On Friday 5th April, Boulder was performed at The Marlowe Studio for the very first time, featuring a reimagining of the Greek myth of Sisyphus through live music, animation and puppetry. In this showing, a curmudgeonly mechanical puppet struggles and strains to push a giant, burdensome boulder up a hill. Growing more and more exasperated and frustrated as time goes on, Sisyphys begins to feel shackled by the futility of his own existence. Robbed of meaningful purpose, how can he go on with living?
We spoke to the Canterbury-based director of Half a String, Peter Morton, to find out about more about the development of the show.
How would you describe Boulder?
Sisyphus is a being who is doomed with the impossible task of pushing an enormous boulder up a hill. I think that the show becomes about the process of him finding solace in the task and accepting that is his fate; eventually, he is able to find joy in the journey itself, rather than constantly struggling towards the top.
What drew you to this particular myth?
I always liked the image of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. I read the philosophical essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by Albert Camus – he speaks a great deal about getting to a place where instead of struggling for meaning in your life you enjoy the things around you. I think he refers to it as the ‘absurd hero’, and that’s who Sisyphus is the epitome of – although he can never complete his task, he can still enjoy his life. Although life may be fundamentally meaningless, we can still find joy in the struggle of it all. That became our starting point. At the beginning we struggled between telling the myth and the philosophy as they don’t really sit hand in hand as a story. If we stayed exactly true to the myth, we would have had Sisyphus coming from a place of having a family and a loving existence to being consumed in a dire struggle. We couldn’t get him to a place where he would accept his present situation within an hour! So we decided to develop him as our own character.
In the story, Sisyphus goes through a phase where he becomes suicidal. Do you see the Boulder as an expression of the weight of depression, or mental health issues more generally?
The first philosophy of Camus is that everybody or anybody can commit suicide if they choose to. If you haven’t, in a way you have already made a big decision. We needed him to see suicide as a possible way out and then choose against it. I think that the show has a lot of connotations with other themes, more generally. During the ‘shadow scene’ we see the Boulder as a heavy burden on his back, we see it as a literal weight on him. In the process, he must refocus and reconcile that pressure and learn how to deal with the pressure of his fate.
The puppeteers very much have their own characters in the show – how do you see them within the story?
We work with Avi Simmons, who is a songwriter whose music narrates the show. We call the puppeteers and musicians the ‘mountain nymphs’, although we never say that on stage. But they are the keepers of the realm – they use the music to document the journey and feel alongside Sisyphus. The animation opens out the world a little more so that we can see where he comes from and the wider landscape. It crossfades with live action – it becomes a method to really widen the world.
We use a half-scale puppet as the main Sisyphus and a giant boulder made of aluminium and wood. The boulder folds out into a hill so that we can do a mini-version of the events along the top of the boulder. There are five different versions of the puppets in the show, as Sisyphus becomes more and more battered by his experiences.
Where can people see the show next?
We will be performing tonight in the Studio at the Marlowe Theatre (6th April 2019) then onto Warwick Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August 2019).