HIGHLIGHT: Interview with Emily Louizou

We sat down with Emily Louizou to discuss her company’s – Collide Theatre – latest production, The Coral. This is the first time Georg Kaiser’s play (part 1 of the Gas trilogy) will be played in the UK in over 100 years.

Collide has really come a long way since conception in 2015 – how have you found the journey of creating your own company and putting on productions you’re passionate about?

Long journey indeed! Since 2015, Collide has produced 3 site-specific promenade performances, and 2 black-box productions in London. I had the joy to direct all 5 of them, and to have been joined by more than 50 artists – ranging from scenographers to videographers, musicians and dancers – through the years. The process of creating a company – and consequently creating a show – is all about creating relationships and forming meaningful bonds. I am grateful to all the people who have given their time, energy, skills and talent since Collide’s inception. What I am also particularly excited about is how Collide’s creative leaders have always been female and first-generation migrants. With London as our shared basis and creative hub, Collide has been a family away from home. I am grateful to have had support from Arts Council England in the past, as well as from a long list of supporters without whom we wouldn’t be here today. Particularly for The Coral, and after 3 extremely difficult years because of the pandemic, it is a real privilege to be returning with our first ever long-run. 

The Coral hasn’t played in the UK for over 100 years and yet the themes couldn’t be more relevant in today’s world – how did you come across The Coral at the perfect time to revive it?

Neil McPherson – the Artistic Director of the Finborough – sent me Georg Kaiser’s trilogy (of which The Coral is the first part) a few months ago. As soon as I read the first part of the trilogy, I couldn’t believe that I was reading a play written in 1917. I was immediately hooked and started researching Kaiser’s life, the era he lived in, and how we could best adapt the play to make it work for a modern-day audience. 

Interestingly enough, Kaiser was Germany’s most successful and widely performed dramatist until 1933, when his works were forbidden by the Nazis. His books were burned, and in 1935 he was stripped of his German citizenship. When Kaiser was writing the Gas Trilogy (1917-1920), Europe had just come out of a deadly World War, the Russian Revolution had taken place, Darwin had introduced his Theory of Evolution, Marx had expressed his revolutionary thoughts on economic and social organisation, while Freud was diving into the subconscious by decoding dreams and Nietzsche suggesting that altruism wasn’t really a thing! A truly fascinating time.

The Coral carries all these philosophical and psychoanalytical ideas at its core – with Kaiser being both a visionary social critic and a prophetic nihilist.

I am very proud of the new version we are presenting at the Finborough this coming October. Having worked closely with dramaturg Quentin Beroud, and having studied both the original German text and the literal translation of B.J. Kenworthy, our production invites the audience on a nightmarish quest to find happiness in a corrupt and bleak world. 

What would you say to today’s generation – feeling burdened by their parents’ misdeeds – inheriting a world that is full of crisis?

It feels as if we are on a real tipping point. It is easy to blame our parents for their misdeeds and their ill choices, but the question is how to move forwards… Like the Daughter in The Coral, she is blaming – rightfully – her father for a world order which has been built on mortal hatred, oppression, exploitation and inequality. And without wanting to spoil the end of the play, I am deeply worried about where today’s generation is going to go: opt for violence or passive ignorance? 

Inheriting a world which is fundamentally problematic, people my age feel let down. But we are also faced with a scary paradox. On the one hand young people are struggling to make ends meet, to pay their bills and their rent – and on the other hand there is a real race to catch up with the latest iPhone, latest fashion trends, latest gadgets. We all want just a little bit more, and use social media as a way to compare ourselves to other people in similar situations, and measure whether we are rich or poor (happy or sad!) relative to them. I do wonder where this consumerist paranoia will lead. 

I don’t have any answers, let alone any real advice… But we are asking a lot of questions through The Coral!

Theatre has a tricky balance of challenging their audience whilst also keeping them engaged and entertained – how have you found a balance in this production – or is it one we’ll need the tissues for at the end?

In an era where audiences have access to so much great content and storytelling through the touch of a button (and from the comfort of their living rooms), we need to ask a fundamental question: what is it that will make someone take the time to commute and pay for a ticket for a story or show which might not be that good after all? Like in the ancient times, going to the theatre is something of a shared mystery, it is a ritual. So, theatre is not there to just offer entertainment (there is better media – in my opinion – that do that) but to offer a unique shared experience. For The Coral, like with past Collide productions too, we are creating an expressionist world which is not bound by the laws of realism: hypnotic, full of doppelgängers, illusions, and hidden doors. 

I personally think it would be stupid to try and do what TV and Film is already doing so well – so we choose to do what theatre can do like no other: play with ideas, transform bodies and spaces, take a live audience on a journey down the abyss of the human soul! 

Finally, can you leave us with your favourite quote from the play?

‘‘All the wrongs we do became obvious to me. The rich in our purified bubble – and everyone else choking in smoke and torment. We’ve no right to do it – why do we do it? Why? Give me one answer that absolves us?’’ 

– Older Daughter, The Coral 

What are your thoughts?