views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Honest to God With.... Bad Bat Productions
9th August 2015

All good things must come to an end. And with a slew of four-star reviews under its belt, the Future Boys trilogy - Dead Static, Pilgrim Shadow and now King Chaos - is definitely A Good Thing.

In just three years, writer/director Steve Jordan has given us the adventures of space no-hopers Tyler Smith (Cliff Chapman) and Gary Patches (Adam Joselyn) while also creating an unrelated show in The Probleming and also a sketch show in Global Mega Inc. Because apparently he doesn't sleep. And this Camden Fringe, he's going back to where it all began for his solo work.

After facing the prospect of being plunged into an asteroid belt in Dead Static, and searching for the legendary lost treasure of Tim Shadow, things are looking up for our lovably incompetent pair. But in this latest show, also starring The Probleming's Emma Stirling and newcomer Robert Dearn, Gary and Tyler are about to learn that with great power comes great responsibility.

Views from the Gods sat down with Jordan, Chapman, Dearn and producer/co-founder Ellen Gallagher to talk about the completion of the trilogy, a bit of Red Dwarf and a lot more Blackadder...

Cliff Chapman and Adam Joselyn

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.
(L-R) Cliff Chapman and Adam Joselyn

VFTG: So, third and final Future Boys show. For those who aren't up to speed - and have skipped the intro - what's that all about then?

SJ: It's a science fiction comedy about The Future Boys - Tyler and Gary... I need a refresher.

EG: He has no idea what it's about. Basically it's your classic Odd Couple format, innn sppppaaaaaccceee...

VFTG: Oh, a bit like Red Dwarf!

SJ: No! No!

EG: Not at all like Red Dwarf! We often get compared to Red Dwarf and, yes, we did watch a lot of Red Dwarf growing up but you can come and see for yourselves - the characters aren't the same just because it's in space.

VFTG: So where do we find our Future Boys now?

SJ: Having escaped with their lives from the first "episode", I guess you could say...

CC: But did that happen?

SJ: Well, it's never explicitly stated how they did survive, especially for Tyler because he apparently dies in Dead Static.

RD: Guess you weren't planning another two when you wrote that one.

SJ: Sort of, yeah. With what I was trying to do with Dead Static, it just felt right that that's what happened. Having done that, I really enjoyed those characters and working with Cliff and Adam on them, and it seemed to go down really well. I thought it had legs, so I figured: "What the hell". I tried another script with them and that turned into Pilgrim Shadow, which was a bit more of a light-hearted adventure.

EG: We watched a lot of Indiana Jones for that one.

VFTG: Yes, but you've still got the backbone element of this Beckett/Steptoe & Son idea.

SJ: I tried to keep the pathos in there, but whereas Dead Static was about two people who were going to die, this was about them searching for treasure in the deepest corners of space.

EG: There was still a moment where they might die. We like to have them maybe die. Just to interject about the pathos, we've got the actors to thank for that because it's not all on the page. They're there jerking those tears.

VFTG: Thank God you said "tears".

Cliff Chapman

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.

SJ: I think Cliff and Adam are such good actors that occasionally I can write those characters rather two-dimensionally but if I'm not bringing the third dimension I know they will.

CC: The jokes can be very subtle, quite cartoonish or quite comic sometimes, but there's always that backbone of drama. You can do good acting with Steve's scripts.

SJ: The worst thing I could do is write something, and people then think it's a parody of something. I want it to exist in its own world with its own rules and tone.

VFTG: I'll get to Robert in a second, but for you three - has this been a difficult third album?

SJ: Pilgrim and King Chaos were essentially written back-to-back. Chaos has had a lot of rewrites since, but I always saw Chaos to be the payoff for Pilgrim Shadow. Tonally it's a nice even balance between Pilgrim Shadow and Dead Static. The characters, as they've developed, you get those characters again but the situation they're in is the most important they have been in - their actions have deep, vast consequences for the entire galaxy, not just them. That instantly brings quite an edgy concept to it.

EG: It's quite satirical. That wasn't the intention when we started drafting it, but there's references to current affairs that have come about.

VFTG: Cliff, have you started to think about the way you're going to approach the character again, or is it going to be like slipping into... a wet sock?

CC: Well, I often slip into a wet sock when I'm crying in my room.

The conversation then took a rather NSFW turn. We're not proud of it, but there we are.

CC: It's nice to think about Tyler. He's had a nice progression - he's a pretty realistic character who has been quite successful. He's not like Rimmer in Red Dwarf. He's had command of a ship, had a crew under him, and it's circumstance - mirrored in my acting career - that puts him where he is. He's matured. This time he's got a plan and a comfort zone to be able to work it out, and he can coast with Gary for a bit as Gary is being broadly useful. It's a different side we can empathise with Tyler, but it's always been there, even though we've seen him on the back foot.

SJ: There's a sense with Tyler that the things that happen to him in Dead Static are almost karmic, things that happen in Pilgrim Shadow are blind luck. What happens here results from their own actions, they start their own adventure in trying to take on the evil empire that has been trying to kill them all this time.

An argument then ensued as to whether "on the front foot" is a thing. It isn't.

SJ: So I might as well say this now, it's not a spoiler, it happens in the first five minutes. Tyler and Gary launch a rebellion against the Syndicate and win. Win instantly. What the play is really about is what they do now they've won. They're in charge of an entire galaxy but also in charge of a fascist organisation.

VFTG: I can see where the satire comes in now. So we've said king a lot, and it's a hilarious pun in the title...

CC: Oh, I've only just got that. I'm quite naive. You should put an apostrophe on it.

RD: Yeah, until you said it, I was confused. The thickos are the actors.

VTFG: So you're playing the character of King Jeffrey. Game of Thrones in space?

Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.
(L-R) Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

SJ: So there isn't just Gary and Tyler this time, there are two new characters on the opposite side. Gary and Tyler form one side and King Jeffrey and Sponge, his assistant, played by Emma Stirling, on the other. You can describe King Jeffrey as a kind of... idiot... basically. But he's an idiot of privilege.

VFTG: What I would say that, you watch the first two the double act is the traditional double act of an idiot who thinks he's very clever and an idiot who is an idiot but occasionally can be very clever. The way you described King Jeffrey as an idiot, how is he an idiot?

RD: As Steve said, he's an idiot from privilege but he has no balls. At times he's got all the tools to be the most powerful man in the universe - and he is - but he doesn't have the guts to do anything with it. That's where you see the situations he's in and think: "He could do so much more if he only had a little bit of courage."

SJ: And he doesn't really have any sense of morality.

EG: He's an idiot of circumstance in that he just goes along with everything. We've got to the point now where Tyler and Gary are no longer idiots, so Jeffrey is coming in to fulfill that idiot vacuum.

RD: He doesn't realise he's stupid or completely oblivious to everything.

VFTG: That's the good thing about idiocy. Blackadder shows there are several types of absolute idiot. You can be George and barking mad, Baldrick and a fool, Melchett - especially the war Melchett...

CC: The War Melchett, played by John Hurt!

VFTG: How's it been as an outsider coming in to this lot? Especially at the end of the Future Boys' story?

RD: I didn't realise until after getting the role that it was part of a trilogy. What's nice is that if I hadn't been told that, I'd think it stands alone. If you haven't seen any of the others, you can still come to see this because any of the references you sort of half-know. You have do to a bit of thinking, but there are references to, say, Dodgy Pete who I didn't know was in the others, but it doesn't matter.

What's nice is coming into a group of people who know what they like and what they want. You instantly feel welcomed in and it's a nice working environment. Is that the right answer?

VFTG: So what's your background then?

RD: I finished at East 15 acting school on the Friday, then had the audition for this on the Saturday.

CC: My first thought when we did the readthrough was: "Gosh he's good. He's got a wonderful voice. God, he's so young!"

RD: That's about it really. Had our final shows at the Tristan Bates, where I found out this was going on. Walking out of the changing rooms thinking: "Thank God I'll never have to be in this place again", and then Steve told me.

Cliff Chapman, Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.
(L-R) Cliff Chapman, Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

SJ: The other character who heads the Syndicate is Sponge, played by Emma. She's been in everything since we cast her in The Probleming and she really gets our stuff.

And once again, because we're with Cliff Chapman, the talk gets too much for our largely all-ages audience. Damn you, Cliff.

SJ: We've got two double-acts in this play, but Gary and Tyler don't spend all their time together, the two groups mix and match so I get the opportunity to play with different types of character, dynamic and jokes.

RD: But what you said earlier about the different types of idiot - with these combinations you do get to see these different types of idiot clearly. It's interesting to see who comes out on top and who wins the arguments.

VFTG: With the others being two-handers, how has it been from everyone's perspective that this dynamic has been blown apart?

EG: I don't think it's been blown apart, it's just been squared. We've just got two double-acts now.

VFTG: But you still had that idea of being locked in, the characters' desperation and need in each other.

CC: We couldn't have done this one straight after Dead Static. We had to have had Pilgrim Shadow in the middle, it flows very nicely. At this stage it feels right to introduce new voices and play around with characters, reflecting. It gives the audience something new and it's great. There's no sense of having a lesser role, there's more a sense of: "Fantastic, I can have a rest for ten minutes!"

SJ: I wanted to challenge myself. I didn't want to do Tyler and Gary on my own again, because my options were limited. I wanted to do something far-reaching as I knew this would be the end of their story. I wanted to elevate these two inconsequential characters doing something for themselves into two characters doing something for their fellow man. And things aren't going to go quite as they planned.

VFTG: So how did this, as the third part of a trilogy, inform the form, if you like?

SJ: I was keen to still make it a standalone play. I'd be terrified if people were thinking they were going to see Return of The Jedi without seeing the first two Star Wars films. That would be my worst nightmare. In Pilgrim Shadow, I was reluctant to give Tyler and Gary an arc, I wanted them to be the same characters by the end.

CC: If it was a 13 episode series, it was a really really solid mid-series adventure.

SJ: But now it's the last one, I can give them the arc I've always wanted to give them. And I didn't want King Jeffrey and Sponge to feel like bit-parts in a Tyler and Gary adventure. They have their own arc too. In an indirect way, Jeffrey has been with them for the last three years.

EG: But that said, as much as Mrs Warboys isn't the main character in One Foot In the Grave, I don't think anyone could remain sane through an entire series of Mrs Warboys. And I'm not sure anyone could relate to a king.

Adam Joselyn

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.

VFTG: Do you think people could relate to your king?

RD: They wouldn't necessarily relate to him but they will begin to see his point of view as the play goes on.

EG: I think they might not relate to him at the start of the play when he has power and privilege, but he becomes more relatable as the play goes on.

VFTG: So Sponge is a very non-gender specific name. Is it a woman?

SJ: It is a woman.

VFTG: Having written The Probleming with two women at the forefront, how has it been putting a woman in what has so far been a masculine world?

SJ: I pretty much always write my characters genderless. It's just the way I live my life, I don't see men and women being all that intrinsically different to one another.

VFTG: Oooh, very PC all of a sudden...

EG: When we were at the scripting stage with Dead Static, we were questioning whether the play would work just as well with two women and we decided it would. None of the gags could not work coming out of a woman's voicebox.

RD: When you read the characters, it seems to be who came into the rehearsal room and fitted well, rather than "we are looking for this type of person for Tyler and this for Gary".

SJ: The only reason King Jeffrey isn't a woman is because I didn't want to have it all about gender with two men and two women opposing each other.

We then had a brief chat about their history. In doing five shows in three years, Bat Bat feel it has become easier and easier to create one-hour shows and how the audience response seems to mirror that. Which is encouraging.

SJ: I'm sure the script will change in rehearsal, as it always does. There's a few things I want to try out. It is definitely, by far, the most plot-driven thing I've done on the stage.

EG: But it's also character-driven. There are a lot of drivers in this car.

SJ: With the previous two, there was a lot more room to breathe. I could do two pages of gags. Whereas in King Chaos there's no space. I had to work out how to be funny and move the plot along at the same time.

Cliff Chapman, Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

Photography supplied by Bad Bat Productions.
(L-R) Cliff Chapman, Adam Joselyn, Emma Stirling and Robert Dearn

VFTG: So why should, in one ideally short sentence, should people come to see King Chaos?

SJ: I think this will be the funniest and least pretentious show you'll see at the Camden Fringe this year.

EG: Not many productions are quite so sitcom-like so it's ideal for those who don't come to the theatre very often. Or those who so much they're bored of worthy drama.

CC: Not only is it a pure profit share whereby I might be able to pay my rent for a week, but it's also a writer at the top of his game, a slick production team, really good actors apart from me.

RD: It's one hour so you won't be wasting your lives. And you're not seeing something that's a parody of something.

EG: And you don't want to crush someone's dreams who is fresh out of drama school...

VFTG: As usual, any other plugs?

SJ: Yes, I write fiction - I've got a book called The Good Death Guide, find it on Amazon, featuring an award-winning short story. It also features a story co-written by me and Ellen.

RD: Just please don't think I'm shit.

CC: I made a short film on the Isle of Man called The Battle of Ronaldsway, a wonderful comedy, that's editing at the moment. I'm also doing a Doctor Who charity book called A Time Lord For Change from Chinbeard books raising money for mental health. We've got Joanne Harris who wrote Chocolat, Paul Harris, Andrew Cartmell, Jane Sherwin, Rob Shearman.

RD: One more thing - if there's someone reading this who doesn't go to the theatre a lot, make this one the thing you see. It'll smash your stereotypes.

The only thing left for us to say is that King Chaos opens on 10th August and runs until 15th August 2015 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. We're going to see it, and a review will duly follow, but given the cast and creatives involved haven't got anything less than a four-star review from us yet, the odds are good....

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