A sequestered community, led by propaganda and religious zealots, fuelled by inbreeding and moonshine rests on the outskirts of society at large: the world that Nick Cave moulded in his debut novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel, is as ugly as it is inspired.
The London-based (but comprising a troupe of international creatives ) Fledgling Theatre Company have taken Cave’s brutal social landscape and have transposed it onto a timeless backdrop which questions the human condition when a society is pushed to the limit. A project which has taken over a year to come to fruition, Fledging Theatre’s Jericho Creek opens at the Cockpit Theatre this month and we caught up with the company to discuss the project and the long-lasting influence of Mr. Cave.
THE METROPOLIST: And The Ass Saw The Angel by Nick Cave is a difficult book to adapt: it has number of narrative voices, a mute protagonist and is set over a long period of time. Tell us how it all came about.
Chris Huntly-Turner: We started, my co-director and I, the other Chris who can’t be here today, with the book. Chris [Neels] had read the And The Ass Saw The Angel, gave it to me and said “there is a lot in here we could explore”. I thought “this is perfect!” So we had a research and development (R&D) session with three different plays and very different concepts we were working with at the at time and we were lucky enough to get 30 actors, writers, musicians and directors in and we presented three showcases to a variety of other producers and directors.
Unanimously, Jericho Creek was the idea and the concept which was considered to be more rounded and which captured the attention of everyone asked. It is not a retelling of Nick Cave’s work, we like to describe it as ‘inspired by the works of Nick Cave’. If you look at the structure and the plot (or the lack thereof) it is an immersive book, we are merely taking some issues which are discussed at the start of the book and completely re-contextualising them into a place and time where we feel they are heightened and more prevalent.
Callum Cameron: Also, another work we reference amongst ourselves is The Proposition which, in terms of setting and site, was kind of a direct inspiration on us. I would say it is mainly inspired by those two works.
CH-T: Basically, it is the tale of a religious community in colonial Australia before it was Australia. There are no Australian accents, there is no Crocodile Dundee jokes – it is very much an English, western society transplanted into a harsh environment, an unforgiving landscape and Jericho Creek looks at hoe religion plays a part in tearing that apart and how people at the extremes of their own existence interact and fall apart.
CC: And how they choose to believe in when they are most desperate.
TM: So you take the ideas of propaganda which are prevalent at the start of the novel and you try to think about them in a different way. Ideas of immigration come to mind and this is something you have said before.
CC: When we were doing the R&D we worked with that idea but I think the play has moved on from that now. I think when we were originally applying for things and working on the R&D a lot of people thought the leader figure, the preacher who grabs everyone remind someone of Nigel Farage and Ukip. It may seem quite cheap to just attach a fictional character to a name but there were notions of nationhood – and how you build a nation of equality – which came about and we were really interested in that idea for a while. Now the piece has moved on.
CH-T: But definitely in terms of immigration and transplantation of cultures, that is very prevalent. The world and society we have created is one which is constantly trying to grab a hold of what they know and what they know to be the way of life should be in a place which doesn’t allow it to be the case. So, if you think about the segregation of cultures across London, let alone the UK, I think ideas within the play speak universally.
TM: You say it is ‘inspired by the works of Nick Cave’ as a plural. Stage is not a medium Nick Cave has worked in, and adaptions of his works have never seen the light of day. You thought you would take this on?
CC: There were puppets! There was a puppet version of The Ass Saw The Angel just after it as released.
CH-T: In the 1980s there was a stage play which involved puppets and we quickly found that the things that were attracting us to the book were the foundations how we could jump off of what the work brings: which is a great lyricism; this beautiful gothic lyricism which is both ugly and beautiful at exactly the same time.
CC: Which is in all his song lyrics as well.
CH-T: We loved the lyrical nature of his cusses. His profanities are next level. His ability to shape this horrifically gorgeous image is something that we wanted to do on stage. So that was the jumping off point at which we thought “we can do this”. Now we find ourselves, as Callum said, referencing his movie scripts and his soundtracks and his albums. In our rehearsal space we keep playing his works to set the tone, straight off the bat so everyone know where, stylistically, we sit.
CC: We really like working on recreating the poetic ugliness of his.
TM: One of the problems that a work inspired by Nick Cave brings about is that a lot of the narrative voices in the novel and the song lyrics are silent. Euchrid Eucrow is a mute, and the most gothic, disgusting and lyrical passages in the book are part of his internal monologue, written in eye dialect. The album we associate most with the book is Tender Prey – it was written at the same time as the novel and under the same influences – and a lot of the narratives here, again, are first person and internal and not easy to transpose into other forms; what challenges did all this bring about?
CH-T: At very early doors we tried everything. We met with other directors and companies and theatres and they responded to this idea of a mute protagonist; how do you have someone telling the story who can’t tell anything, really? We initially worked by using language very selectively or people around him using language but we what we decided on, and how we are now approaching it as a company, is to focus on dualities of characters. We loosely tell the same story from two perspectives: the preacher’s perspective and the mute’s perspective.
We do that by using the juxtaposition of visual and physical language with a written and auditory language. Therefore the preacher’s strengths: his legitimacy and his power come from the spoken word, his ability to inspire and be charismatic enough to sweep people up in his emotion. The general counterpoint to that is a man who can’t speak, who is downtrodden in society, who is beat up, who is invisible and when he is seen he is a Labrador or a stray dog with one leg. The world that he sees is a visual, physical world which is stripped back, honest, heart-breaking and beautiful at the same time. In writing the script, and now in staging it, we have to work on the methods of telling the same story form two different perspectives throughout.
TM: You speak of a leader with rhetoric, who uses language and rhetoric to sweep a community in, and that is very much a timeless tale. Milton’s devil from Paradise Lost or any politician with their stupid clawed pointing thumb comes to mind. Were any other influences present when sculpting those characters?
CH-T: More recently I have been using Shakespearian references, Claudius-eque vibes. I have been thinking of Hamlet’s Claudius or Titus. I have been thinking of Elizabethan models when structuring our preacher character.
CC: I think the whole structure, you will see when you see the play, is based on an epic tale. We have a cast of 12 and it is quite a sprawling narrative that goes over such a long period of time, there are so many intertwining narratives and I think the Shakespearian alpha model we have been using lends itself quite well to the story.
TM: As a company there are three of you and you have been working for a long time on this production with a cast of 12 and an even larger crew. How have you been able to construct such an ambitious project as such a small company?
CH-T: Honestly, the only way we have been able to do it is through the generosity of people we want to work with and who want to work with us. Without that, we would be nowhere near able to undertake this project and if we tried, it would be nowhere near as grand in its scale. We have been very fortunate, across our careers, to have a variety of strings to our bows and have crossed paths a number of very talented artists.
CC: They have dedicated time every Monday to work on the project. One of the most exciting things has been that each actor has developed their own characters.
CH-T: We have seen them come out with something brilliant and Chris and I have gone away and taken the jump that they have made and just said “cool, let’s take that even further and see how far we can push that”.
TM: Let’s talk music. Nick Cave’s approach to sound tracking is varied and broad. There are instrumental albums (The Proposition), original narrative songs (The Assassination of Jesse James…) and re-appropriations of existing tunes (Lawless) to illustrate a narrative. Sonically, how are you approaching a play which is so wrapped up in music?
CC: We have music throughout. We have only used one Nick Cave song, the rest are modern songs we have re-appropriated. We have approached it in a choral way in which all the members of the cast produce these soundscapes.
CH-T: We have re-appropriated songs by way of sound-scaping so we are somewhere between The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and Lawless. There is very much a picking and choosing of which Nick Cave best suits the story.
TM: There are so many fans of all these Nick Caves, are you expecting a back lash of opinion? Is this something which is important for you and the play?
CH-T: I think that if a Nick Cave fan comes to see the play they will be able to see the fingerprint of Nick Cave’s, but not the finger.
Inspired by Nick Cave’s novel ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel’, Jericho Creek is set in the harsh conditions of colonial Australia. Jericho Creek is a world of inbreeding, moonshine and religious fanaticism where slowly but surely the community’s dark underbelly begins to expose itself.
Fledgling Theatre Company are Callum Cameron, Chris Huntly – Turner and Christopher Neels.
Jericho Creek will be at the Cockpit Theatre between 29th July and 1st August 2015. Click here for more details and tickets.