"I first encountered the book whilst recovering in hospital having broken my foot dancing naked with some bananas"
Paul Hunter, Artistic Director of Told by an Idiot on the story behind their latest show, Napoleon Disrobed.
Napoleon Disrobed is based on the novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys. I first encountered this extraordinary book whilst recovering in hospital having broken my foot dancing naked with some bananas in Told By An Idiot's first show On The Verge Of Exploding in 1993.
My co-founder Hayley Carmichael bought it as a get well gift to the Whittington hospital. We all read the book and were immediately taken by its wonderful mix of wry humour, philosophy, and unexpected poignancy.
There was a notion at the time that we might have tackled this story as our second show in 1994, but on reflection it felt that we were too young to take on the themes of identity, faith, and death.
However over the years this captivating novella has continued to resonate with us, and from time to time when I set off on tour it would find its way into my suitcase.
Finally we were looking for something to collaborate with Kathryn Hunter on, following our success with My Perfect Mind and this comic reimagining of history seemed like exactly the right direction to head in.
As we have developed the show prior to rehearsal, other influences have come into play including Abel Gance's film masterpiece Napoleon, and the imagined dinners that the actor Ian Holm had with the reclusive director Stanley Kubrick to discuss a film of Napoleon, a movie that Kubrick never made.
For me the story is not just about Napoleon but about how we define ourselves or allow ourselves to be defined. It also examines the ludicrous pursuits we sometimes undertake, in Napoleon's case the futility of trying to retrieve time and glory.
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