I remember hearing the name ‘Frantic Assembly’ for the first time. It was Thursday night at my drama group and someone mentioned them in passing. Suddenly, others from across the room began to chime in with I love them! or I’ve seen them live! It seemed the whole group had heard of them, whilst I stood there thinking, who? A few months later I found myself sat in the Sheffield Crucible theatre, watching the play Beautiful Burnout with goose bumps running up my arms and tears running down my cheeks. I was utterly entranced.
The company embraces physicality as a powerful instrument in storytelling. From the beginning of a show, a kinaesthetic energy is formed that thumps between actor and audience. It is bodily movement that creates the story through a physical language that goes beyond words. Unique amongst physical theatre groups, Frantic Assembly do not simply forsake dialogue for movement. They work closely with leading writers from around the world to craft stories, making the physical aspect of their performances are very much rooted in communication. The atmospheric energy of each show is designed to snatch the watcher’s attention from the moment the audience enter the theatre, and holds it hungrily until departure. They make poetry out of movement and movement out of words, sculpting theatre that is both tangible and visceral.
At the genesis of the company were three Swansea University students, Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and Vicki Middleton, who took up acting as a hobby between their degrees in 1991. Inspired by chaos, the name was forged by frantic preparations in the lead up to the 1992 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After two years’ success in Edinburgh, they decided to move away from the fringes of theatre and wrote a business plan for a new type of physically vibrant performance. In 1994, Frantic Assembly was born. Since then, the ever expanding company has produced a wide range of physical theatre productions, including Othello, Beautiful Burnout and a collaboration with National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Frantic Assembly is constantly on the move to create something new and relevant. The company motto ‘always forwards, never backwards’ encapsulates their eagerness for progression. They seek to take theatre by the waist and spin it high in the air, so that gold coins will spill out of its pockets. They are searching for new treasures in performance and are vividly aware of the value of the human body in conveying a story beyond the reach of words.
Currently on tour is Things I Know to be True, a collaboration between Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia. It is a play that explores the tense dynamic of family and the scope and detail of what it means to love. The tour comes to York Theatre Royal from 31st October to 4th November.