Golem Theatre’s latest venture, Tomorrow Creeps, combines language from across 16 of Shakespeare’s plays, Kate Bush’s storytelling style and their own unique take on repurposing raw material taken from the works of greats. The show plays at The Vaults as part of the Vault Festival from 24-28th January 2018 – the link to tickets can be found below. I interrupted rehearsals (cheeky, I know) to chat to writer David Fairs (also playing the Fallen Tyrant), Director Anna Marsland and cast members Conor O’Kane, playing the Hollow Hero and Zena Carswell who plays the Spectral Queen. It’s a generous interview here, so fetch yourself a brew, settle in and take a look at what they had to say about this new play promising to be the stuff of nightmares…
So tell me about Tomorrow Creeps!
David: It’s always a difficult one to give a synopsis. (Deep breath from our writer here…) So, everything is taking place in a large prison cell and in the middle of the prison cell, chained to the floor with a very small range of movement is the Fallen Tyrant. He has been locked in this prison cell and he is apparently entirely alone, however, there is possibly something else there with him… He is unable to see it; whether he’s aware of it or not, he doesn’t see it. He is visited by the Hollow Hero who has come to see the Tyrant because he requires his assistance with something that is going on in the outside world. Now the Hollow Hero was the person who toppled the Tyrant and then locked him in his prison cell – so that’s the sort of set up. And as the Tyrant is visited by the Hero multiple times, the other entity that is present in the room begins to press more on that veil. It’s a sort of power dance between these three characters.
Anna: Yeah, it’s three very separate tormented souls seeking some some kind of release.
The show is ‘drawn from the works of William Shakespeare and inspired by Kate Bush’ – that’s certainly a tall order! When and how did this combination pop into your head David?
David: Well the use of Shakespeare is sort of an extension of what we’ve done on the previous plays that I’ve written. For the first play that we did, called Macbeths, I took the text of Macbeth and I reformed it so the whole play became just a dialogue between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the whole thing took place in their bedroom. So that was the first play that I put together and Anna directed. The second one was called I Know You Of Old and I took Much Ado About Nothing and re-orchestrated the script of that but this time to tell a new story but that had some source points and elements of Much Ado About Nothing, and I had some characters from that. But it was just Beatrice and Claudio in a new scenario with a new story and using all of the reformed text from the original play.
So what I did with this (Tomorrow Creeps), I wanted to go a step further in how I was using Shakespeare as the raw material for new stories. I wanted to invent an entirely new story and use multiple texts as the raw material. So that’s where the Shakespeare element came from. With Kate Bush, I had always been really interested in Kate Bush as a storyteller -sort of a lyrical and musical storyteller more than anything else. I had been throwing ideas around for a while about how I might use her in the same way as Shakespeare – using her as the raw material to create interesting stories. It felt like on this piece, as I was bringing things together, that it was the perfect time to use those two different things and bring them together as the raw material because throughout this play the Kate Bush material is used in the same way the Shakespeare material is – it works through the veins of the script and it’s very much part of the narrative. It’s not sort of a musical thing laid on top of it, it’s very much part of those two things. Because the story I want to tell is about death and what you do after that and how people pick up the pieces – how they move on. So things just kind of came together for this story I want to tell.
So you are dead-set on Shakespeare and modernising, adopting the originals for modern audiences?
David: I would move away from saying modernising because that’s often a dangerous term with Shakespeare and I don’t think it needs modernising. I just love the idea of taking what’s there and sort of stripping it and re-framing it and making it obvious how familiar it is-making it clear so it’s not about forcing it into any sort of updated zone, it’s more about showing that actually it’s all there – everything is in there; you don’t need to change anything. You don’t need to look at this human being is in any sort of different way, it’s all there in that raw material that he wrote. It’s just about restructuring it and reframing it; shining a lens on some bits and then expanding on other bits.
Anna: I think as a the company, it’s not just Shakespearean text that we are interested in using as the raw material. I mean, our previous two shows have been Shakespeare but this one moves beyond that by using elements of that Kate Bush influence. But beyond this, the hope is for the company to use Shakespearean texts and – we’ve talked about using paintings using things – it’s more about how we can take other artists’ material. We pay all respect and love to those individual pieces of art, but then reshaping, reforming, repurposing them into something that is completely brand-new and our own. Which is kind of what Shakespeare did anyway in so many places anyway, I mean, he took existing stories, reshaped them and put them in his own words – added bits and took bits away – it’s sort of continuing that.
David: Yeah, so it’s almost a continuation of that, of that fluidity – that playfulness and that sort of process. I said you know the first two were very much rooted in Shakespeare, but with this one, the soul of this one is coming from the use of the Kate Bush material. That’s forming the sort of backbone while Shakespeare is forming the structure around it. There’s lots of other authors/artists – all different kinds of artists experimenting with different ways of using this idea of adaptation.
Zena: It also comes from – if you have a piece of art, say, or theatre, you kind of do what’s come before or might come after that. That’s how I see it -you’re doing something around the original, and what inspired that. (Hearty agreement from all here).
David: Yeah, sort of responses to key elements, putting things under a magnifying lens and seeing what those elements actually are and what they represent.
So how is it working in terms of using 16 Shakespeare plays-is that what you’re getting at – looking at Shakespeare’s key messages and themes, not specific plot lines or characters, it’s just the language itself which you’re interested in combining?
David: In terms of this one, it’s not about characters or plot lines from those, it’s that brilliant thing of having this raw material and the language running all the way through it. We very much like the idea that we can continue to play with this as well, so some of the scenes evolve out of our piece; we’re very happy to play with the language and the meaning – to play with what angle those scenes might have.
Anna: But once David’s written the script, and we begin work on it, we never go back to the original play. It’s always thinking about it in that new form-
– a case of new purpose, new life?
Anna: Exactly – it’s about this character is saying these words in this moment – what does that mean for them or for this moment?
David: Yeah – and where the language meets up, that’s just for me earlier on when I’m working out what this new story is and then when we’ve got the script, it’s a completely new play telling a new story.
The show is selling itself on drama and darkness primarily it seems – exactly how dark does it get? (Big, knowing laughs from the Golem team here) It sounds beautifully gothic and right up my street – I’m a little bit heartbroken that I get to interview you but I’m not able to come and see it! Is it as dark as I’m imagining from your marketing? (Again, this is met with general sounds of collective approval mixed with a glee at the hidden true depths of the darkness they’ve been conjuring in rehearsals…)
Anna: It is very much dealing with this ‘other’, hellish world that’s entered into. Both the supernatural and the mortal inhabitants, they’re pretty dark as well, they’ve done some terrible, awful things. But these are all dark characters with dark desires, doing dark things. Lots of the reference points that we’re using are from horror films. There’s a big influence from the narrative of The Silence of the Lambs but on top of that we’ve been looking at hammer horror; The Exorcist; things about possession; things about exorcisms and things being alien. We’ve looked at things being very physical presences and magic – there is a film called The Love Witch which has been quite a big reference point – and American Horror Story, particularly the second season and David Lynch.
It sounds like an absolutely fascinating patchwork. With so many influences it’s bound to come out as an original. Is there some light in there too, some comedy maybe?
Anna: I think so! There’s moments that are funny-
David: – It’s funny in parts but not nice.
Anna: Yeah, it’s more darkly funny – it’s more about ridiculousness and the heightened moments of people at fever pitch, enjoying themselves, but probably not light!
David: It’s funny in parts – there are deep veins of humour that run through it all but all great horror stuff, there tends to be huge veins of humour in all of that and the darkness gets better when that happens. But light is definitely not the word!
So no light but some darkly comic moments! It seems perfect to lend itself to immersive theatre. Is that what you’re going for – that discomfort with all those movie influences?
Anna: Yeah, and I think The Vaults venue really does lend itself to that. The last two productions we’ve done, we’ve tried to create an atmosphere that an audience can immerse themselves in. It’s not immersive in the sense of Punchdrunk – it’s invisible in the space but you are immersed in a 360 world. The last two productions have been in a black box studio and we have attempted to create something that gives you a sense of that immersive world, whether that be a bedroom or a chapel. But with this one we’re really excited to be doing it in the bigger box space. So you have all of that ready-made aesthetic and atmosphere that comes with it; it’s very dark, you’re surrounded by stone and there is that sense of the depth of the space – so things could be lurking in the shadows. We are definitely using that to our full advantage. And with the sound as well, we’re working with our sound designer who is creating something which will throughout the duration of the piece increase that feeling of fear and tension.
It sounds perfect. Shakespeare is a tough sell to young modern audiences. Are you aiming for a particular age group, particularly with the darkness and the influences that you just mentioned? Is it something that you’re conscious of – trying to bring in fresh meat?
Anna: I hope so! There is sort of an age limitation on the kind of work we’re making – some of the content is not really suitable for really young audiences but I think that teenage audiences could definitely enjoy it. We love the language of Shakespeare it’s not that we’re being flippant. All of this is coming from absolute love of of Shakespeare’s language and of those plays and those characters. But I also think it’s really important for everyone who wants to watch Shakespeare, to not be afraid of these words, to just see them as words. I hope that by being seeing it stretched to such extremes and with such other influences, it stops being something that has to be feared or treated with reverence. There are so many different ways that it can be performed and so many ways for the characters to be taken. I think at school my fear of Shakespeare came from the idea that it had to be right and it had to be done in a certain way, in a very small way. It would be really cool if somebody came to see this and thought, actually you can do pretty much anything with this language, it’s just really flexible and really cool to play around with.
Exactly, you don’t need a code cracker.
Anna: Yeah, absolutely – it just needs imagination to play around with it.
Conor: Which is what we get a lot of feedback on – people who have come to see our previous work who are Shakespeare anoraks or fans or whatever, loved it because it was the opposite of what they’d seen created before. I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to do that but also for people who do know Shakespeare to really enjoy it as well because they know the words and they think ‘oh, that’s from that and that’s from that’ – so there’s a lot for both sides of the coin.
David: The thing is with Shakespeare – what we do lets people see that his stuff is really really good because his stuff is true. He is really good at writing, in the most brilliant ways, really true stuff which is why we’re able to then use it in different ways – it’s really just pure truth a lot of it. Hopefully in seeing some of our stuff, it lets you see that accessing that language is just about experiencing it because all you need from it is that truth! It’s not something that you need to analyse or read or intellectualise, that’s the brilliance of him. He writes such incredible truth. The reason I love playing with it so much and doing all this is because I want to just throw myself into all of it because it’s all just truthful and there are barrels of raw material. I hope that that’s the accessibility angle, then they can go away and get an actual Shakespeare play and experience it in its entirety in the same way without needing to intellectualise it too much. That’s one angle of what we do.
It’s really interesting to hear about the process. I’ve seen a lot of contemporary she takes on Shakespeare and I do tend to enjoy them more than traditional productions but obviously I don’t get much opportunity to hear about their creation. So you’re in The Vaults, which is a perfect space – how are you planning to capture this ‘other’ world? It seems so out there, how is this all going to come to fruition?
Anna: (laughs) It is out there and it is bold – as we’re forming it at the moment, it’s constantly kind of checking the internal logic of the world and making sure that we are making decisions about how different things in this world we’re constructing operate. But also being bold with this world that we are creating – accepting that some elements of it aren’t coming from a human place but beyond this world and what could that be? We’re exploring things quite physically as well – there’s a huge physical influence of the Spectral Queen, who Zena plays. We’ve looked at how she exists in the space, and how she interacts with others, looking at movements, the movements that have inspired things like The Ring and we’ve actually been looking at some Kate Bush videos, looking at how she moves, and that’s inspired some of it. In terms of the space and how that’s becoming a supernatural place, a lot of that is been done with that sound and lighting design. That will help to enhance the atmosphere which is already so present there.
It sounds like a challenging process, how far into it are you at the moment? Are you knee deep?
Anna: We’re very much in the middle of it, so there’s lots starting to take shape but lots of work still to do.
Can you share a favourite moment or will that be a spoiler?
Conor: For me, there’s a couple of moments where the choreography from the Wuthering Heights video, the one where she’s in the white chiffon and stuff, and what we’ve done is we’ve taken all of those moves and made them really really dark and sharp and weird- and not to music or anything, not really. Seeing those moments happen is really satisfying, knowing the source of that material and then seeing it when it happens (in the play) is just really really nice.
Zena: That is a very good one. I guess for me, the moments of getting closer to the other characters are quite exciting.
Anna: – because at the start of the play she can’t be seen.
Conor: Yeah I quite enjoy those moments as well because we can’t see Zena’s character for half of the play so as an actor I get to hear the dialogue and see the movement but then I’m acting as if that’s not happening. It’s really fun (laughs). It’s just bizarre – I have to do this sort of soft focus thing thing where I’m like no no, that’s not happening and she’s getting really close and all sorts of weird stuff is going on all around me.
David: Yeah and I have scenes where it’s just me, supposedly just me and I’m talking about how alone I am and she’s also getting in my face and doing all of that. So that is actually a lovely sense of total total solitude in what will be an enormous cabinet space and being immersed in that absolute solitude but meanwhile with that going on…
Conor: – and I just love seeing Zena stomp around the stage – it’s just really really good!
Remember: Tomorrow Creeps plays at The Vaults as part of the Vault Festival from 24-28th January 2018. Tickets are £10 and can be found here. Why not also follow Golem Theatre on Twitter too? Handle: @golemtheatre.
Now pop over to Part II of Golem’s Interview, where they chat all things theatre – including such stage blunders as dropping trousers mid-scene!