ED2019 Caro Meets ED2019 Interviews ED2019 Theatre

Paul Davies: The Populars

By | Published on Thursday 8 August 2019

If you’re looking for a menu of very different theatrical treats this Fringe, then ‘The Populars’ is definitely a show you should consider. Primarily because it’s an immersive piece, but also because – despite being described as a dance party – it’s also focused on current political themes.

I was intrigued by the sound of this show as soon as it was described to me and I feel pretty sure it will pique the interest of many. So I spoke to Paul Davies, its director, to find out more.

CM: Right, this show is described as a “dance party for a divided nation”, which sounds intriguing. Can you explain that a bit, and tell us what type of show audiences can expect?
PD: This show is a participative dance party. The audience stand in the same space as the performers and get the chance to dance, talk and really enter into the spirit of the show. It is fun and exciting. The divided nation bit speaks for itself. The show is not an argument or a polemic, but the actors might try and persuade you variously of one thing or another, even if their only success is to persuade you to have a bit of a dance.

CM: Does it have a linear narrative? Does it even tell a story? 
PD: No it does not have a linear narrative. It circles around certain preoccupations without necessarily settling. Its structure comes from the choreography and the playlist of great songs that the actors dance to – from the meanings these have for people, and the different moods they create.

CM: What themes does the show explore? 
PD: The show imagines people dancing and discussing their attachment to Europe or Britain. Where do you consider home? Where and why do you take your holidays where you do? How do we feel about strangers? How do we feel about dancing with strangers? Is dancing a sign of a relaxed, creative individual? If we cannot dance or are unwilling to dance, are we in some way repressed?

CM: What inspired it? Where did the idea for this come from? 
PD: Some of the ideas for this show come from Fintan O’Toole’s book ‘Brexit: Heroic Failure’ which tracks the sado-masochistic impulse behind the English architects of Brexit. The other ideas for the show come from contemporary thinking about the atmosphere of nationalism.

CM: Clearly this is political: do you think it’s possible for culture to affect social conversation, or effect change? 
PD: To follow Marx – we make our own history but not under circumstances of our choosing – culture plays a part in shaping many social conversations. The point about our current political crisis is that cultural practice has for some years now somewhat disengaged from the economic political sphere (excluding the endless diet of political satire).

CM: Who is this show aimed at? Is it for a certain age group or will it appeal to anyone?
PD: I think this show can appeal to anyone who is interested in being part of a euphoric performance, one in which the emphasis is on fun, humour and ideas. And of course people who love music and dancing. In our experience some of the people who enjoy it the most are couples and groups of friends. It fits well into a night out with a few drinks.

CM: What are your expectations for this run at the Festival? How is the run going so far?
PD: I think this show investigates and appeals to the popular consciousness and I think people love to dance and express themselves. It is going very well so far with lovely audiences but we can fit more people in!

CM: What are you enjoying about being in the Festival city?
PD: Volcano have been coming to Edinburgh for very many years. It is a bit like coming home and as we come from Wales we are used to the rain and the sun and the wonderful, friendly people. We have a bit of an attachment to Leith, having run a venue we called the Leith Volcano there two years ago – we flooded the chancel of a disused church to make a lake there for our version of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

CM: Are you managing to take in other shows while you are here? Do you have any recommendations?
PD: For controlled hysteria I would recommend Finnish show ‘The Desk’. For a highly personal inventive memory of a father’s death I would go for the Belgian show ‘Before The End’ by Catherine Graindorge, and finally for the polar opposite of both of these I would of course recommend the chaos, choreography and love of ‘The Populars’. All of these are at Summerhall, but we will get further afield too.

CM: What’s next for this show, are there plans for further touring?
PD: We intend to tour it in Spring 2020 and beyond.

CM: What can we expect next from Volcano Theatre?
PD: Hopefully, whatever you expect we will deliver something you don’t. It’s exciting for audiences not to know what to expect, but it’s not great for marketing people. We are making a site-specific version of Heiner Mueller’s ‘HamletMachine’ – we’ll perform this initially at the venue we run in Swansea, which is a cavernous and atmospheric disused Iceland food store.

CM: What’s coming up next for you straight after the Fringe? Any new stuff in the pipeline?
PD: Immediately after the Fringe I will be going on holiday and then it is straight into rehearsal with HamletMachine. There is always new stuff in the pipeline – even if some of it sometimes gets stuck there for a while.

‘The Populars’ was performed at Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival 2019.