Visual Artist Vlatka Horvat talks about 'The Possible Impossible House'

Monday, 04 April 2016 23:00 | Posted by 

Internationally acclaimed visual artist Vlatka Horvat talks about creating the world of  'The Possible Impossible House'  (Fri 8 - Sat 9 Apr) 

"For me, the thrill of The Possible Impossible House comes from the surprising and perhaps unlikely meeting that the piece stages – between the performers, the projected characters and locations, and the sound effects produced live on stage. These three elements work together to summon a world inside a shifting house, which abounds with the seemingly endless corridors and spiral staircases and with rooms inhabited by a motley crew of colourful characters.

The characters and locations inside this unusual house are depicted using a mixture of crudely hand-drawn doodles and computer-manipulated photographs. We collaged these together to create a kind of a home-made, jumbled aesthetic that allowed us to conjure the sense of strange and shifting spaces full of surprises, where things aren’t necessarily what they appear when you first encounter them. The visual world in the piece is hinted at rather than fully fleshed out – we were hoping to create and open up a space for the audience to actively engage in the building of the world of the piece by imagining things and connecting the fragmentary visuals into their own version of the possible impossible house.

The story of the piece is structured as a journey through the labyrinthine building. Together with the narrator and the story’s protagonist – we are taken on an exploration of the house, meeting its unexpected inhabitants along the way: a girl who is a doodle come to life from the pages of an algebra book, a hungry mouse who is willing to trade some useful information about the house in exchange for some cheese, a not-very-frightening ghost, an army of soldiers who are keen to appear tough but who are secretly practicing their dance routine, a snoring rhinoceros who turns out to be afraid of a spider, a deep-sea diver, a warrior princess, a meandering skeleton...

As we worked on the show, trying to find the right feel for the piece, I think one of the most important moments was discovering that we didn't have to project the visuals onto a large central screen, but that we could project them onto pieces of cardboard, which the performers would hold in their hands and use to “catch” the characters and objects, as though these were appearing from thin air. This gesture of performers finding images in the air by slipping a piece of card underneath them, giving them a temporary surface to occupy, added quite a bit of magic to the world we wanted to build. It really helped us create a sense of surprise and conjure a house in which unexpected things might happen: where rooms would multiply, where a cupboard would turn out to be a lift, where a shabby dark corridor would end up leading to the most spectacular ballroom…

I’m quite fond of a lot of the characters in the show, but my favourite would have to be the comically mean birds – swarming around our protagonist – who seem intent on keeping all humans out of the attic, as the attic is – according to them – an area designated for ‘birds only’. I also love the hopping sheep, which make only a brief appearance in the show – we catch a glimpse of them as the protagonist and the narrator open and quickly close the door to the room they occupy – but even in that brief appearance, they make quite an impression!

Watching the show with the audience, I though that the children seem to particularly love the final scene, which takes place in a grandiose ballroom projected onto a grid of cardboard boxes assembled in great haste by the narrator. In this scene, many of the characters we’ve encountered in the house come back for a big dance number, and very often there will be a collective “wow” coming from the auditorium when the projection of the ballroom first appears on grid of cardboard boxes.

It’s really great to see that this kind of lo-fi, decidedly scrappy and unpolished visual vocabulary can produce a response of amazement and awe, especially as we are all accustomed to the spectacular computer generated images and the CGI prevalent in film, video games, and cartoons. So it’s really heartening to see the audiences for 
The Possible Impossible House – children and adults alike – respond with such enthusiasm to our story conjured with the home-made visual magic and analogue, on-stage produced sound effects".

The Possible Impossible House comes to Unity Theatre Fri 8  - Sat 9 April.  To book your seats click here!

Scott Fulton

Scott is the Unity's Digital Officer.