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Devilishly good theatre

Clock & Spiel wants to push the counter-culture boundaries

When a theatre work is called “daring,” it normally signifies nudity or bad language or other elements likely to discomfit an audience.

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But when theatre company Clock & Spiel Productions presents works that are “culturally daring,” they envisage something entirely different.

“Now, when the rest of the world is being daring by pushing the bounds of morality, we want to be brave enough to share his light and his truth in a way that is compelling and relevant to people – not just Christians, to all people,” says Hailey McQueen, an actor and scriptwriter who has set up Clock & Spiel Productions with fellow actor Yannick Lawry.

As Christians, Yannick and Hailey want to produce distinctive works that honour God and share his light – not only in the world view they present on stage but in the way they deal with artists and crew in an industry that is “proudly secular and antagonistic to faith,” in Hailey’s words.

“There’s little doubt that we live in a post-Christian society where it’s become unfashionable, even offensive, to voice an absolute belief in the truth, but we feel like theatre is a realm that’s still available to talk about these things in an open and honest way, to ask important questions, eternal questions,” says Hailey.

Yannick adds: “We believe that theatre is one of the last forums where culture and controversy can be reflected and presented in a way which encourages people to reassess their position rather than react.”

“We feel like theatre is a realm that’s still available to talk about these things in an open and honest way, to ask important questions, eternal questions.” – Hailey McQueen

Through Clock & Spiel productions, Hailey and Yannick want to explore unpopular notions of objective morality, truth, certainty, goodness and humanity’s need for a saviour.

Their vision for Clock & Spiel grew out of the unexpected success of their first creative collaboration, The Screwtape Letters, which starred Yannick as the devilishly devious Screwtape and George Zhao as his sidekick, Toadpipe.

Hailey’s adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic – a series of letters between two demons trying to undermine the faith of a new Christian – enjoyed three sell-out seasons. It began with a low-key test run in Sydney in 2015, then embarked on a five-week tour of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in 2016 and, by popular demand, played a season in Adelaide in 2017. In all, they played 42 performances in four cities, travelled 4619km by road and reached 4874 people, with 86 per cent of seats sold.

“After our first test season of Screwtape Letters, I’d never seen anything like that and we knew God’s hand was all over it,” comments Yannick.

“After our first test season of Screwtape Letters, I’d never seen anything like that and we knew God’s hand was all over it.” – Yannick Lawry

“Most independent theatre companies would expect an absolute maximum budget of 65 per cent of seats sold, so this was really incredible, and we knew we had to take it one step further.

“Since Screwtape wrapped up in 2017, we have been working very hard to come up with a season that we think is going to be right for Sydney in 2018.”

Yannick says both plays being presented as part of our 2018 Heart, Soul season – Hell Hole and Freud’s Last Session – are “unafraid of presenting a Christian world view, stating a belief in a spiritual realm, the truth and hope of the gospel and true-to-life conversion experiences … sometimes in the very words of those whom God has touched.

“For many Christians and church groups, Clock & Spiel Productions are looking to present work which gives an opportunity to invite unbelievers to see something highly professional which doesn’t look to ‘preach’ but rather present the truth of what we believe simply and certainly. Our prayer is that this precursor to evangelism gives many of our brothers and sisters the opportunities to bring friends and family members to shows – presented in the neutral space of the theatre – which begin real conversations of eternal significance.”

Hailey adds: “We also care deeply about excellence and so we want to honour people for their time and their skills, particularly in an industry where, sadly, honour is lacking and often cynicism and ego get in the way of love and compassion.”

Hell Hole by Jo Kadlecek is a play set in New York in the 1920s about socialist-turned-Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day. It will play just one night at the East Sydney Community and Arts Centre on August 25.

“She was a fantastic woman, single mother, humanitarian, suffragette sympathiser and her radical story of conversion and godly obedience is a real counter to the cultural narrative that we experience every day of ‘do whatever it takes to make you happy,’ ” says Yannick.

“She lived against the grain, unashamedly, and it will be our delight to give this show its world premiere – a moving performance, a warm reading essentially, at the Seymour Centre.”

“Clock & Spiel Productions are looking to present work which gives an opportunity to invite unbelievers to see something highly professional.” – Yannick Lawry

The year’s main production – Freud’s Last Session by Mark St Germain – is an imagined conversation between Oxford don C.S. Lewis and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, set in England in 1939. Aimed at audiences who are hungry for more C.S. Lewis, it will run at the Seymour Centre from October 30 to November 10.

“It covers their conversation, which is on the eve of the Second World War, and ranges from subjects of sex and identity as the men move from conflict to common ground and back again,” says Yannick.

Hailey and Yannick first met on stage in 2014 when they were cast as husband and wife in a play called The God of Carnage.

“That play is not one of marital bliss – in fact, I had to vomit all over his lap every single night. It was some kind of concoction of custard,” recalls Hailey. “But despite this we actually got along really well … and it was just a really fabulous meeting of two people.”

Intrigued by Yannick’s unavailability to rehearse on Sundays and a stray sentence about studying at Moore College, Hailey plucked up the courage to ask him if he was a Christian. When he said yes, their friendship and creative partnership began.

The overwhelming success of the Screwtape Letters prepared them well for the difficulties and realities of producing commercial theatre – demanding that they upskill in areas such as accountancy and payroll, working with agents, drawing up contracts, building a website, dealing with big budgets.

“We will not step away from professing the true faith that we have in Jesus.” – Yannick Lawry

They plan to hold Q&A sessions after some of their shows so that people who have had their world view challenged can ask the questions that might be burning as the curtain goes down.

As they grow the brand, Hailey and Yannick will concentrate on touring the metropolitan centres of Sydney, Brisbane Melbourne and Adelaide. But they hope to be able to take tours of The Screwtape Letters, Freud’s Last Session, Hell Hole and other shows to regional cities and towns from 2021.

“We want to be able to pay people award rates for their work … we want to make sure that our productions are of the absolutely highest standard so that even if people don’t engage with the material well, they won’t be able to deny that it was a performance of the highest quality that they were witnessing.

“However, we will not step away from professing the true faith that we have in Jesus and we want to be able to do that in a safe space where people feel valued and heard.”

 

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