Gloriator: bravery, honour, and costumes made out of cardboard

Adapting films to the theatre stage is always a daunting feat whatever the subject or the context. Adapting a blockbuster hit like Gladiator is a challenge beyond reckoning. However, this is exactly what French actress Gloria Delaneuf and her UK tour manager Josephine Cunningham have undertaken in their creation of Gloriator. The production values might not be quite in the same league as Ridley Scott’s cinematic epic…but their comedy fueled partnership is epic nonetheless! We talked to Pauline Morel (Gloria Delaneuf) and Susie Donkin (Josephine Cunningham) of Spitz & Co. about their journey to the stage.

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Can you tell us a bit about Gloriator and your journey from the idea to the stage?

PAULINE MOREL: Gloriator is a about a pretentious French actress Gloria Delaneuf who decides to stage her own version of Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator with the help of her over-enthusiastic British Tour Manager – Josephine Cunningham.

SUSIE DONKIN: Pauline and I had never worked together before; a lot of the journey from the idea to the stage has been about getting to know each other.  We’re both very different – Pauline is incredibly organised and I am chaotic – and there have been ups and downs as with any partnership – but the show would never have got to the stage without the brilliant Aitor Basauri who spent a week working with us, Angus Barr who has been a fantastic, and very patient, director, and designer Sue Condie who has been so inventive with cardboard!

From a practical point of view we couldn’t have done it (or certainly it would have taken a LOT longer!) without funding from Theatre Gloucestershire and Parabola Arts, Bristol Old Vic Ferment, and the Arts Council England, as well as invaluable support from Tobacco Factory Theatres, Stroud Subscription Rooms, and help from incredibly talented and generous friends.

How, when and why did you decide to tackle this story?

SD: Having met at a Spymonkey workshop in London in 2012, Pauline bravely came to stay at Pool Cottage in Stroud to see if we could work together.  After three days of improvising in my sitting room, we realised we needed a place to start.  There was something immediately ridiculous about two woman trying to stage Gladiator, so it seemed as good a place as any…plus we both liked the idea of wearing armour!

PM: As two women, the idea of messing around with a film starring a male stereotype with big muscles had potential. I thought Susie would look really funny in an armour, or running around. Susie just thought I was very French!

What do you love most about creating theatre?

SD: Creating something out of nothing, and working collaboratively with hugely talented and inspiring people.

PM: I’m fascinated by what’s funny or not funny. Why some people laugh at something and others won’t. What I love about creating theatre is that however “good” your original idea was, embracing the unexpected is fundamental because it will give the best moments of your show. It’s a form of not knowing what’s next, and not knowing what’s next is being fully alive.

What has been the most memorable moment of creating Gloriator?

SD: We did our first showing of Gloriator – a ten minute excerpt at the beautiful Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham. It was the first time we had ever performed together and we had no idea whether people would laugh – it was terrifying! But the audience loved it and it was a wonderful feeling to know that all those hours of improvisation at Pool Cottage hadn’t been in vain!

What part of the show has been the biggest challenge to direct/devise?

PM: The last 20 mins of the show have been the hardest.
SD: The ending, definitely! Ideally we would have had Gloria coming down on a wire, pyrotechnics, spurting columns, and an enormous disco ball …but our budget didn’t quite cover it!

What’s next in the pipeline? What are Spitz & Co. working on at the moment?

SD: We would like to tackle The Bourne Identity; both of us have a huge crush on Matt Damon.
PM: We want to tour Gloriator in the UK, go to Edinburgh in 2015, and hopefully abroad. Our adaptations Ben-Hur, Braveheart, and the Last Samurai are already finished!!

Spitz & Co. are performing Gloriator in our Studio from 25-27 Mar. For more information please visit the Bristol Old Vic website.

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