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Interview with director Alexander Devriendt

12 April 2015 Alice Westoby

'Five performers. Five rounds. Your vote. One survivor’. - London Calling spoke to artistic director of Ontroerend Goed, Alexander Devriendt, ahead of the run of their show Fight Night at the Unicorn Theatre.

London Calling: Ontroerend Goed produce work which invites the audience to both participate and observe, how does this occur in Fight Night?

Alexander Devriendt: Really simply! When each audience member enters the venue they get a voting device. The audience are the protagonists in the play.

LC: The audience are given voting key pads while the actors on stage battle for their approval, only one can win – tell us more about the interactive technology used in the piece?

AD: It was the most expensive thing the company has ever bought! It works wirelessly and it works really smoothly. In the beginning we were thinking about sending messages with your phone, or doing something physical, but then we found this technology called Power Vote that works really fast.

LC: Is there anything about the piece that has been altered in reference to the fact that the run at The Unicorn coincides with the UK general elections in May?

AD: No, because we have done this a couple of times now. When we performed in Adelaide and Hong Kong, there were upcoming general elections. In Belgium, it was also premiered close to elections, so the form of it is open enough that it doesn’t need to be altered. Of course, small things can creep in. The format of the show wasn’t to talk about Belgian or my own politics. We are working together with Border Project – a company from Australia, where the election process is similar to the UK and Westminster system of doing things, where Belgium is more of a multi party system, so you have these two perspectives working together that the show resonates to.

LC: How will coming to The Unicorn, a children’s theatre, change the piece?

AD: I do expect more young people to come, so I’m curious. We’ve already performed it around 80 times, a couple of times for teenagers, and in different countries, so I kind of know what to expect but I’m always happy to see what happens.

LC: You’ve performed at The Unicorn previously in 2013 with shows such as Teenage Riot and All That is Wrong, is it good to be back?

AD: Of course! Especially because I like what is happening at The Unicorn, I like what Purni Morell (Artistic Director at The Unicorn) is trying to do by making it about the theatre. I don’t like the divide between youth theatre or adult theatre.

I don’t like to think in these brackets and I’m glad The Unicorn makes this choice also. Fight Night is a show you can appreciate from the moment you think about voting, so I’m glad Purni programmes to open up these possibilities.

LC: The audience participation element is being developed further this time by the post show talks, chaired by well known political commentators Mishal Hussain (Unicorn Ambassador) and Rick Edwards (T4 Presenter) – how do you feel that open discussion will be encouraged after?

AD: Well, to be honest, for me that is just beautiful as you only make theatre so people will talk and think about it after.

I do have to say for instance that in Britain there’s not really this atmosphere of going to the bar after the theatre and talking about it, whereas that’s really deeply engrained in Flemish culture. It’s not even about people taking about the show; I don’t care, as long as they talk about democracy or voting or whatever they believe in. So for me these post show talks kind of channel that and I’m really happy that they are happening.

LC: What would you like the young Londoners who come along and watch Fight Night to take away with them?

AD: That they think before they vote and that they really think about their vote.

LC: And finally, do you ever feel tempted to join in the voting during Fight Night?

AD: I always do! The show doesn’t make sense if you’re not part of the voting process, so every time I watch my own show, I just blend in and vote for whoever I feel wins my vote.

Fight Night is showing at the Unicorn Theatre from 16th April – 3rd of May, for tickets visit their website. 

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