburgh-based actor and playwright Michael Daviot is looking at the year in a very different light.

1917: A Phantasmagoria, his new solo play for this year’s fringe, will mine deep into the events of the year of his mother’s birth. Illuminating not just her birth, however, or events in the trenches of Belgium, but what was happening all over the world at that time.

Poster image – Ash Pryce

“It’s about life,” says Daviot. “How the comic and tragic, silly and solemn, uplifting and degrading are constantly happening simultaneously, somewhere in the world. If you could step back and look at any year, any day, it would be a phantasmagoria of wildly conflicting, crazily juxtaposed deeds and events.

“It’s about how much and how little has changed in the intervening century. It’s about the inadvisability of looking back and sneering at previous ages.”

Having thought that he should mark what would have been his mother’s 100th birthday, Daviot looked at the year of her birth more thoroughly, and realised that there was a lot to tell that isn’t mainstream or accepted history.

“I take some satirical swipes at, for example, the ‘Storming of the Winter Palace’ and the ‘Fall of Jerusalem’,” he adds. “And I juxtapose a lynching in Tennessee with the Paris premiere of Parade, because that’s the big picture: sat in a posh theatre in Paris or clinging to a tree in Macon to watch a black man burning to death, at much the same time in the same year, you belong to, and see, very different versions of the world.

Big picture

“Both are real, but both are tiny parts of a vast phantasmagoria. So, in an hour, I give the audience a chance to absorb some sense of the big picture; not just the war, not just the home front, not just the western perspective.”

Poster image – Ash Pryce

Daviot first brought a play of his own to the Fringe in 1999, with Ultimate Islands, about Robert Louis and Fanny Stevenson. He first staged a solo show in 2014 – “mainly out of necessity”, he says, describing himself as “this strange one-man-bandit”.

That was Hyde & Seek (✭✭✭✭✩ On a Hyding to something), about his fifty year relationship with RLS. And last year he staged Nosferatu’s Shadow (✭✭✭✭✩ Clever) about Max Schreck, the actor who played Nosferatu in Murnau’s legendary 1922 movie.

Next year, he promises that if he’s not whisked off to a life of fame and riches he will finally, “after 15 years of scribbling, laying aside, scribbling etc.,” stage his long-gestated solo play about Antonin Artaud.

For now, however, 1917: A Phantasmagoria will encompass feminism, art, war, pop music, revolution, detective fiction, independence, racial violence, lovesick poets, protests and scientific wonders. Much as a phantasmagoria for 2017 would.

Woven through the show, however, giving it a semblance of a narrative spine, are short passages from Gustav Meyrink’s novel of 1917, Walpurgisnacht – a fitting choice for an actor who makes accessible, intelligent theatre that tells unfamiliar stories that deserve to be heard or familiar stories seen from an unfamiliar perspective.

Listing and links

1917: A Phanasmagoria
Sweet Holyrood, Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, EH8 8AU (Venue 94)
Thursday 3 – Sunday 27 August 2017
Daily (not Thurs 24/Fri 25): 4.15pm. (1 hour)
Tickets: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/1917-a-phantasmagoria

Facebook page: Daviot1917

Twitter: @MDaviot


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