“These stories are political, personal, domestic, epic” — Introducing: The Everyman Company

Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

Jack Roe speaks to Everyman Theatre Associate Director Nick Bagnall and actor Liam Tobin about how their new rep company is helping the theatre to “steer its own ship”; the relevance of their “anarchic” second show, The Conquest of the South Pole; and what impact living in a post-Brexit, “post-Cunty Trump” world has had on programming…

The Double Negative: Where did the idea for The Everyman Company originate?

Nick Bagnall: Gemma Bodinetz [Everyman and Playhouse Artistic Director], it was her idea. I joined here about three years ago and it was always in the pipeline, so I suppose it’s about 18 months ago we decided to really go for it. It all came from the idea that it was important that the Everyman theatre steered its own ship in the sense that we put a stamp on British theatre today. We get to choose the plays we want to do, tell the stories we want to tell, for this city. Of course, [Liverpool] does have a history of rep. There’s a real opportunity for actors to flex their muscles in very different ways. I don’t think it could be going any better, really!

Do you think that the arts have an increased responsibility in reaction to conflict and tension elsewhere in Britain, and in the wider world?

NB: Yeah, I do, absolutely. There’s a reason for doing these plays in that they’re full of fucking joy, and we have as much responsibility to create joy and wonder as we do to be political, and stick two fingers up and be as anarchic as we possibly can — which is what The Conquest of the South Pole [does]. The [Everyman Company] shows have been chosen for a reason; we live in a world that is fractured and we no longer hold hands with the rest of the world. We’re an island that’s floating further and further away. We want to deliver stories told in the right way… These stories are political, personal, domestic, epic. It’s just a season full of great stories that are timeless.

“I chose Conquest because it’s incredibly European”

What have you been working on for the Everyman Company to get its teeth stuck into?

NB: Fiddler on the Roof [18 February--11 March 2017] which, my god, it’s a continuous story, immigration and communities being ripped apart, and that’s a constant — it’s been going on for centuries. The Story Giant [13--29 April 2017] is a Brian Patton book that’s been made into a piece of theatre, which again is about imagination and different stories from around the world. The Sum [6--20 May 2017] by Lizzy Nunnery couldn’t be more on the nose about the world we live in post-Brexit, post-Cunty Trump; it just couldn’t be more poignant. Then Romeo and Juliet [27 May--2 June 2017]: a tale that’s been told for four hundred years, about young love in a world where we’re being asked to fight in unjust wars.

Liam Tobin, Dean Nolan & Emily Hughes in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

The play that seem to intrigue me personally is The Conquest of the South Pole, with themes of class tensions and escapism. Do you think that there are parallels between Berlin in the ‘80s and where we are now in contemporary Britain?

NB: Without a shadow of a doubt. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t. There’s no reason to do this play unless it makes sense for now. It was written as an anti-establishment play, when there were no opportunities and no hope, and everyone in East Berlin was told that there was equality and there wasn’t. We talk about equality in our world [now] and there isn’t. Take a walk down Bold Street, and the amount of homeless people has increased in the last two years. The fact that we’ve lost our contact with Europe now; I chose Conquest because it’s incredibly European, but again its about imagination and storytelling. The one thing that they do have is a flourish of language and an ability in their imagination to conquer anything, and that’s basically saying fuck you, you can’t tread on us, you can’t pull me down. Even if they fail they’re not gonna kill themselves. So yes, that’s my rant… Did I say Cunty Trump?

“Everything he did was about making sure an audience was included, or excluded”

Yes you did! So, just to clarify, is Manfred Karge’s original version influenced by the Brechtian tradition? And has that carried over?

Liam Tobin: Yeah. In terms of the way its presented there’s a slight kind of stepping back, although we’re very much as performers going into the minds of these characters and into those scenes and into that world. There’s also a sense of presenting it to an audience as a piece of theatre, a piece of vaudeville, a piece of art or song. It’s about the beauty of the theatrical; about people playing and creating something in the space, and those characters taking a journey of imagination and hoping that the audience will come along with them for the ride. We’re very much including the audience.

Liam Tobin in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

NB: I went out to Berlin to meet Manfred Karge. I knew about this play in 1989 when I was at drama school, we did extracts of it. It was dreadful. And I’ve always wanted to do it [again]. It was a really extraordinary meeting because he’s nearly 80, and I had so many questions. He was part of the Berliner Ensemble in 1961, so very much a part of the Brecht and Helene Weigel world, and so everything he did was about making sure an audience was included, or excluded; and sometimes in the turn of a sixpence you can include and exclude an audience. We spoke at length about that, about how the audience is the first character on a character list, and I came back with the history of why he wrote this play. We can’t act knowledge, that’s the thing; we can’t play knowledge as actors, but what these actors can do is have that knowledge inside them and then make it their own. I’m glad you’re excited about it because it is a really extraordinary piece of theatre. So good. And you get a snowstorm.

LT: What more do you want? It’s a beautiful piece of work. Concise and poetic. I read for it [in audition] and Nick said if you can do that, you can do Shakespeare. There’s almost a poetic quality to the language. As Nick says it lifts us [and] those characters out of their place, or where they’ve been placed in society, and says we’re better than this, we’ve got more to offer than this. It’s quite dense as a text and we’ve been ferreting about in it, trying to glean meaning and understanding, so that we can convey that to an audience, and we’re at a really exciting point now. So yeah, it’s very exciting. I’d urge people to let the fact they’ve not heard of it, or that it was written in 1984 in East Germany, not to put them off — because it’s very much a contemporary piece.

Jack Roe

See The Conquest of the South Pole at Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, until Sat 8 April 2017 — tickets £10–30

See other plays performed by The Everyman Company in Liverpool this year: The Story Giant 13–29 April 2017, The Sum 6–20 May 2017, and  Romeo and Juliet 27 May–2 June 2017

Images, from top: Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole; Liam Tobin, Dean Nolan and Emily Hughes in rehearsal for The Conquest of the South Pole; Liam Tobin in rehearsal. Photographs by Gary Calton

Posted on 29/03/2017 by thedoublenegative