Freaks at The Tramway (below), Lindsay John on Buto (page 48), plus previews of Theatre PKF’s The Bras and The Cholmondeleys’ Flesh And Blood (page 46).
LISTINGS: THEATRE 49 CABARET 53 DANCE 54
As Freaks comes to the end of a two year European tour, Julia Lloyd Williams talks to Director Genevieve de Kermabon about the thin line between theatre and circus. Mark Fisher writes it all down.
’If some people arrive saying to themselves. ha-ha, we‘re going to see some monsters. that‘s entirely their affair.‘ says Genevieve de Kermabon, resigned to having no say in theatre-goers’ motives. But isn‘t calling your show Freaks and then casting disabled people in the lead roles, playing straight into the hands of the voyeur? ‘lt doesn‘t matter at all to me.‘ she says, ‘and anyway there‘s not much one can do about pe0ple who think like that. I can‘t form their ideas. but what interests me a lot more is how they feel when they leave the show. I don‘t think they go out feeling the same as when they came in.‘
Being based on Tod Browning‘s 1932 film of the
same name, Freaks has a 60-year history of controversy. Like the new French version. the original movie made use of real ‘freaks‘ and was consequently banned in Britain disowned by makers MGM and only released as an exploitation ﬂick. And this despite a clear underlying message of human tenderness.
Kermabon‘s version employs actors without legs.
an outsize woman. people with distended skulls
and a hermaphrodite. but by all reports it offsets the danger ofvoyeurism with the strength of its acting, the skill of its acrobatics and the universality of its genuine emotions.
‘I wrote the play after the 1932 film,‘ says Kermabon. ‘but I made several adaptations and it took five years to find the actors and the money.’ After the fifth re-write she teamed up with Jean-Claude Carriere. famed for his adaptation of The Mahabharata. who helped take it through a further series of re-writes. ‘This is more like the eighth or ninth version.‘ she continues. ‘lt‘s two years since we went on tour with the show and of course it‘s changed a bit — ideas developed and altered over that time. It‘s not primarily concerned with realism. Time passing has meant that you can distance yourself from the film. but
at the same time preserve its essential atmosphere.’
As well as this fine honing down ofthe play, Kermabon had to spend a long time in search of the right actors. ‘It was difficult,‘ she admits, ‘I wasn’t looking for actors with a classical training, but people who had experienced all sorts of things.’ Kermabon herself is a trained trapeze artist and plays the lead role of Cleopatra, a beautiful performer who attracts the attention of a midget, Hans. Naturally the circus setting puts very particular demands on the actors — at one point, Glasgow climate permitting, a live snake is carried through the audience — and Kermabon had to find people with just the right skills. ‘They had to be able to be trained, at least,’ she explains, ‘ifnot fully trained at that moment. They didn’t have to be brilliant, but they did have to be convincing and sufficiently hard-headed not to lose their nerve during the acts. There are only two who were not already actors. They had to have the right sort of spirit. Just to be lacking an arm or a leg was certainly not enough to get them into the show.’
Again we come to society’s attitudes towards disability. It’s probable that much of the strength of Freaks comes from the company’s indifference to public expectation. ‘I don’t want the cast to feel that sort ofonus on th‘em,’ says Kermabon. ‘They shouldn’t have to make excuses. They have nothing to apologise for and, most importantly, each one is an actor. not a phenomenon. The characters they play are just that. In the theatre Hercule and Cleopatra are complete bastards, but not in real life. We’re not crusading like the Salvation Army and whether the show has a merit-worthy effect on the audience isn‘t what
concerns us. We don’t care. And the merit is in the courage not to care.’ Freaks has its (as! seven performances at the Tramway, Glasgow, 3—5 & 7—10 March.
How to get well in with The List. Lesson One: Musicals. Express a liking- it not an obsession - with Willy Russell's Blood Brothers. Colin Ingram has seen it iourtimes. This is the sort ol commitment we at the Theatre Desk like. It means we are well disposed towards Kelvin, his own brand new musical co-written with leliow law student Ross Maclarlane.
‘You have the standard criteria oi a
musical: the big showy ending, the love scene, all the Lloyd Webber-type stutt,’ says Ingram, ‘but we've tried to turn the thing on its head. The major inspiration has been Blood Brothers. One thing we really liked about it was was the speed between the scenes.‘ Thus instant credibility is achieved.
Not that Edinburgh University Footiights is short of credentials. Artistic director Ross Maclariane, ior example, has professional experience acting in London productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and irma La Douce, as well as appearing alongside Stanley Baxter in Aladdin at the King's, Edinburgh. Composer Martin Smith, meanwhile, is currently appearing as the Phantom in the Phantom of the
Opera. And the company has secured the talents oi the Royal Lyceum’s sound designer, Nick Maibon. Still only twenty years old, Ingram himself already has one musical behind him, a show called Sound and Light, produced two years ago at Glttnock’s Eastwood Theatre.
Set in Edinburgh, the new show is a love story that takes a comic look at the class divide. Making use of a bigger than average lighting rlg, three radio mics and £650 oi hired sound equipment, the production is drawing on the skills at no less than 70 periormers and backstage people. ‘it has a real go at the middle class in Scotland,’ says ingram. ‘Ali our packaging suggests that it’s perhaps
quite a light musical, but once we've
got them in, we can give them
something with a bit more meat in.’ There you are. Corruption in action.
End of lesson. (Mark Fisher)
Kelvin is at George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, 28 Feb, 2-3 March, the Eastwood Theatre, Gittnock, 5 March and will return to the Edinburgh Fringe.
The List 23 February — 8 March 1990 45