Made In China, Unicorn Theatre Interview: “Double Double Act is for big stages and adventurous child audiences.”

Double Double Act

Double Double Act

Are children and adults sometimes the same? What does adulthood really mean? And what kind of things do both find funny? Made in China’s new show is about exploring the subversive interrogation of the roles of children and adults have or each other, apparently.

Anyway, Made In China was founded in 2009 by Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki. Their work is about little absurdities and big issues that come from living and looking out at the world from the waning west. Recent credits include, Tonight  I’m Gonna Be The New Me (2015), Gym Party (2013), Get Stuff Break Free (2012), and We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) (2011).

Here is what we discussed.
Hi ya Double Double Act is a show performed with 8-year-olds and adults. How did that come about?
Hi ya. Well: we were invited to propose a show to the Unicorn a couple of years ago, and thought ‘why should we presume to know how children feel, see the world, or want to see?’. It’s a long time since we were their age, so if it’s going to be made for children it should also be made with children. Our first impulse was actually to work with younger children – like, 5 year olds – because we wanted that quality of very minimal or non-existent self-consciousness. But we were advised that 5 was too young to be directed/stay focused at all, which was probably very good advice!

Why do you think there is a growing appetite for theatre made for and by young people?
Is there one? We’re not experts but if there is a growing appetite, we’d speculate that maybe it’s to do with a wider increased interest in The Young over the last few years. There’s the well-documented sense that young people have been totally screwed over: inheriting a broken world that offers less opportunity than they were promised/saw their parents enjoy. And then there’s the backlashes against that depressing view which stirs up interest even more. And within UK theatre, there’s been some recent excitement about the adventurous things international artists –  especially northern Europeans and specifically Belgians – are doing with young people’s theatre. We’re part of that we guess– we were lucky enough to work with excellent Belgian theatre-maker Dominique Collet from Ghent’s Kopergietery on Double Double Act.

What have been the strangest audience reactions to ‘Double Double Act’?
One person exclaimed ‘but it’s a kids show!’ during one of the more uncompromising moments towards the climax of the show. Wouldn’t have been all that unusual/amusing…except the person exclaiming was themselves a child!
And it’s definitely the first show we’ve made where one audience member can turn to another as the curtain call finishes and say ‘oi Beloved, what bit did you like most? I liked the vomit’. It’s nice to have audience members who think we’re sick and mean it in a good way.

If you were in charge of London theatre what 3 things would you change?
What, like if we were Mayor of London Theatre?! We’d definitely apply for that job. We’d want to instil an inclusive approach to risk-taking. It feels like an increasingly risk-averse climate, year on year. So 1) we’d try to make theatres more artist-led (without making them any less audience-led). 2) We’d try to redistribute funding so that artists and audiences benefit more directly (something approximating a living wage and something approximating a ticket price that doesn’t demand a sure-fire hit of an evening – audiences able to willingly and lightly take a risk). And 3) We’d hasten the break up of the mostly male, mostly Oxbridge and mostly white cartel that still runs this industry.

What’s your favourite joke?
At the moment it’s a knock knock joke that comes from one of the children in the show (and is in the show itself):
-knock knock?
-who’s there?
-Europe who?

The Unicorn feels like the perfect place for this show doesn’t it.
Yes, there is a real interest there in a diverse range of people making a formally and thematically diverse range of theatre, for an audience who happen to be mostly children. As opposed to trotting out the same old stories and formats that tie into an already-limiting national curriculum, which doesn’t inspire anyone least of the children, but seems to be a very real pressure on a place like The Unicorn. It takes courage to fight that status quo.

What are your top tips for top tips for aspiring young performers?
Depends how young I guess! If you’re at school, keep performing wherever you can, but also find out about all the other jobs you can do in theatre as well as be an actor. If you’re trying to break into theatre professionally, be brave and commit to theatricality – find a way to be yourself on stage and look your audience in the eye. Theatre is a game played between the stage and the auditorium, and it will struggle as an art form as long as it denies this and tries to simply ape telly, films or what people think it ‘classically’ was.

When did you last buy a pen?
Last week. Bought 20 at once. Half price deal.

How different is this piece from ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me’?
On the surface, in almost every way. ‘Tonight was a solo, spikey, unsettling piece of text-based performance while Double Double Act is probaby as close to pure comedy as Made In China will ever get. It’s also at once less narrative and more like traditional theatre than ‘Tonight…’ – because it’s made for big stages and it draws on a staple 20th century format (comedy double acts) that’s rooted in vaudeville, footlights n’ all. We try to ensure every show we make is really bespoke to the conditions it’ll be performed in: ‘Tonight…’ was for hot little studio theatres and adventurous adult audiences, Double Double Act is for big stages and adventurous child audiences. But both continue MIC’s interest in the act of creating and presenting yourself/a story to the world.  Asking how and why we do that as humans, who polices it, and what hang-ups we have around it.

What are your favorite theatre companies making work for young audiences?
Huh – we haven’t seen loads, partly because the Unicorn is one of very few places producing lots of work for young audiences in the UK, and we missed Edinburgh last year where we heard about a couple of great Belgian shows for/with children. Fevered Sleep made a great show recently called ‘Men and Girls Dancing’; Bootworks are relative experts in the field; Double Double Act dramaturg Dominique Collet made a show this year that we didn’t fully understand (it was in Flemish) but  we very much enjoyed and admired nonetheless!

What would success look like for ‘Double Double Act’?
The litmus test has got to be ‘are children enjoying it’ and so far they’re going wild for it. So on the level that really matters it already is a success. What we really want is to do it again: it’s been a big undertaking and it feels like a unique, complex, riotously entertaining piece of work that we’d like to see live for longer than 3 weeks…

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Um…not really. But thanks, interesting questions to answer!

Double Double is at The Unicorn Theatre, London, until 9 July. Box Office 020 7645 0560