Jack Gleeson and the Collapsing Horse Theatre Company talk about going on tour

Interview with Collapsing Horse Theatre | Monster/Clock

After a 5 star sell out run in 2012, Collapsing Horse Theatre are taking Monster/Clock on tour. We caught up with Aaron Heffernan (Puppet Master), Eoghan Quinn (Writer), Dan Colley (Director), Jack Gleeson (Original Toby/Assistant Producer) and Matthew Smyth (Producer) to talk about their musical puppet comedy, building the "best-tree house ever" and the potential in a wrestling match with a rival theatre company.

What was the inspiration for Monster/Clock?
Aaron: The inspiration for the show in the very first instance came from two places. The writer Eoghan Quinn's heart sang for an original new piece of writing - the story of which would be told through puppetry and the achievable comedy and poignancy therein. My heart sang out for an adaptation of a certain 1970's Disney film for the stage, again using puppetry. We met in the middle and it grew from there into the all-consuming Monster (/Clock) it is today.

Was it a collaborative process from the start or did it start as a script with the musical/puppetry elements coming later?
The process was highly collaborative from day one. If Aaron wanted to build a certain kind of puppet, or someone could do a funny voice, we could work that into the show and the script. Really they just ran in tandem; we knew the kind of story we wanted to tell, and the tone we were going for, so the script began from there. But, at the same time, we were all running around the rehearsal room for hours playing with puppets, instruments and pieces of set, and the things that felt right from those workshops were worked in. Often they even formed the starting points of characters, scenes and songs around which the script could evolve.

Can we expect to see the same Monster/Clock that ran in 2012 or have you found it necessary to makes changes in order to adapt the show for touring?
Yeah, it's the same show but there have had to be some adaptations to take it on the road. For example, the theatre where we performed it first, had a beautiful, 17th century, red brick, up-stage wall, with arches at different heights. Most of the venues on the tour are really versatile black box theatres - which naturally give a colder tone unless you do something about that. So Colm McNally designed a new set which was built by the Lir Technical and Stage Management students for the a brief revival last November. It's basically the best tree-house you've ever seen. Also there are some new cast members and rehearsing the show with them has brought fresh humour and new perspectives on the script which we hadn't seen before. But yes, tis the same show but a bit... bigger.

Is puppetry something that you all have some experience in or was there a bit of a learning curve?
Jack: None of us had any puppetry experience before except for Aaron, so there really was a very steep, yet quick, learning curve for us. Aaron had fostered an interest in puppetry in school which he developed in college and as a result, he was the perfect molten core of technical advice throughout the show. We were also blessed to have Raymond Keane come in and give us a workshop on the basics of puppetry on stage which was incredbily informative and left us all revering him like the messianic leader that he is!

However, despite our wealth of pedagogy, there were inevitably many sore arms (sorted by our in-house tenor/ physio Richard Shaffrey) and blocking complications (sorted by our in-house director/problem solver genius Dan Colley) but all told, it was a fascinating experience to mutually discover a new form of theatre.

As a young theatre company, how important do you think it is to challenge the conventions of theatre?
We never really set out with an agenda to challenge any particular type of theatre that was out there. Although a wrestling match with a rival theatre company is something we'd like to make very clear that we're up for - if any contenders arise. If you look at any initial drafts of MONSTER/CLOCK that were in fact wildly different to what we ended up with, alongside anything else we've made or are making the emphasis is on story telling. Plot is where we start and everything else grows from there. I think we find creative and inventive ways to make the conventions of theatre work for us as a company - challenging seems like a fierce amount of effort, no?

2012 was a pretty good year for Collapsing horse, with your debut show receiving a very warm reception. Any standout moments?
Jack: I suppose this isn't so much a singular moment as a gradual one but I distinctly remember receiving our first feedback from audiences and press for MONSTER/CLOCK and realising that some people actually enjoyed watching it as much as we all enjoyed making it. That was a very fullfilling feeling. To pick and choose specific moments, however, from such a wholly wonderful experience is fundamentally unjust to all the others. Or as The Edge once said "A rose petal's beauty is only fully realised aside it's kin". From the incohate writing sessions in Gibsons to picking out our spandex for Bears in Space, from drunkenly filming 'thank you' videos to listening to Danny's beautiful songs for the first time, from the first meeting to the last performance, Collapsing Horse has been a standout moment in my life!

What other theatre companies/shows in Ireland have really impressed or excited you in the last year?
There are genuinely too many to mention. We have a lot of piers making great work at the moment so it's a brilliant time to be making theatre. We have our rivals at 15th Oak who made 'The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle' and then Sugarglass Theatre's 'All hell lay beneath' and Willfredd Theatre's FARM are all ones that spring to mind. All keeping their work innovative and audience driven which is what we love. There's of course the Rough Magics and the Pan Pan's of this world who still manage to keep up a huge output of exciting work and even if they've been around for 100s of years their work still won't stop exciting us. We're also very excited about Die Hard 5 coming out. That should be brilliant.

This tour aside, what's next for MONSTER/CLCOK and Collapsing Horse?
We're working on a show that Eoghan is writing called... actually, we're not sure yet. But it's an Irish sci-fi courtroom drama/comedy - which sounds like it came out of a random genre generator but it didn't, I swear, and we're really excited about it. That's something we're aiming to present in autumn of this year. In the meantime I'd really like to do kids (and up) show based on Changling myths. Eoghan's going to be dramaturg for that and Aaron is designing, and hopefully operating, the puppets. I don't know what's next for Monster/Clock. Do any of your readers have room for the best tree-house they've ever seen? Real cheap, like.

Your show comes with a pretty broad age rating of children aged 7+ and adults. What would you tell adults who might be put off by a show with puppets?
Well first of all I would reassure people that the tone of the story and the dialogue is not 'childish', though it is suitable for children. There's a tendency to see 'Family Friendly' as a euphemism for 'your kids will LOL', but really we tried hard to make it genuinely enjoyable for all ages; at the end of the day, we were all laughing at each other making it, and we're all technically grown ups! If adults are still skeptical, I would suggest just getting langered in front of house before sitting into it?

Why should people go see Monster/Clock (in 5 words or less)?
It's time to say yes (?)

Tour Dates:

Riverbank Kildare - 16th Feb - 045 448 330

Pavillion Theatre - 19th Feb - 01 231 2929

Mermaid Bray - 20th Feb - 01 272 4030

Civic Theatre Tallaght - 22nd - 23rd Feb - 01 462 7477

Axis Ballymun - 1st - 3rd March - 01 883 2100

Draíocht Arts Centre - 9th March

Smock Alley Theatre - 18th - 30th March

I know Jack has talked about not wanting to continue acting professionally after GoT, but he clearly loves theatre and I'm really happy the theatre company he co-founded is doing so well. :)