Do you remember the first time you went to the Globe? Did you feel like you were stepping back in time? What I remember is some kids rapping about how I needed to switch off my phone… The first time I went to the Globe, it was to see Ché Walker’s contemporary play about the Camden community, The Frontline. It was only my second play as a teenager and it left an impression, because I arrived concerned about standing for three hours and left feeling like I had voice and someone was listening.
Ever since, I’ve been a great admirer of Walker’s expression; weaving between song and dialogue, capturing the London dialect I grew up with. Sat within the greater body of Walker’s work, Klook’s Last Stand resonates with “similar themes about people feeling conflicted; between wanting love and wanting to run away; people who are very angry, perhaps destructive, but also have tremendous tenderness in them. I think you’ll be able to recognise it as one of mine. Sometimes I think one play gets you to another and you can see a kind of progression.” I’ve seen the show, and this two-man play does indeed intensify these resonant tones in an intimate space, like I’ve never seen Walker’s work do before.
Klook’s Last Stand is “a love story, the story of Klook and Vinette’s relationship from beginning to end – which I won’t spoil. It’s about damaging people who have had damaging pasts and are trying to overcome that, and then they meet each other they help each other. But the past has a way of coming back at you.” I ask Walker why he feels music helps to tell the story and he explains, “I don’t think anything quite moves people like song.” But Walker’s work remains categorised as plays-with-songs, not musicals: “the songs are sort of woven in so they blend back into the dialogue. The idea for me is that it’s one continuous piece of music if you like, even with the text. I think also, lots of people talk about diversifying their audience. It’s funny, ask people who think theatre’s a bit boring what they like doing and a lot of them say, ‘I go to live music, clubs, have an extensive record collections’, you know? Music is at the centre of a lot of people’s lives. I think it’s a way of getting those sort of people to come see the play.”
Being familiar with Walker’s work, it’s interesting to note how he’s surrounded himself with collaborators that he continues to work with. Omar – who wrote the music for this show with Anoushka Lucas – collaborated with Walker on the one man show Lovesong, in which Walker “took songs from his career – I just picked all my favourites really – and made a story that fit around them”. But their relationship began long before that, “Omar was my student. I was teaching at Identity, a drama school in Hackney, and to my astonishment Omar walked into my class one day (late). I’ve been a huge Omar fan for 20 years and when he walked in I thought he must be lost. I got to teach a guy who I consider to be a legend. Immediately after the class, I said we’ve got to talk. Been So Long was about to happen so it was just a real confluence of events,” and, so the story goes, Omar auditioned and got the part in Been So Long.
Walker tells me that he’s met a lot of other life-long collaborators through teaching. These include Arthur Darvill (better known for playing Rory in Doctor Who) who has composed the music for Walker’s productions of Been So Long, The Frontline and The Lightning Child, and Sheila Atim who plays the female lead in Klook’s. “It’s funny because there was a piece about Sheila that called her Ché Walker’s new discovery – I thought about it and the thing is, if someone like Omar, or Arthur or Sheila walks into your class and you can’t spot that there’s something really rare about them, then you shouldn’t be teaching.” He currently teaches at WAC, which he says changed his life, and is where he first encountered Atim, “but there’s also Rio Kai, he plays three instruments in the show, he’s from WAC, the choreographer’s from WAC, the assistant director – it’s like a WAC arts show.”
“I’ve been very lucky to have that many multi-talented people around me,” he says, and Walker is also multi-disciplined. “I think being able to act has made me a better director and being able to direct has made me a better actor, and both of those things have made me a better director, because I’ve some understanding of what an actor’s going to need.” He “grew up in the theatre, my mother is an actor so it was always a part of my life. I sort of fought it off because when I was very young I saw my mum really struggle up to a point.”
Despite being multi-disciplined, it’s a little terrifying for aspiring theatremakers like meP to hear that Walker still “gets rejected now as a director, writer and an actor – it’s a part of it.” I seek some comforting advice about the inevitable rejection: “my advice would be to ignore all advice. Because you’re the expert on you. You know what’s right for you and what you want. I think the rejection is interesting; you prove you’re a lifer by how you handle the rough times and if you can keep going.”
I’ve got to wrap up with this – Walker is just an incredibly generous and friendly man and I learnt a lot more from him than I could contain in this interview. It’s not a far stretch to imagine him nurturing all this talent he’s encountered and happily taking them on his journey with them.
Klook’s Last Stand runs at the Park Theatre until 6 July. For tickets and more information please visit Park Theatre’s website.