Wed 29 Oct 2008 to Sat 12 Dec 2009
Have you ever read a book that changed your life?
One day in the Spring of 2007, we happened upon an extraordinary book. It was to obsess us, in various ways, for months to follow. We bought six or seven copies of it and insisted that our friends read it. Some of them did, and joined us in our obsession. We posted it to acquaintances who concluded that we were mad. We mislaid our own copies and suspected each other of stealing them. We became fascinated with random objects, felt the need to go on long walks, and began to invest even the smallest things with great significance.
That book was The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald. It is the story of a man who went for a walk. Our show will not tell you that same story – instead it will tell the stories of five people who see the world differently since they read it, who witness the world through its pages. i–witness is the story of our obsession.
Catherine is fanatical about the things no-one notices.
Paul plays music to keep the silence at bay.
Philip has not been sleeping well since he read it.
Fern is hypnotized by the rhythm of endless walking.
Meet our troubled quintet as they attempt to entertain, persuade, amaze and unsettle you with curiosities, discoveries, observations and performances. They are preoccupied by the past, adrift in the present, and terrified of the future. They might try to baffle you with [mirrors and] puzzles, make you laugh, or shock you with their honesty. They invite you to laugh at them, cry with them, wonder what on earth they think they’re doing, and to see the world a bit differently than you did before.
“In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk…”
i–witness takes you on a journey that begins in the footsteps of Sebald’s narrator.
Former MP Chris Smith, now president of the Ramblers’ Association, said recently that a good long walk is fun, not something to be feared. Really? We will be sending him a copy of The Rings of Saturn.
Sebald is a keen observer with a melancholic turn of mind. He doesn’t really do “fun”. What he does do is make connections. Using history, memory and association, he finds that there is no place and no object which does not lead us somewhere else. We find ourselves transported from crumbling English seaside resorts, suddenly deep in the Belgian Congo or in the silk houses of a Chinese Empress. The exotic charm and sumptuous detail of Sebald’s mental journeys is savagely disrupted by the casual and endemic brutality that is always just around the corner or just below the surface. Stomach-churning atrocities and quaint curiosities are related in the same dispassionate tone, with the strange effect that this detached and erudite prose is saturated with violence. Although fascinated by history, Sebald never directly mentions the Holocaust. He doesn’t need to – it is present everywhere by implication and analogy.
Our show is not really about walking, or Suffolk, or what Europeans did in the Congo. It is about connections and traces, and finding beauty when the threat of destruction threatens to paralyse and suffocate. We have set out on our own journeys – to explore for ourselves and make our own connections. Each person in the show has responded differently to this unique book, and i–witness is the dialogue between them. It is a show about how powerfully some books can affect us.
i–witness is inspired by the work of WG Sebald, particularly The Rings of Saturn (Vintage, 2002) translated by Michael Hulse.
Cast: Catherine Bennett; Paul Davies; Philip Ralph; Fern Smith.
Assistant Director: John Hardwick
Designer: Gerald Tyler
Director of Photography: Lucy Cash
Photographs by Jonathan Littlejohn and Erich Talbot