It’s been quite a year for Bucket Club, and to be honest, this new company’s progress is a little enviable. Formed in May 2013, a gang of like-minded Bristol graduates itching to make work, they have already managed to catch the attention of such theatres as BAC and the Lyric Hammersmith. What strikes me most when I meet two of the founding members is their easy confidence in their work, as well as their active, unpretentious approach to the practicalities (as well as the profundities) of theatre-making. On this project, Nel Crouch is the company’s director/writer and Matt Lister is the producer but really, these are fluid roles within the ensemble. “There are about ten regulars, all contributing differently to the shows,” clarifies Nel. “We’re definitely a club,” Matt tells me, “It’s a good word for us.”
“Bucket Club really came out of being tired of not having anything going on,” Nel explains. She had just moved to London and “was just sat around in my room, thinking ‘how the hell am I ever going to start?’ Then we went back to Bristol to catch up with friends and had so many conversations where all of us were saying, “I’m bored of working in cafes… I want to make something! So we got our ideas together for a show and applied for the Lyric Hammersmith residency.” This two-week period in June last year was when Lorraine & Alan, its multi-disciplinary and off-beat take on the Selkie myth, first came together.
Thanks to what Matt terms their ‘shotgun approach’ (“We apply to everything, and some of it sticks”), the company has also found crucial creative and financial support. “We’ve been associates at Farnham Maltings since October,” Nel explains, “We applied to the ‘No Strings Attached’ grant scheme with Lorraine & Alan, then they contacted us to say not only did they wanted to help fund us, but they wanted to really look after us, and they’ve been amazing… I actually think that ‘shotgun approach’ is something that Farnham are trying to wean us off!” Matt agrees that “professionalism brings more strategy, I think. We never used to be selective, but at the start, that’s really important – to go with everything and see what comes through.” Do they identify as ‘a young company’, then, with all the caveats that label comes with, or are they a company that just happens to be young? “I think we’re what’s known as ’emerging’! Like a second puberty,” jokes Matt. “But of course, we want our work to be taken as seriously as possible! It’s a strange transition – moving into the professional sphere, but we feel really fortunate.” On being part of Incoming Festival, Nel enthuses that “it’s so great that it’s happening, and we’re also happy that some of our buddies are doing it.” Matt interrupts jokingly, “Well, a young company would say ‘buddies’, an emerging company would say ‘contemporaries’.” Nel continues, “We’re excited to see a lot of the other stuff, and of course, to be part of it.”
Hearing them talk about Lorraine & Alan, it’s not difficult to see why Bucket Club’s first full-length show (also running for three nights as part of Vault festival) has garnered the attention it has, because it sounds like an intriguing, uniquely beguiling work. Co-written by Crouch and writer/performer Becky Ripley, “Lorraine & Alan is a riff on the Selkie myth which my dad used to tell me when I was little,” Nel explains. The original story tells of a fisherman who falls in love with a ‘selkie’ (seal woman) and takes her home to marry. All seems well until she finds the skin which he’s hidden from her, realises she’s been deceived and returns to the sea. “Our story follows a similar pattern, but we’ve modernised it, changing the fisherman to a lonely marine biology graduate – Alan – who lives with his parents in Norfolk. He runs seal guide tours, which is how he finds Lorraine. He’s a bit of a loser, without many friends, and so to have this beautiful woman land in his lap, he just wants to love her. What we found when we were making it is that it’s less about a ‘bad’ man who ruins a woman’s life, but rather, that the story had so much in there about what happens when you enter into a relationship, what you have to compromise or sacrifice in order to be with another person – and about how that can go wrong, really, especially for women, in terms of what happens to your identity when you become a wife and a mother.”
The show seems to strike at the heart of what they want to see in theatre. “I’d never want our work to forget that it is for an audience, otherwise what’s the point?” says Nel. “It’s the immediacy of the art,” Matt asserts, when I ask what draws them to the form. “There’s no middle point between you and the artist… and I like that it’s transient – if you miss it, it’s gone and if you weren’t there, then you can’t catch up.” Nel offers that “it’s this constant exercise of thinking outside the box, for me, it’s all problem-solving and I just find that satisfying, to make things happen on stage and make them really land, with people.” Lorraine & Alan is “a journey” for an audience, told through narration whilst musicians provide “a live score built out of layers of voice.”
What, I have to ask after reading the show’s flyer, do they mean by “live sound design”? “It’s all controlled on a Wii remote, like a computer game… so one movement makes the sound of the wave, and so on. David Ridley, our composer, is a genius.” From the technologically complex to the utterly un-ostentatious, Nel adds that their set “is made up entirely of hundreds of plastic bottles.” Does that stripped-back aesthetic come from necessity or artistic choice? “I don’t want to make ‘spectaculars’,” Nel insists, “I see shows with all this stuff in them, and I just think, you don’t need all that! As long as there’s a good story, with something important going on, that’s all you need. I don’t think the shows themselves will ever need a big budget.”
Of course, money is a pertinent issue, and trying to pay themselves wages “now that everyone is putting far more hours in than we can pay for is one of the conflicts of being an ’emerging’ company.” So how much of life is dedicated to Bucket Club and how much is spent making rent? I’m immediately scolded for asking “a really depressing question”. “We’re working really hard to make it more Bucket Club,” Nel emphasises,“Me and Matt both hold down incredibly glamorous jobs (in a theatre canteen and a ticketing call centre, respectively). A major issue we’re encountering is that, though we both have these ‘rubbishy’ jobs that do allow us to be flexible, with other members getting full-time jobs, time suddenly becomes incredibly valuable. Of course, it’s good because it means that when we’re together, we definitely have to be working, it’s not limitless. But there does come a moment for many people when they think ‘Do I want to carry on this freelance way of life…” “…or do I just want a job,” Matt finishes, “Where I can just go in and feel ‘safe’?”
Considering our current climate of arts funding cuts and vanishing theatres, do they feel daunted? Nel neatly balances pragmatism and optimism in her response. “I feel generally that there’s still so much work being made, and that people who work in theatre are naturally reactive, adaptive people, and a way will be found! Having said that, when I first moved to London, I just did not know where to start. It seemed to me like an impenetrable fortress, but it’s just not.” Do they have any advice then, other than to apply for everything? “Make a sacrifice,” Nel offers, “If you’ve got ideas and some rehearsal space, just go for it. Don’t think that you’re the only person sitting in their room wanting to be making work, because all your friends will be doing the same thing! Talk to people and you’ll find what you need. Send emails to theatre-makers you admire, see everything, then stalk artists afterwards. I try to go to the theatre at least once a week. I think you’ve got to be an audience if you want to have an audience.”
Matt suggests that the trick to it is “thinking like it’s already happened, that it’s going to happen, so it’s got to happen – if you can talk like that, it seems to work. I mean, I think we can both be shy… I’ve seen us both go red when people have offered us these opportunities! But,” he affirms, “you can’t just sit and wait for it.” Nell agrees, “ Of all the people who are out there, if you’re the one who says you’re going to do it, you’re already a step ahead. Having the balls to do something is half of everything, really,” which is perhaps some of the soundest advice for young theatre-makers I’ve heard in a while.
Lorraine & Alan will be playing at the New Diorama Theatre as part of A Younger Theatre’s Incoming Festival. For more information on Bucket Club, visit its website. For tickets for the Incoming Festival, please see the New Diorama’s website.