Interview: Middle Weight Theatre
Middle Weight Theatre are bringing their ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ to the Fringe this August. The Mumble shared a wee chat with writer/performer, Matt Roberts, and director/performer, Tom Stabb.
Hello lads, so where ya both from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Tom: Hello! Matt is originally from Cornwall, he studied in Exeter, Devon (where we met) and is now based in Bristol. I’m from and based In Exeter. So you can only imagine the type of arguments there are over who makes the better pasty.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Tom: From a very early age. Both my parents were involved in theatre; my father was an actor/director and my mother a ballet teacher/choreographer. My house was continually packed with actors, dancers, stage hands and as a result was always full of creativity; there were constant rehearsals, debates and arguments over the latest Bafta or Tony award winner. I actually learnt to count by watching rehearsals of the ‘39 Lashes’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It was inevitable there was going to be an influence. Or therapy…
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Matt: Several years ago I was a singer in a metal band and someone told me there were auditions being held near me for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ They reckoned I’d make a good Judas, because it was a ‘rock’ musical. My natural rock tenor voice (and my tendancy to betray people) made me a perfect candidate. I got the part, I loved performing it and this lead to other acting roles over the subsequent years.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Matt: For me, I want to be transported into the world of what I’m watching. I don’t want to sit in the audience and think ‘I’m currently watching a play;’ I want to be there thinking ‘I’m in their world.’ Ultimately, it’s about being immersed I guess. Also, I want to exit the theatre with residual thoughts and feelings – a good play should send you straight to the bar for a discussion, an argument or should at least prompt dialogue about the themes and psychodrama of what you’ve witnessed.
What do you like to do when you’re not being all theatrical?
Tom: I would love to give you a list of cool stuff to make myself sound all wind-swept and interesting, but honestly, the past three to four years have been consumed with establishing and maintaining the theatre company. Whether this is by going to watch other companies’ productions, talent scouting, learning new direction techniques, promoting or reading play after play after play, my interests are almost always work driven. I can do a good rendition of Eminen’s ‘Rap God’ or ‘A Modern Major General’ by Gilbert and Sullivan after a few glasses of wine; does this count?
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Matt: James Foley’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ and Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘The Sweet Smell of success.’ A close fourth would be ‘Noddy goes lap dancing.’ I can’t remember who directed it.
So Tom, how did you & Matt meet?
Tom: For a while I was a local music promotor around the Southwest. On several occasions I booked a heavy metal band that Matt was the vocalist for. They were such an outstanding group, I ended up muscling (and blackmailing) my way into being their bass player. We gigged and toured for over five years together, which (unsuspectingly at the time) developed into an on and off stage chemistry with regard to performance, comedy, writing, trust and, dare I say it, ethics… The band ran its course, but we have continued to collaborate on theatre projects ever since. Thus Middle-Weight Theatre Company was born.
Can you tell us about Middle-Weight?
Tom: It was jointly founded in 2013 by Matt and I, and the aim – from day one – was to maintain a high standard of entertainment expressed by a wide variety of talented actors through new and thought-provoking original writing. Along the way we have welcomed the crucial talents of Al Wadlan, Jemma Gillard and Chrissy Marshall in co-running the company. Everyone who has been involved in any of Middle-Weight’s productions, be it performing or behind the scenes, usually has a keen interest in discussing or debating current affairs and politics, which is why our new play ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ (about censorship and the devolution of language) has been such fun to produce.
Can you tell us more about this year’s play?
Matt: It’s basically about how our language is being profoundly diminished by the rampant political correctness currently infesting our society. Don’t get me wrong, I completely acknowledge that we need to have codes in place to ensure people and the groups those people are part of aren’t persecuted or victimised, by I’m worried that the populus is becoming so sensitive and have developed such a finely tuned sense of ‘offense’ that our language is becoming subject to so much prohibition and censorship that soon there will quite literally be nothing left to say.
Five years into the Middle-Weight experience, how have you changed as a person?
Tom: Interesting question. I have changed in the sense that I’ve rekindled an interest in embracing new methods and to be more pluralistic. Honestly – I’m a bit of a control freak and have a somewhat nervous disposition by nature, so gaining and developing new techniques and experiences has taught me to compose myself – when for example a piece of scenery we’ve spent weeks making doesn’t fit properly or a prop doesn’t arrive on time, I don’t tend to hit Matt in the face as my first response anymore – so there’s definite growth there.
How would you describe your working relationship with Tom?
Matt: Tom is great to work with because he is one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who is thoroughly reliable. If he says he’ll do something, he actually does it, and that’s a rare commodity in a person. He’s also very patient, which is, considering my phenomenally large ego, quite important.
This will be your third time at the Fringe, can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Tom: Enchantingly exhausting.
As an actor, how will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Matt: If I’m sweating a lot, that’s usually a good sign.
Do you & Matt socialise outwith rehearsals?
Tom: No. We have a keen disdain for one another.
What will you guys be doing after the Fringe?
Matt: There will be a quick break (after a tour, Tom and I generally part with the mutual sentiment of ‘I don’t ever want to see you again’) and after which, it’ll be one of many potential projects. We have 3 new original plays to choose from, so we are delighted to know we will be busy until 2020!
amendments: A Play on Words