Wales Arts Review invited Justin Cliffe, from Newport’s Tin Shed Theatre Company, to explain the process of devising an innovative spectacle based upon the political and cultural maelstrom of the last year. Apocalypso will be at the Riverfront Theatre from 19th June.
Apocalypso has been a long time in the making. Since it’s early inception in August 2015 (born from a weird-ass dream, in a nap, on the bus from Newport to Cardiff) the idea has sprouted legs and morphed into something we never expected it to be; like a strange bovine homunculus that has almost reached the final phases of it’s gestation, it’s nearly ready to splat out into the world and contaminate it’s audience.
Our original impetus and intention was violently booted into a new gear by the swathes of chaos and distortion that swept the world in 2016 i.e Trump, Putin, Jong Un, Brexit and The Bombs etc. Unable to not notice the global diaspora of right wingness, we had a strong urge to first focus on the political, before finding ourselves wrestling with a stronger urge to concentrate on the human aspect of it all. It was whilst at a conference in Manchester called No Boundaries, where we heard former Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales, John McGrath make a ten minute speech, within which was one sentence that resonated with both George and I:
“It is as important to make art that lifts people up, as it is to make art that draws people in”
We took this to mean that as theatre makers we have a commitment to speaking truths, being a mirror to the world both politically and socially, but we also have a commitment to experience; creating bewildering, beautiful, transcendent and strange new worlds that offer us insight and respite from our own, and in these trying times it feels like we could really use a dose of the latter, and that’s where our show sits.
So far we’ve received a small amount of criticism for our seemingly negative campaign message THE END IS COMING, and in all fairness the timing of it couldn’t have been much worse. The morning our campaign hit Newport, the city was closed down due to a bomb-scare that very afternoon. Tensions were high across the country due to the Manchester attack and this was followed by more tragedy in London. As a nation we’re on edge, caught between fear and indignation. And although Apocalypso doesn’t attempt to engage with these themes, it does question power, control, fear, sanity and megalomania. Anything that assumes power must be subject to ridicule.
Fuelled by anarchy, and the kind of surrealism Monty Python would be proud of we’re looking to ridicule power. We’re looking to lift audience out of the drudgery we seem to feel so tangibly right now. It’s the only way we’ll topple Trump, demystify May, stay sane, laugh in the face of oblivion and take back our fair share of control; not of the world as a commodity, but of the way we exist within it. Without fear, impervious violence, brave in the face of hatred and actively seeking to make things better one person at a time. For us, this is what has become vitally important, and it’s the driving force behind our theatre.
For the past few weeks we’ve been creating a world in The Basement of The Riverfront. Using found objects, recycled clutter, road signs and odd things, we’ve created a surreal, supernatural, extraordinary and grim world for our characters to inhabit. This is the rubbish dump of the world. This is where you’ll find societies bile, it’s trash, it’s dirt, it’s lost morals and it’s shattered integrity. In the fourth layer of the inferno where greed consumes all and the people who waste, and the people who hoard are brought together in this nuclear-bunker-come-last-bar-on-earth that holes-up the memories of the past, whether they be of Presidential Inaugurations or visiting the drive through at McDonalds. We’re looking to re-create glittering captions of the real world submerged in the mud of humanities mistakes.
Our incitement to any potential audience members is this; come drink with us. Come and form a temporary community with friends and strangers. We don’t promise the booze will taste great, but it’s free, and if we really were at the end of it all, what better thing would there to be to do than drink and be merry.