The People Show theatre company is the longest running alternative theatre company in the UK, made up of just seven core members and a host of guest artists and associates. Their multimedia shows offer insight on a range of topics and stories, using both traditional theatre and more unusual elements. Their latest offering 121: The Detective Show, a murder mystery-inspired piece, has just completed a run in San Francisco and moved to London.
Director Jessica Worrall took some time out to talk about the company and the play.
MouthLondon: What were People Show’s key inspirations in creating a murder mystery theatre piece?
Jessica Worrall: The show evolved from an idea to make a piece about a famous person. A list was drawn up and top of the list were Agatha Christie, Hedy Lamarr and Bridget Riley. Agatha and Hedy made it into the piece, alas Bridget didn’t (we owe her a show now). Both Christie and Lamarr had intriguing lives both personally and publicly and part of the magic of this show is how it weaves them together in a narrative Christie herself would be proud of. Mark Long describes the piece as follows: “121 is a narrative based structure. Beginning, middle and end. On one level, the story of a man caught in a conspiracist quagmire. Is the world on the brink? A tale of 21st century intrigue with its roots in the last century. Contemporary European and American events contributing to his nightmare. Or is he guilty? He certainly thinks he’s in love. Or does he? On the other hand a show about the dynamics between the three performers and their varying interpretations of the piece.”
…we approached them more like film cuts…
ML: What was the approach when the play was originally being devised? To what extent does the play change as you progress towards final productions? What’s your favourite part of the creative process?
JW: 121 is slightly different to most of our other work in that it was scripted quite early after an initial short period of devising. Although we’ve made many refinements, in essence the structure has remained the same from the beginning. What was interesting in the main rehearsal period was how we developed the two distinctive narrative arcs as mentioned by Mark previously. What seemed to work was rather than thinking of the shifts between them as scene changes, we approached them more like film cuts. Indeed I think the narrative and its interweaving plot lines is much more akin to a film script and the speed with which it shifts and changes from scene to scene and character to character is more familiar to a film going audience. I think this is one of the things that makes it exciting to watch and definitely pays off when it all comes together so beautifully at the end.
…We changed a couple of words but the audiences totally got it…
ML: The Detective Show was a great success in San Francisco recently. Is the show presented differently to a US audience as opposed to a UK one?
JW: No not really. We changed a couple of words but the audiences totally got it.
…he described the People Show process as being akin to making music…
ML: A lot of your previous work adapts classic literature – how does a play like this compare to that sort of work? Does it feel more creative to work on a less traditional project?
JW: In terms of People Show I wouldn’t say we have done a lot of classic literature. I think we’re more attracted to musical icons: Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Bix Beiderbecke, Elvis Presley, Glenn Miller to mention a few. One of the founders of People Show Jeff Nuttall wrote a lovely thing once when he described the People Show process as being akin to making music, where the band can always step forth and solo but always know what the underlying tune is.
…all theatre is a collaborative art form…
ML: Your previous work also includes costume design and installation as well as directing – how do you feel these practices influence each other? Does it make it easier or more difficult for you to work with set and costume designers when you’re taking the directing role?
JW: To be honest I only ever direct at People Show and as in all things People Show it’s not in the traditional sense of directing. It’s more a case of being the outside eye and decisions are always made collectively. I’m personally a little wary of the sometimes strict parameters that can exist around creative roles, after all theatre is a collaborative art form and it’s about the sum of the imaginations who make it, not just the individual. I like to think I take those ethics into all my work regardless of the discipline.
People Show 121: The Detective Show will be at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre until November 2 and you can check back here soon to see my review of the show. Tickets are only £15, and there are Pay-What-You-Can days on Tuesdays and Sundays throughout its run.