Of the four members of Clout Theatre, all are present for our interview, but only three of them are in the same country. Mine Çerçi is in Turkey, and joins our interview over Skype. “We’re very used to this kind of thing,” Jenny Swingler tells me: as a result of Çerçi’s visa being denied, she directed the whole of their most recent show, The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity, via video call.
The company is made up of Çerçi, who directs, and actors Swingler, George Ramsay and Sasha Plaige, who came together after studying at the Lecoq in Paris. They are performing Various Lives as part of INCOMING; Swingler says it will “be really interesting to perform it in London to people who missed it at Edinburgh”. Clout has just returned from an R&D period in Istanbul when I meet them – and, more excitingly still, the company is about to go on to residencies at BAC, Jackson’s Lane and the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter before it performs at INCOMING.
The show itself is an intense exploration of the absurdity of life, exemplified by fascinating physical theatre. The premise of the piece is that a post-suicide group meet and discuss – and even re-enact – their untimely ends. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. “You find yourself laughing at death, or suicide,” Ramsay observes, “We’re laughing about it, and then maybe there’s an echo that’s uncomfortable after that.”
By working through a devised process that Plaige calls “very democratic”, Clout has created a piece every year for the last three years, and is currently developing a fourth. “We all collaborate, we all discuss,” Plaige says of the devising process. “We all discuss the themes we would like to explore, the ideas, and then we come to something that is interesting for everyone. And then we get into the rehearsal room and each of us proposes something, and we all try it.”
Each member of the company has differing interests which cover various aspects of theatre, and the process Clout goes through to create a piece is what Ramsay describes as “finding where that unity is” between the different styles. “Some of us go more towards character, some of us go more towards movement, some of us go more towards clowns, some of us go more towards grotesque,” he explains, “Each of us has a different style, and that can be really rich.”
Clout premiered The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity at Edinburgh last year, and has gone onto develop it over the past few months, notably at BAC and then further in Istanbul, where Çerçi had to tech for a show she’d never actually seen in real life. This, she says, gave her a greater passion and drive to see the show develop further. The members of Clout all seem to agree that festivals such as INCOMING and residencies such as the one they are about to embark on in Exeter are integral to the development of emerging companies. Swingler notes that “festivals are important because it’s a chance for you to show your work, and sometimes that might sound easier than it actually is to do. I mean, a lot of the time we can make a show and then it doesn’t really have a home to go to, as it were, or an audience to reach.” Having worked in Paris after graduating, each of the members of Clout agrees that in terms of support and interest, London is a great place for young companies to develop.
As an emerging company, Clout naturally welcomes this support. The members of the company still have day jobs – they spend roughly half the year working outside the company in different areas, and then have a tight schedule of six months during which they create a show. Though developing rapidly, the company is still glad to be classed as an emerging company – Plaige notes how the label “leaves you a bit of freedom to take risks”. This allows opportunities to create the sort of show audiences can expect from Clout at INCOMING: “We’re not really ashamed of taking that kind of risk, even if it’s maybe one that’s in bad taste, some people could say? We enjoy playing around with that,” Swingler states, encapsulating the ambience and intensity of Clout’s evocative piece. “We try to do something we haven’t seen before,” Plaige adds. “It’s more of an experiment.”
Not being a full time company has by no means curbed the company’s focus or enthusiasm, and when asked for advice for other young or emerging companies, Swingler is assertive in her answer. “Just do it. Don’t second guess yourself or procrastinate. The advice would be just to go for it, to really go for it, and do 100% your creation and defend that creation as an artist, and don’t compromise, and that’s the best you can do.” It is evident that this sort of determination permeates Clout’s work – the result is work that is shocking, current, and visceral.
Just as Çerçi is about to answer a question on what the company’s multinational make-up lends Clout’s work, the video connection cuts out. But Ramsay pipes in. “I know what she’s going to say. I think she’s going to say that we have a common language from being at the same school.” When Çerçi comes back on the line she types her response on screen – and it’s almost exactly as Ramsay predicted. Being multinational is “not that difficult”, she says, “because we all share the same language, which is Lecoq.” It’s clear that the company is incredibly in tune with each other. Perhaps it’s this connection, whether through its shared theatrical language or complementary creative mindsets, that makes it the exciting company it is.
The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity will be at the New Diorama Theatre on 22 May as part of A Younger Theatre’s INCOMING Festival. For more information and tickets, visit NDT’s website.