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I want the audience to be barely able to breathe

You’ve probably seen a Mark Murphy show without realising it. A master of major spectacles – he was the brains behind many a European Capital of Culture opening show and, most recently, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony which boasted a cast of 1500, including Kylie Minogue – for the past decade he’s been wowing audiences with events mounted on a global scale.

Watch the Out Of This World Trailer

But now, driven by the desire to convey the same entertainment and excitement in a theatre setting, he’s bringing the show inside. If you think theatre is not for you, Murphy’s new production Out Of This World could be the show to change your mind.

Much as he loves creating major spectacles, Out Of This World is about taking back control. ‘From an early age I’ve always created my own work,’ he says ‘and with big events you have so many people involved, so many hoops to jump through and usually only one chance to get it right – I love them, but it’s great to get back to a form where I have a hand in everything.’

And there’s a vibrant supply of everything in Out Of This World, a mix of theatre, film, music, aerial movement and medical dilemmas that challenges the audience to leap headfirst into the action. 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 blazed a high octane trail combining film and movement through the 1990s, garnering acclaim and an impressive fan base with shows such as 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 burrowing into spoiler territory, the story centres on the moral choices the central character faces as she hovers on the thin line between life and death. ‘It’s a rehearsal for what life could be and touches on a moral dilemma,’ says Murphy. ‘How far will you go to be with the one you love?’

It’s an intimate question that cuts to the heart of human experience, but Murphy’s special skill is to translate it into a very 21st Century theatrical spectacle, drawing on both his dance roots and elements from his events work. He’s setting his sights high: the 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 – we experience the chaos that ensues after Ellen’s injured brain literally takes over the show. He’s also incorporating his unashamed love of TV medical drama, collaborating with an air ambulance doctor and a neuro-surgeon – ‘if I could have had any other career, it would have to have been emergency medicine’ – in order to get the medical procedures spot on.

Given that he’s moved on from his dance origins, isn’t it surprising that Out Of This World is being toured under the banner of ‘Mark Murphy’s V-TOL’ ? ’I know what you mean, but even though it was 15 years since the last V-TOL show I was moved and heartened by the affection for the company which emerged when I first floated the idea, so it made sense to use the name. Someone said to me, when I described the show, that if V-TOL had continued, this is the work they would be making now.’

Which means you get eye-dazzling visuals and sophisticated scenarios. But, most of all, Out Of This World operates on a simple emotional level. At its heart, 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 | Blackpool Grand Theatre 

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Interview by Keith Watson, Dance & TV critic of Metro