Michael Cox speaks with director Peter Clerke and writer John Clancy about The Occasional Cabaret's inaugural production.
Michael Cox: How would you describe Apocalypse! to someone who hasn't seen the publicity and rarely goes to the theatre?
Peter Clerke: The by-line for the show is ‘a glamorously, ugly cabaret’ and it pretty well delivers on that. It’s a mixture of dialogues, monologues and song delivered by two spectacularly grotesque women that is both funny and bitingly pertinent to the world in which we live. Instead of being removed from the performance and seated in conventional theatre seats, the audience are seated around tables and the action plays around them. While there’s no direct audience participation – no-one is going to be asked to do anything, in any way, embarrassing – the approach certainly means that the audience are actively involved in a way that they aren’t with conventional theatre. It’s a pretty different experience and probably unique for many of those coming to see it.
MC: Tell me how Apocalypse! came about.
PC: One of the main objectives when we set the Occasional Cabaret up was to work with international, as well as Scottish-based, artists, so when we got funding from the Scottish Arts Council in 2010 to develop a new work, we decided to ask John [Clancy] and Nancy [Walsh] if they’d like to be involved. This initial collaboration led to the 35-minute work-in-progress performance ‘An Alternative History of Everything’, which we produced at Dance Base in September of last year. This, in turn, led to securing funding for a full production; which, in turn, has led to Apocalypse!
In terms of developing the work, all the way through, it’s been a collaborative process with all 4 of us, plus the musician, Tim Brinkhurst – who plays live throughout the show – working and devising together in the rehearsal room. We’d initially explore ideas, sometimes through discussion, sometimes on the floor, which John would then take and turn into script. So, there’s a very real sense of shared sense of ownership about the work.
John Clancy: There’s something very special about an international collaboration like this. The skills and strengths of different traditions and trainings are fused into a shared worldview and the result is something that an audience rarely gets to see: something home-grown with a global perspective.
MC: Were there any surprises or discoveries during the rehearsal process?
JC: With a devised script like this one, you walk into the room on the first day without many preconceptions or assumptions about what the piece will finally be, so there weren’t that many surprises along the way. We started with exploring the more literal, Biblical sense of the apocalypse, the Day of Judgment and the End of the World, but as we worked we found the idea of personal apocalypse and individual extinction more compelling and more relatable, so I think that was a good discovery and a happy surprise.
MC: What are the challenges of touring a production, especially a musical like this?
JC: The challenge with any touring show is the physical set-up, actually adjusting the stage to make the most sense in the different venues. The positive side is you’re never in danger of growing complacent, you have to take each night as a new opening and that gives the show a freshness and a sense of immediacy and excitement that you don’t get when you’re in a set theater for the whole run.
Apocalypse! tours Scotland until October 29, 2011.