NOT many people would dare to stage a theatrical performance inside the mind of a girl in a coma – but Mark Murphy loves a challenge.
You’ve probably seen one of his shows without realising it. A master of major spectacles – he was the brains behind many a European Capital of Culture opening show and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony which included a cast of 1,500, including Kylie Minogue.
For a decade he wowed audiences with events mounted on a global scale. But now, he’s bringing the show inside. If you think theatre is not for you, Murphy says his new production, Out Of This World, will change your mind.
He says it’s about taking back control (a phrase we’ve heard a lot of recently).
“With big events you have so many people involved, so many hoops to jump through and usually only one chance to get it right,” he explains. “I love them, but it’s great to get back to a form where I have a hand in everything.”
Out Of This World is a mix of theatre, film, music, aerial movement and medical dilemmas that challenge the audience. With a cast of five led by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Swire, the action unfolds as the audience takes a journey through the mind of a woman locked in a coma following a car accident.
“She’s given a choice,” Murphy says of his heroine. “She wants to get away from the trauma and the pain – but in doing so, is faced with either losing her life or her love.”
Murphy cut his creative teeth as director and choreographer of V-TOL, the dance company which found fame in the 1990s with shows like Headshot, 32 Feet Per Second Per Second and Without Trace.
V-TOL’s shows were renowned for visceral thrills and challenging subject matter and Out Of This World is true to that template. Without giving too much away, the story centres on the moral choices the central character faces as she hovers on the thin line between life and death.
Murphy insists: “It’s a rehearsal for what life could be and touches on a moral dilemma – how far will you go to be with the one you love?”
It’s a tough challenge to bring it into a very 21st century theatrical spectacle, but he draws on both his dance roots and elements from his events work to get it right. He’s setting his sights high, saying his ambition is to create an all-consuming experience.
“I want the audience to be barely able to breathe, I want them to have the time of their lives,” he says matter-of-factly.
Using his celebrated mix of scripted dialogue, breath taking aerial movement, large-scale projection and muscular staging – the audience experiences the chaos that ensues after Ellen’s injured brain literally takes over the show.
Murphy picked the brains (ha!) of a neuro-surgeon and air ambulance doctor to get the medical procedures spot on, and adds: “If I could have had any other career, it would have to have been emergency medicine.”
He promises eye-dazzling visuals and sophisticated scenarios, but says at its most basic Out Of This World operates on a simple emotional level – it’s a love story.
“It’s about a time when two people who love each other have to face a life changing moment,” says Murphy. “The moment they have to let go…”
Out Of This World will be at G Live in Guildford on Friday 2 June.