Co-produced by Marche Teatro and CAST. Supported by Arts Council England, Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University and Theatre by the Lake.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written at a time of hope, at the turn of the 20th century, is considered one of the greatest novels written in the English language. Charles Marlow, the captain of a riverboat, sails up the Congo, deep into Africa, in search of the ivory trader, Mr Kurtz. The journey, at first an adventure into the unknown, becomes a voyage of realisation of the horrors of imperialism and a journey into the self – into the heart of darkness that lies within us all. Conrad’s vision of the horrifying brutality of European colonialism, is the starting point for imitating the dog’s production. Looking back, more than 100 years later, we see in the novel a foretelling of the horrors of the 20th century, the dehumanising effects of imperialist greed and lust for power and forewarning of continuing and countless horrors in our current century. In a time of fake news and Brexit, for a generation sanitised to the atrocities of war and genocide, it is a story that matters, very much a story for now.
Often considered as the first modern novel, Heart of Darkness has inspired several adaptations, most famously Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Apocalypse Now, and influenced other genres, including Raymond Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe. However, it has rarely been adapted for the stage. One of the problems facing any adaptation is the way that Conrad’s represents Africa and the indigenous peoples he encountered in his attempt to describe their brutal enslavement and exploitation. He only gives voice to white characters and the indigenous peoples are often presented as ‘savage’. This new stage adaptation takes Conrad’s original narrative, its language, themes and characters and weaves them with the works it inspired, re-siting the heart of darkness to a timeless, forsaken Europe. This version flips our expectations on their head, and sees a lead female protagonist, a woman of colour, set out in search of our modern-day Kurtz.
Three men and three women enter the stage and sit at tables. Three projection screens hang above them, as they prepare to rehearse an adaptation of Heart of Darkness. They argue about the novel, its history and its contents, debating how best to adapt the text and make it a story for our times. Individuals from diverse backgrounds challenge a straightforward adaptation and propose new ways to imagine the story. The river Congo is relocated into the twisting motorways of Europe and finally the River Thames. Africa is described as stable and Europe war torn and savage providing an extraordinary reversal of the original story. As the characters on stage progress with their version, a new Heart of Darkness is revealed on the screens above their heads, rewritten from their imaginations, blurring the lines where the film ends and the live action begins. And as the narrative unfolds on the stage so does the story of the tellers who pursue new friendships and unleash new conflicts in their attempt to retell Conrad’s epic and controversial tale.
Negotiating race, gender and the themes of exploitation, violence and nationalism imitating the dog’s Heart of Darkness is a searing parable for our times, created at a moment when versions of Britain’s colonial past seems to be being held up as a golden era and when our relationship to Europe is being severely tested.
imitating the dog have an international reputation as storytellers and digital innovators. Their 2014 adaptation of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was a popular and critically acclaimed success. As the company become an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation in 2018, their production of Heart of Darkness marks a new phase in the company’s development. Made in collaboration with Marche Teatro, it will open in Italy, coming to the UK in late Autumn 2018 and touring mid-scale venues in Spring 2019.