Interview: Moaning Toad Productions | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The People’s Boat is an absurd new comedy from Moaning Toad Productions and will be coming to Alphabetti Theatre, Newcasle on 28th July (at 3:30pm as part of the Before the Fringe festival) before making its Edinburgh Fringe debut. It is the second venture from Moaning Toad Productions following Puncture, a sold-out production at Northern Stage (Newcastle) in March 2019. The group originally established in Newcastle and comprises of Luke Bateman, Jack Hilton, Chris Whyte, and Elliott Williams. We spoke to them to find out more about Moaning Toad Productions and the show.

Tell us more about Moaning Toad Productions. How did the four of you meet?
“Basically, we’re a brand new production company (specialising in theatre at the moment) that was first established in Newcastle. How we met is actually not a particularly complicated story. Elliott and I (Luke) have been writing together for years as we’ve been friends since aged 4, while I happened to find Chris and Jack at university. I met Chris working on a production of Cinderella the Pantomime for university and we majorly bonded over how much we were both hating it – he was the Narrator and I was the ‘handsome’ Prince and we were so out of our depth. We’ve neve smiled since! Jack was someone we had admired from afar, taking his work very seriously and quietly, so we just slowly got chatting, realised how many of our ambitions and interests matched each others and took it from there. Now, as a four piece, we all know each other inside out, what makes each other laugh (impressions of celebrities and people we know), what scares one another (For Elliott, it’s salt, spiders, and anything else that moves), and what excites each other, which is the limitless power of live performance. And restaurant discount vouchers! We were fortunate enough to sell out our debut show (‘Puncture’) at Northern Stage in March 2019, which gave us a great boost going forward knowing that we could write, direct, and function as a unit so effectively. And nobody asked for their money back!” 

What is your latest show, The People’s Boat about?
“The People’s Boat is an absurd new comedy set on a homemade raft. It’s political, there’s high stakes, it’s trying to make wider points, but fundamentally, I think (Chris) it’s about people getting fed up with each other and we think that’s really funny – we certainly talk from experience! It follows four intrepid but ignorant explorers (Shane, Arthur, Hector, and Garth) grappling with life all alone on the ocean as they attempt to physically tow their own country away from the clutches of Europe. Pretty soon, the lines start blurring between the performance on-stage and the processes also occurring off-stage, but that’s all we’ll say on that for now – we don’t want to give the twists away! There’s dancing, games, and even a song in the show – we’re pulling out all the stops!”

Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
“I think the idea for the show as a whole was born out of a combination of all our theatrical interests. Chris is very hot on political theatre, Luke and I (Elliott) grew up watching farce, which is what we still write, and Jack is very committed to the visuals of performance, namely the look and sound of scenes, so I think we ended up creating what we’ve got because of the variety of our different insights and inputs, which was a hugely exciting process for us. We locked ourselves away in a cottage in the Mumbles (Swansea, Wales) for a week earlier this year and just blitzed the first draft of the show, eating and breathing it in-between long coastal walks (which I despised). Although it was draining, the intensity of the mission helped us really get under the skin of the content and the characters. In terms of the themes, the show focuses heavily on escape and dreaming – wanting to escape the now to get back to then – which is the view of a lot of people in this divided country of ours right now, especially the older generations. We just wanted to tackle ideas of national consciousness in an engaging way, but no so that it ever became preachy – we’re also well aware we’re four, white men with not a leg to stand on in terms of diverse representation, but I think we play on it, never shying away from that fact. We’re very happy taking the piss out of ourselves!”

You’re performing at Alphabetti Theatre’s Before Fringe Festival on 28th July  . Apart from yourselves what are your highlights of the festival?
“The whole festival, although only a weekend, is such a worthwhile thing to go and see – it’ll be full of the most promising performers in the North East. We have to be a bit sentimental and plug ‘Kurl up and Dye’ as it’s an original production from our old university (Newcastle), but aside from that, check out Matt Hoss and his new show – he’s a very good young stand-up with the world at his feet.”

Once the Alphabetti Theatre show is over what’s next for the show/Moaning Toads Productions?
“What a good question! For me (Jack), I just hope we have a successful Fringe run with The People’s Boat’ and take it from there. We want to be doing this for the rest of our lives, starting from now, so even if this bombs, we’d just have to dust ourselves down and get back on with it again I guess. We want to consistently be making theatre of a quality we’re personally pleased with, and hopefully it both entertains as well as provokes discussion from audiences along the way. Elliott doesn’t feel that way though, he’s a people pleaser. It’s fine though, I hate people.”

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