Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
A new Complicité production directed by Simon McBurney
Based on the novel by Olga Tokarczuk
‘I see the Earth in eclipse. I see us moving about blindly in eternal Gloom, like May bugs trapped in a box by a cruel child. It’s easy to harm and injure us, to smash up our intricately assembled, bizarre existence… I see nothing but Catastrophes. But as the Fall is the beginning, can we possibly fall even lower?’ - Janina Duszejko, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Based on Nobel Prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk’s novel of the same name, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a new work for theatre conceived and directed by Simon McBurney. Translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Tokarczuk’s controversial, violent, genre defying novel is part thriller, part comedy, and part blistering poetic manifesto for the rights of animals and the environment. The book caused an uproar in its native Poland upon publication.
In the depths of winter in a small community on a remote Polish mountainside near the Czech-Polish border, men from the local hunting club are dying in mysterious circumstances and Janina Duszejko – an eccentric local woman, ex-engineer, environmentalist, devoted astrologer and enthusiastic translator of William Blake – has her suspicions. She has been watching the animals with whom the community share their isolated, rural home, and she believes they are acting strangely…
Collaborating on the project are a creative team of long-standing Complicité associates including set and costume designer Rae Smith, lighting designer Paule Constable, sound designer Christopher Shutt, video designer Dick Straker and dramaturgs Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre and Laurence Cook.
Beginning at Theatre Royal Plymouth in December 2022, the production will go on a UK and international tour, including a three-week run at London’s Barbican.
“Olga Tokarczuk has created an extraordinary world that speaks to my deepest sense of the continuity between humankind and nature – a world where, like a mycelium web, all entities are connected deeply at the roots, unable to exist alone. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a tale about the cosmos, poetry, and the limitations and possibilities of activism. Tokarczuk is a prophet for our times who understands us in all our hilarity, messiness, cruelty and animalism, and it is a great privilege to bring to the stage what is surely one of literature's most urgent accounts of being alive today.” - Simon McBurney
Access our schools resource pack here, containing rehearsal diaries, exclusive interviews and creative tasks to support students studying devising.
A Complicité co-production with Barbican London, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Bristol Old Vic, Comédie de Genève, Holland Festival, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, L'Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, The Lowry, The National Theatre of Iceland, Oxford Playhouse, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and Theatre Royal Plymouth.
Theatre Royal Plymouth
1 - 3 Dec 2022, Book Tickets
Bristol Old Vic
19 Jan - 11 Feb 2023, Book Tickets
1 - 4 Mar 2023, Book Tickets
16 Mar - 1 Apr 2023, Book Tickets
4 - 8 Apr 2023, Book Tickets
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
19 - 22 Apr 2023, Book Tickets
The Lowry, Salford
25 - 29 Apr 2023, Book Tickets
Grand Theatre, Luxembourg
11 - 12 May 2023, Book Tickets
7 - 12 Jun 2023, Book Tickets
Complicité thanks the Mirisch & Lebenheim Charitable Foundation for their generous support of this production.
Complicité is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. The production is additionally funded by Backstage Trust and Maria Björnson Memorial Fund.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is published in Great Britain by Fitzcarraldo Editions.
Image credits: Olga Tokarczuk © Łukasz Giza, Artwork © Patryk Hardziej, Simon McBurney © Jorri Kristjansson
The Dark Is Rising
A new dramatisation for the BBC World Service
Originated by Complicité and Simon McBurney, directed and adapted by McBurney with co-adapter Robert Macfarlane
The night will be bad and tomorrow will be beyond imagining
Listen on BBC Sounds here or on Apple podcasts here. The podcast is best listened to with headphones, but can also be enjoyed without them.
The Dark Is Rising is a new 12-part dramatisation of Susan Cooper's classic 1970s novel for families and was broadcast over Christmas on the BBC World Service. Adpated for radio by Robert MacFarlane and directed by Simon McBurney. The audio drama stars Toby Jones (Measure for Measure), Harriet Walter (Succession), Paul Rhys (The Master and Magarita, Measure for Measure), with Simon McBurney and newcomer, 13-year-old Noah Alexander and an ensemble cast.
The Dark Is Rising tells the story of Will Stanton (played by Alexander), an ordinary boy who begins to have eerie and magical experiences on his 11th birthday, one snowy December. Will discovers that he belongs to a group of ancient, time-travelling beings called the Old Ones, who are guardians of ‘the Light’ –– and must wage an unending battle against the forces of ‘the Dark’.
The novel has been adapted for audio by Simon McBurney and the internationally best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane (Underland, The Lost Words, The Old Ways), whose Midwinter Twitter ‘read-along’ of the novel in 2017 inspired tens of thousands of fans. With original music by actor and singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn (Emma, Ripley, The Dig), Luisa Gerstein and Heloise Tunstall-Behrens. Sound design is by Olivier and Tony Award winner Gareth Fry (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games).
Downloadable Guide to Creating Your Own Radio Play
Create your own radio play with our downloadable guide to making audio drama for children and families, featuring tips from the creators of The Dark is Rising.
Download the guide here.
The Dark is Rising is a co-production by Complicité with Catherine Bailey Productions for BBC World Service
Marcello Magni, Complicité’s co-founder, dearest friend, brother and irreplaceable comrade died early in the morning on Sunday 18 September in his home town of Bergamo.
Actor, collaborator, creator, unparalleled improviser, indefatigable inventor, hilarious dancer, teacher, mentor, captain and clown. The world has lost a unique talent; we have lost our dearest friend with his remarkable soul.
Born in Bergamo, Italy, in 1959, to Corrado and Miranda Magni, Marcello graduated from Ecole Jacques Lecoq in the 1980s and studied alongside some of the world’s leading theatre-makers, including Dario Fo, Giorgio Strehler, Pierre Byland, Philippe Gaulier and Monika Pagneux. He first met Complicité co-founders Simon McBurney and Fiona Gordon in 1980 at Lecoq, and, together with Annabel Arden, founded Complicité in 1983.
Co-creator of the very first shows such as A Minute Too Late and More Bigger Snacks Now (which won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 1985, at the time called The Perrier Award) he toured all over the world, from Plymouth to Peru playing on stages, in clubs, stadiums, on the streets, in shantytowns, prisons, schools and wherever we were invited or decided we could. Fearless, irrepressible and wildly funny, his ability to connect to audiences without a word spoken made him adored wherever and whenever we performed.
Restlessly curious he also dived into reinvention of classics, such as playing an Italian Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale which Complicité toured worldwide; being utterly anarchic in Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance at the National Theatre, or Moliere’s School for Wives Derby Playhouse, and bringing his unruly imagination to many Shakespearean roles at the Globe. He conceived and co-directed Help! I'm Alive (an adaptation of Ruzzante’s masterpiece Il Bilora) and Foe (adapted from J.M.Coetzee’s novel of the same name) and was constantly in demand as a movement director, advisor and teacher at theatres all over the globe.
It was through Complicité in the late 1980s that he met his great love, and future wife, Kathryn Hunter. Together on stage they wove a special kind of magic – in numerous Complicité productions such as Anything for a Quiet Life, The Visit and Out of a house walked a man. Wherever they appeared, so often side-by-side, there was an indefinable and extraordinary chemistry. Their most recent joint performance, in Eugène Ionesco’s The Chairs, was described as ‘spine-shiveringly good’ by The Guardian, and impossible to get a ticket to. We have shared in the joy this relationship brought to both of them, and hold our friend Kathryn close as she grieves. Their story is our story.
Throughout his career he was sought out by so many remarkable creators; from Robert Lepage to Peter Brook. Latterly with Brook he created Fragments, an extraordinary, hilarious and luminous sequence of Beckett short plays, which toured with immense success from Australia to the Americas.
Kathryn and Marcello were the two performers in Brook’s last stage creation, a reading of Happy Days at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris in the autumn of 2021. A few years ago Peter Brook casting Marcello as Ariel in The Tempest said “I have worked on this play and seen it so many times, but never encountered a greater, lighter Ariel.”
We are bereft of his talent, his generous heart and gentle brilliance. But even as we mourn we hold all that he was, all that he is, with such gratitude. And love.
From Simon McBurney, Artistic Director and co-founder, Complicité
Playing with Marcello was like nothing else I have experienced in life. Particularly when we had no idea what we were doing. He was at his most brilliant with the unforeseen, the unknowable, the chaotic, with what was invented on and in the moment. To be able to do that you have to be here. To be as present as a fox, as quick as a rat and as agile as a fish. He was so utterly present. Always. So utterly present was he, that now I cannot refer to him in the past. I cannot conceive of him in the past at all. It feels impossible. He is here. Somewhere. Just around the corner. Ready for the unforeseen. The unknowable. Ready to play so freely. So lightly. So free. He is here somewhere. “Ariel", calls Prospero in his penultimate speech “… to the elements Be free…" Yes. He is still somewhere here. So free.
From Annabel Arden, co-founder, Complicité
It is so very difficult to believe that Marcello is not living as he has always lived – in a supremely alive body. I think of him and can feel immediate warmth, sense delicious fluid movement, feel my energy rise with his encouraging voice. I feel cheered at his wide smile, his lively eyes, his fantastically sensitive and strong presence. His laughter, playfulness, silly or surprising jokes – zany capers… This life of the body was matched of course by an equally lively spirit. And now we must accustom ourselves to living with only this spirit which we must cherish even more realising how precious it is; how fragile even such a seemingly indestructible life as Marcello’s – actually is. Unbelievable to lose him, this loss is a clarion call to everyone to make the most of everything – as he did. To say YES to every proposition, take every moment and use it fully. Thank you dear Marcello, for everything.
From Tom Morris, Chair of Board, Complicité
All at Complicité are deeply saddened to hear that dear Marcello has left us. No one who saw his skill onstage, his unique blend of shocking physicality, sheer virtuosity, lightness, delicacy, lunacy and deep feeling, will ever forget it. Nor will those of us who had the privilege to know him off-stage forget the gentle generosity and care which made him so deeply loved by so many of us. We also saw that his extraordinary gifts were underpinned by unstinting commitment, graft and passion: it takes a whole and full life, body and soul, to create work which is so delicate and so profound: Marcello piled every sinew of his form and heart into the work he loved. Complicité will hold his memory with enormous gratitude. We are lucky to have known him as friends and colleagues, and to carry the legacy of the company which he and his friends invented all those years ago, and which went on to change the face of British theatre.
Images clockwise: Foe (1996), workshop © Sarah Ainslie, Burning Ambition (1987), headshot © Clare Park
Figures in Extinction [1.0] wins Swan Award
Simon McBurney and Crystal Pite collaboration wins major dance award
Figures in Extinction [1.0], created by Simon McBurney and internationally renowned choreographer Crystal Pite, has won the highly coveted 2022 Swan Award for most impressive dance production at the VSCD Dance Awards in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The new 30 minute dance piece co-produced by Nederlands Dans Theater and Complicité, is the first part of a unique collaboration between the artists, that will see them work together over four years to create three new works, each developed in response to the last. The Swan panel judges' decision was unanimous.
"A committed, extremely urgent work about the climate crisis, Figures in Extinction [1.0] made an indelible impression. A hallucinatory and wry spectacle, dancers take on the role of extinct animals and portray melting ice caps and underwater life in a phenomenal way. Fumbling on dry land or swimming like a school of fish, tableaus of overwhelming beauty are created. While the viewer initially marvels at the diversity of species, the theatrical experience is moving faster and faster towards apocalypse. An overwhelming total experience which echoes long in the mind." - Swan judging panel
In his acceptance speech, McBurney urged audiences to support Stop Ecocide saying, 'We may feel we are staring into the abyss. But every person has the power to change the future.'
We are living in an age of extinction: of animals, of language, of our connection with nature and of age-old ways of knowing. Can we ever hope to give a name to what we are losing? What does it mean to bear witness to a violence in which we are both perpetrators and victims?
Figures in Extinction [1.0] presented by NDT, premiered at The Hague in May 2022 followed by a tour of the Netherlands. Audiences outside of the Netherlands now have the chance to see the work for themselves: further to recent dates in Poland and France, Figures in Extinction [1.0] will play in Novi Sad, Serbia on 7 and 8 April 2023, and Sadler's Wells, London (19 - 22 April 2023).
Book tickets here
The Arts Hour, BBC
Simon McBurney hosts a special edition of The Arts Hour, on the BBC World Service
In a curtain raiser to the World Service Arts Festival, Simon McBurney will be talking to filmmakers, novelists and thinkers from across the arts. They will examine our fractious relationship with the world, looking at how telling and listening to stories might help bring us closer together in lockdown and beyond, both to each other and to the Earth.
Our removal from community and from nature has been happening in the West, not just during Covid-19, but for centuries. Now is the time to reflect on those relationships and rethink the role of society and our place on the planet.
Joining Simon to discuss these issues will be: Naomi Klein, the award winning journalist and author; Colleen Echohawk, founder of the Coalition to End Urban Indigenous Homelessness; Psychiatrist Dr Iain McGilchrist, who explains why he feels we’ve become more reliant on the left side of our brains and why that’s not a good thing; writer, art historian and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta Ayim on nature vs the economy in Ghana; actor Fehinti Balogun, who talks about how theatre is the perfect place to highlight issues including climate change; and filmmaker Takumã Kuikuro who explains why, in his opinion, storytelling needs to begin and end with nature.
BBC WORLD SERVICE
13 March 2021 at 8:06pm GMT