Interview: Matthew Cleverly Talks Debut Solo Show Regretxit

Matthew Cleverly is taking a political break-neck show starring an exaggerated version of itself to the Camden Fringe with Regretxit. He’s promising lip-syncing, poetry and speed performance to go to town on the ludicrousness of Brexit and beyond. The show plays the Etcetera Theatre 9-11 August (tickets here) so I caught up with him to talk all things Regretxit…

What prompted you to write Regretxit?

I wrote the first section of Regretxit in 2017 for my dissertation at Rose Bruford College. The piece I wrote was influenced by my guilt after not voting in the EU referendum. It was a rant style, speed performance piece which has changed a fair amount since then. The character I play in Regretxit is a dramatised version of myself. Although I consider myself politically aware, my character is heavily apolitical until the personal becomes political for him. This meeting place of our personal life with politics is what interests me.

As your first solo show, what have the challenges and joys been while working on Regretxit so far?

It can feel scary, like you’re working on your own at times because it’s just you on stage. However, if you have a team around you who you trust, giving you advice, then the whole thing becomes less scary. The biggest joy has been by telling my parents about this piece I officially came out to my dad as bisexual. It was one of those things that I’ve wanted to do and had the urge to do for so long, but the fear of possibly being rejected always kept holding me back. He has fully embraced it thus far, and I’m so glad I told him. No matter what happens with the play, it’s a success because we’ve managed to have that conversation.

This is a solo show described as ‘breakneck’ – are we to understand from this that this is not a gentle, mellow monologue kind of performance?

Mellow is definitely not the word to describe this piece. I like to think the piece will keep the audience on it’s toes by how rapidly the style and pace changes throughout. You will never be bored.

The show promises story-telling, lip-syncing, poetry and speed performance – what drew you to combine such styles in a show like this?

The now over three-year Brexit ordeal is farcical. Even the name ‘Brexit’ is a ridiculous attempt to try and make the whole process seem “cooler”. So, I’m using the different forms to highlight the absurdity of the situation. Also, the variety of styles will allow audiences to view Brexit which has been so boringly over-saturated by the media in a new light.

Regretxit seems to be drawing direct parallels between tempestuous political relationships and the relationships in the life of the character. Are you consciously intending to land political points within those parallels?

Yes. The love story that runs throughout the piece is greatly affected by the presence of Brexit – without Brexit occuring, the love story would not unfold as it does. I wanted to give a more personal stance to a political situation and show how these big scale events can impact the lives of an individual in a deeply profound way.

You describe Regretxit as ‘at heart a queer love story’ – so do you consider the political slant to be a backdrop rather than the focal point?

It’s hard to say. The love story is always at the forefront when I think about the piece because that’s how humans like to view theatre – from a relatable human perspective. However, the play discusses politics outside of the relationship too. The politics of Brexit have such an impact on the relationship in the story that changing the setting would change the piece completely. So, can they both be at the forefront?

Having written the piece and also as the solo performer, what has the process been when it comes to Aneira Evans directing you as writer-actor amalgamation?

Aneira Evans is my best friend and I’ve known her for five years. We work well together because she knows how my mind works. Her perspective has definitely influenced my piece and instinctively she knows how to get the best out of me. There is a lot of collaboration between the two of us and she has also given me dramaturgical advice that has shaped the piece better than I could’ve imagined.

What does it mean to you as an up and coming theatre-maker to bring your show to the Camden Fringe?

It’s an exciting opportunity. At times you do feel a bit insignificant because there are so many people putting on work at the same time – especially when you add in Edinburgh Fringe too. But it’s a chance to say “Hey world this is me. This is what I’m about. Come and take a look.”

If audiences take just one thing away from seeing Regretxit, what would you like that to be?

Even though the play is political, I’d rather someone watching the play laughs before their world view changes. So… hiccups from laughing too hard?

And finally, to close – in one sentence only, why should people come to see Regretxit?

It’s ridiculous, sexy and stupid; you’ll laugh, empathise and think.

Now for the quick fire round of general theatre-related questions…

Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?

Oh that’s hard. My mind wants to say Samuel Beckett, Suzan-Lori Parks or Caryl Churchill, because they’re all unafraid to mess about with conventional theatrical forms. However, my heart says get personal and say Rachel Hamilton, the director of the Congress Youth Theatre, Cwmbran for the last 26 years. She gave me the grounding and the tools I needed to start me off on the path that has led me to where I am now.

Favourite theatre genre and why?

I find the best theatre is a mix of different genres. Tragedies that are also comedic. Heartwarming musical comedies. There’s so much to choose from, but I want something that will make me laugh, cry and think.

Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic.

The debate is always worth having. I think it’s about knowing what’s right for the venue and show. For instance there are cabaret and SLAM poetry pieces I’ve done where I want the interaction and noise, but when I went to see The Inheritance last year, that experience was almost spoiled by people on their phones and others being drunk and disorderly shouting out. It can be hard for people who rarely or have never been to a theatre space, but just sense the tone of the room and be respectful.

Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?

I joined a production of Spring Awakening as the lead, Melchior with a week and a half to opening night after their lead dropped out. It was a bit stressful learning everything so quickly, but a fun challenge.

If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, what would it be?

If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, what would it be?

I think the biggest thing for a lot of people is they feel the top of the industry is inaccessible, and I suppose it is because the industry is a hierarchical structure. The problem is when people won’t even answer the door you’re knocking on. I’ve sent out so many emails offering comp tickets for Regretxit to reviewers, Casting Directors, literary departments, theatres – I’ve lost count how many, but the response rate for even hearing back is less than 1 in 10 – even when it’s a no. Common courtesy goes a long way.

So there you have it! Remember, Regretxit plays the Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe 9-11 August 2019 and you can find ticket sales here.

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