For our latest interview, we sat down with The Trial of Le Singe writer/director Matthew Jameson of The Heretical Historians. Here’s what he had to say:
What makes your history heretical?
It’s mostly that we’re telling the stories that are either too ridiculous or silly to be considered by other historians. It starts with finding the story itself, usually a footnote or passing reference hidden in ‘serious’ history. Then we rigorously research the era we’re covering, and add as many details as we can, plus one or two other untold stories from the time where possible, then add our own unique chaos to the mix and we have a show!
Because we do spend so much time researching and finding other sides of history, it does mean that sometimes we do challenge known and accepted historical truths, because the alternatives can be much more exciting and dramatic, not to mention that they usually better explain people’s bizarre actions and decisions.
Heretical was a very carefully chosen word, because we wanted something that had an air of intellectualism to it: Part of our brand is taking on the role of self-aware, pseudo-intellectual actors who drop character throughout to draw attention to the limits of the show and comment on proceedings. As we’ve matured as a company, heretical fits us more and more, it has the air of outsiders, of questioning and brands us as the bad-boys of historical comedy fringe theatre.
What tactics do you use to get in touch with your primate roots while playing a monkey?
We’ve been pretty rigorous in making sure Salv [The actor playing the title role of ‘Le Singe’] is going method in taking on the role. So there’s been a lot of making him dance for us, having tea parties for him and force-feeding him bananas etc. We also now have a justification for keeping him in his cage, which is great as he can be a handful at the best of times, and helps minimise the faeces throwing.
For my own role, Larry [The town drunk who serves as prosecution in the trial], I’ve been going through double digits of special brew tins nightly and hurling insults out the window at passers-by. I’m a martyr for my art.
You combine several theatre styles in your work â€“ what can audiences expect from â€˜The Trial of Le Singeâ€™?
We mostly work in an epic theatre mould, so it’s all very low budget, but with enough clever tricks to create some wonderful moments and surprises. We get compared to Monty Python quite a lot, so there’s elements of that classic British silliness and absurdity. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration for this show from punk culture, so there’s a bit of The Young Ones in there too!
We’ve got a show which offers something for everyone. It’s a fast paced, high energy farce, chock-full of gags and anarchic chaos. There’s satire. There’s romance. There’s dramatic set pieces. There’s water pistols and party poppers. Above all else, it’s very good fun.
What made you join forces on this double feature?
I’ve worked with Caroline and Bence [The Writer and Director of Grab ‘Em By The Pussy] many timesÂ before, so I’m very glad to be repeating the pleasure. Caroline and I are committee members of Plays Rough London, a new writing collective, which shorter versions of these shows were written for, so when Adam came to see them and offered us a run, it seemed like a natural pairing. New writing can be a tough sell, so it helps to have two potential audiences that we can court and we liked the idea of giving people a full evening of theatre, not just an hour.
We joked that the evening should be called ‘The Thin End of The Wedge‘ as both our shows are satirical and humorous responses to fairly serious issues that our society faces, that if left unchecked can have disastrous and lethal consequences.
Are there any challenges that you faced in producing plays in partnership with another company?
Honestly, I’m amazed how smooth things have been! As mentioned we’ve all worked closely before, so we know the best way to negotiate and compromise with each other. There was a debate had over the shape of the stage we use, as we both wanted to create totally different worlds with our pieces, but we’ve struck a deal in re-shaping during the interval.
The real challenge is the fact that many of us share the same day job, meaning that securing time off for our teams and rehearsals/shows has been no end of bother. But it’s all worked out in the end.
Finally – you hunt out extraordinary events from history â€“ which has been the most absurd youâ€™ve found?
The more I learn about it, the more baffling it is to me that the Russian Revolution actually happened, so many bizarre events, absurd characters and accidents that totally changed the course of our history… But that’s another show I think.