Rhythm & Values: Elinor Randle

R&V is a mixed series of long and short investigative reads focusing on those within the Northwest scene that are having to move to their own rhythm to make waves in the industry. Here we highlight the practices and experiences of these rulebreakers to show where the industry can change for the better, and why we should value what they’re doing.


Growing up in Machynlleth, Wales, Elinor Randle decided to study and subsequently set her roots here in Liverpool. I sit down with Randle to talk about physical theatre, steering from the conventional and the ordinary, and Liverpool’s very own Physical Fest. Reflecting on when she started making her own work after studying, Randle recognised the importance of support and how the organisations that aided her ambitions were now closed, and other financial and artistic avenues had become either less accessible or ceased to exist altogether. In 2003 Randle went on to found still the only physical theatre company in Liverpool, Tmesis Theatre. Since then, Randle has toured the company internationally, in part to influence others, but also to broaden her own scope of the art form itself. Over time, those same organisations that helped her have unfortunately closed, so Randle went on to design support programmes and offer bursaries through the Tmesis Training Company to help local artists form their first professional steps. “As an artist, I am a firm believer in continuous education and growth, there is no final form, and it is this work that allows me, and so many others, that avenue to continue learning and applying it to the productions I am a part of.”


To generate further access and understanding of physical theatre, Randle subsequently started Physical Fest, in which this year will be running from the 29th June to the 7th July right here in Liverpool. The event started out in 2005 as a workshop festival bringing those from other parts of the world from her travels to
Liverpool to create a space in which the craft could be displayed. In the seventeen years since its conception, Randle has evolved the biennial festival to include performances showcasing Liverpool’s numerous venues and theatres, and also to encourage community involvement through its stalwart workshops over the nine-day arts celebration. “From local, to national, to international, the festival is an out of the ordinary opportunity for the physical theatre community and the community as a whole to come together, network, and of course watch and be inspired and influenced by other’s performances.”


To further my understanding of physical theatre, I was granted access to rehearsals of the opening show Sealskin which will be directed by Randle and also Tmesis Theatre’s first time putting a production on for the festival. Sealskin is an old tale of the sea about Selkies, mythological seal like creatures that can shed their skin to resemble human form on land. A story that starts with a fisherman’s discovery of their secret, the theft of a Selkie’s skin, and the betrayal and consequences that follow. Sealskin will also feature live music performed by the acoustic folk duo, me + deboe. Though directed clearly by Randle, whilst watching her and the other artists work it was equally a collaboration of suggestions, listening and experimentation. Most workplaces come with at times heavy strokes of ego, reminding those within the space that there is a hierarchy and whether you like it or not, you are part of it. Though, in this space it felt like everyone involved was equal in their contribution so that the final piece would bare a clear resemblance of cohesion. All the while, I was swiftly reminded at times of Randle’s moored control, making sure the creative anchor stayed firmly on the ground, so not to drift too far from the focus of the project.

Now, before interviewing Randle, I admit I didn’t have a working perception of what physical theatre was. Since our conversation and watching the company work, it feels that vulnerability is at the core of it, an excision of ego and an expression of the self. The physical theatre artist dips into a realm of emotional animation that most would find difficult to reach, or at the very least too self-conscious to attempt. It allows the audience to vicariously tap into that vulnerability. They do it, so you don’t have to. Every muscle contraction is finely paired with intention, so not to let slip to the audience that these movements have been practiced hundreds of times in the countless rehearsals preceding the performance. As if for it to perfectly portray that the performer themselves are effectuating a natural momentary act for the first time, as if they’re not being watched. Though, the stigma that follows and lingers is that physical theatre is not accessible to be understood by the general public, that it is simply ‘too weird’. This was passionately debunked by Randle as she explained that “there is nothing more natural than movement. And that works around the world are becoming too safe, almost creating a sheltered bubble for people to sit in, pushing us further away from being able to feel able to express.” As it is common knowledge, projects small and large are becoming more difficult than ever to make and produce, and as a by-product of that, original works are becoming more commercialised for the sake of success and sales.


Furthermore, previous successful works are simply being rehashed and recycled in order for artists, all the way up to the production companies, to stay afloat. “Less risks are being taken than ever, the most important thing about the festival for me is to bring art that would not usually be here in Liverpool, and to make sure that it stays accessible.” It is the more provocative, less safe work, that allows change and influence in the arts after all. Physical Fest has formed itself into a beacon for freedom of expression, a platform in which these performances can shine through and receive the heightened recognition they deserve. Amongst these productions is a ‘not so typical’ clown show CHOOSH! performed by an award-winning, brilliantly skilled physical comedy artist from Estonia called Julia Masli. Another being the Duda Paiva Company of the Netherlands performing Blind, a performance with handcrafted puppet props portraying a personal reflection of disability, trauma, and rejection. There will also be a special performance from the award-winning American Dr. Brown. Returning from an eleven-year hiatus Brown brings his internationally renowned silent clown show to the Invisible Wind Factory to close the festival’s performances. And of course, as it started and as it continues, the festival will be peppered with workshops for anyone interested in learning about and experiencing the art form for themselves.


Meeting Randle allowed me to peer into a world of the arts that I did not know existed. One of which reignited my knowing of the arts and of artists that whether they make money from it or not has no real bearing on whether they will create art or not. It is an innate pining to transform inner currents of creation into a, most of the time, tangible reality. It does not have to be seen to be real for the artist, but it makes it easier for themselves and onlookers to understand it if they can channel that force into something translatable. To finalise my point as to why it is that we should value not only Randle’s unwavering efforts representation in physical theatre, but of art itself, Rick Rubin in his book The Creative Act: A Way of Being writes, “By conventional definition, the purpose of art is to create physical and digital artifacts. To
fill shelves with pottery, books, and records. Though artists generally aren’t aware of it, that end work is a by-product of a greater desire. We aren’t creating to produce or sell material products. The act of creation is an attempt to enter a mysterious realm. A longing to transcend. What we create allows us to share glimpses of an inner landscape, one that is beyond our understanding. Art is our portal to the unseen world.”


Physical Fest will run from 29 th June to 7 th July, to check out the brochure and to book tickets to the events please click here.