Tuesday 14 August 2012 | By Chris Cooke
The Alchemist Theatre: An isolated territory
‘Sealand’ intrigued us from the start. A ‘broken Britain’ themed piece, inspired by the rather bizarre story of the real life sea fort principality, it had a lot of promise. Then our reviewer saw the show and was entranced, making us determined to track down Luke Clarke and Anthony Stephen Springall from The Alchemist, the recently formed company behind the show, to ask some questions.
CC: For the uninitiated, tell us about the real Sealand?
Luke: The real Sealand was set up in 1967 by Roy Bates. After realising one of the old World War II sea forts in the North Sea was outside British territorial waters, he and his wife started to live on it and claimed it as an independent sovereign state. He gave himself the title of prince and his wife the title of princess, and a legal battle ensued. His son still lives there today.
CC: When did you first learn about the real life Sealand story, and how did it inspire the new play?
Luke: I found out about the real Sealand while flicking through a news website. I was looking for the perfect place to set the play, some where isolated and cut off from the mainland. Sealand ticked every box. The real story is fascinating, but their reason for creating Sealand seemed to stem from them wanting publicity. In my story I ask, if someone really wanted to start a new nation, would it be possible and how would they go about achieving it?
CC: Recent economic woes also influenced the play, didn’t they?
Luke: Yes. As a recent graduate, I was struck one day (as most students are, I think) by the realisation that I would soon be entering into a climate that offered me little to no employment opportunities. The play is my response to the recession, the economic down turn and the feelings that both students and working adults have toward broken Britain at the moment. However, the play also explores the strength of family and the divide between the youth of today and the older generation
CC: It sounds like there are parallels with some other attempts-to-create-a-Utopia stories – Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ comes to mind – did any other works inspire you?
Luke: ‘The Beach’ certainly has some parallels, though I would say the film ‘Mosquito Coast’ was more of an inspiration. I think like a lot of utopia stories, it’s never about the new place you’re creating, it’s about what’s wrong with the place you’ve come from, and why you had to leave it.
CC: How have you gone about recreating an isolated sea platform on stage?
Anthony: We enlisted the help of Charlie Robb, a graduate designer from The Wimbledon School of Art. To translate the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation onto the stage, she designed a raised platform where the actors are forced to live on top of each other. Using a simple pulley system we were able to add another level to the set, the basement.
CC: Tell us about your backgrounds, have you written/directed and produced before?
Anthony: We have just graduated from the Contemporary Theatre Course at East 15 Acting School. During training Luke devised and performed in the National Theatre Studio’s production of ‘Doing The Idiots’ and the Georgian National Theatre’s production of ‘Touch Me’. He’s also directed at the Southwark Playhouse and The Nottingham Arts Theatre. Though ‘Sealand’ is his first full length play.
This is my fourth year at the Edinburgh Fringe, I composed and produced ‘Facebook: The Musical’ in 2009, transferred to the Arts Theatre London with the Hartshorn-Hook production of ‘A Tribute To The Blues Brothers live’ in 2010, and produced ‘Perffection’ by Charlotte Josephine last year. ‘Sealand’ is the first production for our new company The Alchemist.
CC: Do you think Edinburgh is a good place for premiering new work?
Anthony: Edinburgh is the perfect platform for a new piece of theatre, providing you can pay the escalating venue guarantee! It gives you the opportunity to take risks, be creative and get what might have started as just a simple plot idea to an international audience. New work is the heart of the Fringe.
CC: What are the biggest challenges about producing a brand new play?
Anthony: Getting the public interested enough in new writing that they’ll part with their well earned pounds. You have to know how to sell your show and be able to talk freely about it, word of mouth is God in Edinburgh and the challenge is to get an audience that will then go and talk about your show.
CC: What are the best bits?
Anthony: The best thing about producing this show is the cast and team behind our new company. They’re passionate and committed to giving the public an hour of pure theatre.
CC: And finally, beyond the Fringe, what are your future plans for The Alchemist?
Anthony: We plan to tour ‘Sealand’ in 2013. And we both have a number of other productions in the pipeline. But for next year’s Fringe Luke, Charlie and I, are planning a totally different theatre experience to this year. Live music, giant puppets, acrobatics and of course time travel. And that’s all I’ll say for now.
The Alchemist Theatre performed ‘Sealand’ at Zoo at Fringe 2012.
Photo: Kat Gollock