Interview: Angela Clerkin, Writer of The Secret Keeper

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With four actors playing 40 characters, The Secret Keeper tells the tale of a Dollhouse maker who whispers a secret to his daughter who promises to keep it safe. But what happens when a murderer confesses – and who is to blame for the consequences?

We spoke to writer, Angela Clerkin, to find out more about the show.

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The Secret Keeper is coming to Ovalhouse, what can you tell us about it?

The Secret Keeper is a funny, dark, fairy tale about secrets, collusion and community responsibility – with a Miss Marple type murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Oh and songs!

Where did you get the inspiration to mix politics and fairy tales?

I’ve always loved fairy tales, the darker the better! I think they have traditionally always carried messages and asked questions. I’m updating and highlighting what I see is already there. I’ve also been inspired by stories and essays by Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Neil Gaiman, Marina Warner and a book called Women who run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I think using fairy tales as a form can be a fun and humorous way to look at society’s morals, beliefs and behaviours – and you also have licence to poison people, or speak unpalatable truths. In fact, it’s disappointing if everyone gets away unscathed. Many other writers and film makers have their own way of modernising and politicising fairy tales – I think Shrek is a fabulous example.

Will audiences recognise any current political events or figures amongst story?

There isn’t any party politics, or famous politicians from history in the show. But I see all stories as political –  changing or maintaining the status quo (not the band!) is political. I hope audiences will think about their own experience: who keeps their personal secrets? Who keeps the country’s secrets?  What do they feel about that? Why do some people stand by and watch something terrible happening rather than speaking out? Why do whistle blowers get punished for speaking out about wrongdoings and injustices? Each of the characters in the show has a secret that they confide in The Good Daughter, they range from personal stories to actions which have global consequences – within the fairy tale world of course! And yes, you may vaguely recognise some of the references.

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It was developed at The National Theatre Studio, what can you tell us about that process?

I started by writing a short fairy tale, then I pitched it to The National Theatre Studio and asked if they would support me developing the idea for a theatre show. It originally involved a cast of thousands, a whole kingdom in fact – and I wanted to see if we could tell the story with just four people.  The NT Studio said yes, gave us a space to make and experiment in, with full technical support. It was an amazing to have access to those resources at such an early stage and really helped the project develop. We tried working with puppets, which initially helped me as a writer to imagine how we could do crowd scenes, but as the process continued we sacked the puppets, wrote some songs and decided that magpies will help tell the tale.

You founded ClerkinWorks in 2013, what opportunities has that given you?

The aim of starting my own company ClerkinWorks was to create an identity of being a theatre maker in my own right. As a performer and collaborator, I have worked with lots of amazing practitioners and companies over the years, and I am currently an Associate Artist with Improbable and Chris Goode & Co. Creating ClerkinWorks meant I could bring my own idiosyncratic voice to the fore. My vision includes putting more women centre stage, unleashing the untold and unlikely, and telling personal stories that have an epic and mythic quality. I also wanted to find a way of bringing all the different strands of my work together. Like many artists and freelancers I have many strings to my bow, Currently I mostly work as an actor, writer, theatre maker, dramaturg and workshop facilitator. You can find out more about my work at www.clerkinworks.com.

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The Secret Keeper is heading out on tour after Ovalhouse, what are you most looking forward to about the tour?

It’s really exciting that my own show is visiting so many cities. And I’m looking forward to the seeing how audiences react to the show in different places. One of my favourite things about touring is meeting local people and I get to do that partly through the drama workshops I’m running alongside the show called Breaking the Silence vs Keeping a Trust. These are happening at six of the theatres. For example, Ageing Creatively at Newbury CornExchange, a young women’s group at Warwick Arts Centre and emerging Artists at Plymouth Drum. I’ve worked as a performer at most of the theatres before and so it’s also an opportunity to catch up with friends around the country, visit local museums and if the theatre is beside the sea you will find me paddling in the water.

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The Secret Keeper will run at Ovalhouse from 11 – 21 October before heading on its UK Tour.

TOUR DATES

11-21 OCT LONDON (not 15 &16 Oct) | Ovalhouse | ovalhouse.com

23 OCT MILTON KEYNES | Stantonbury Theatre | stantonburytheatre.co.uk

24-25 OCT COVENTRY | Warwick Arts Centre | warwickartscentre.co.uk

27 OCT GREENWICH | Greenwich Theatre | greenwichtheatre.org.uk

28 OCT OXFORD | The North Wall | thenorthwall.com

31 OCT-4 NOV PLYMOUTH | Theatre Royal Plymouth (The Drum) | theatreroyal.com

6-7 NOV LEICESTER | Curve Theatre | curveonline.co.uk

8 NOV SHERINGHAM | Little Theatre | sheringhamlittletheatre.com

10 NOV NEWBURY | Corn Exchange | cornexchangenew.com

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