Lucy McCormick and her Girl Squad are back at Soho Theatre, having just finished headlining a two night run of Jonny Woo’s Unroyal Variety at Hackney Empire where she devised some brand new original material.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lucy about her upcoming show and what audiences can look forward to.
Q: I wonder if you could start off by telling me what the show is about?
Lucy: The premise of the show is that I attempt to re-enact the New Testament, playing all the main roles myself. And I have these two backing dancers who join in the big group numbers, as we call them, and take on some “supporting roles”. So, of course, the whole central premise of the show is completely absurd and sort of impossible. The audience watch me attempt to achieve this really epic story but in a very DIY way and also with my own take on pop culture references, so using current pop music, dancing, a lot of vogue and queer gay nightclub references, and also from a feminist viewpoint as well. Choosing to try and retell this story gives me the opportunity to explore different kinds of gender politics and ideas around feminism and queer identity.
Q: You talked a little bit about DIY and the fact that this is a sort of impossible thing that you’re trying to do: Is there a failure element to the show that you enjoy; are there moments of improvisation and things that could go wrong?
Lucy: Yes, there definitely are, and I am really interested in that kind of genuine risk on stage, and genuinely possibly things might fail. But, I think when you play with failure in performance and DIY stuff, it’s about also questioning whether it is actually a failure or whether you can find success. Something could go wrong and this could create something really beautiful or hilarious. The fact the show has “failed” becomes the joke itself and that feels like success.
Q: So your title, ‘Triple Threat’, where does that come from?
Lucy: Well, partly it refers to me having a very traditional training quite a long time ago, being into musical theatre and being a singer. Then I trained traditionally as an actor, which sometimes is a surprise to people because the work I was making for quite a long time was really experimental; influenced by performance art, nightclub performance and subversive cabaret. This show is about me reclaiming my interest in [traditional] plays and musical theatre, but the audience knows I am not to the standard of a West End triple threat! It loops back to the “failure” joke. For me, I’ve always thought, ‘Well I wonder what the triple threat is’, because it could be singing, dancing and nudity or doing explicit things with my body, because that also happens. The last thing I like about the phrase is just that it has the word ‘threat’ in it; it’s sort of like ‘so what are these three threats?’, and I suppose you could even say there’s a kind of mirroring of the holy trinity with it being like a three and a three and for me that also works on a metaphorical level.
Q: How did you find going from quite a traditional training background into trying the more experimental and performance art type of performance?
Lucy: I think in performance art you don’t necessarily need to have a traditional skill, or the work can celebrate things like DIY and mess. In a way, it can sometimes be almost a bit uncool to have a really slick performance, so I do think they can be quite different worlds and they have a completely different set of politics. I also came at performance art from going to various gay clubs or just going to a bar and finding out there’s someone performing on top of the bar or in the toilets or something and you sort of think ‘Oh wow, OK, performance doesn’t just have to happen on a stage’. I suppose it was just a real eye opener in terms of the potential of performance and where you can do it and what you can look at. I think now I’m massively taking from both of those experiences.
Q: So you describe your performance as queer, as a queer club experience: What does it mean to you to make queer performance?
Lucy: I think, for me, it’s something about going back to the roots of choosing the New Testament; it was a way for me to try out these different identities. In one moment I might be playing Jesus and in the next moment I could be playing Mary Magdalene, and I think I feel that we kind of tie ourselves down to titles too much and sometimes there might be certain expectations on me as a conventional looking female. For me, the queer identity of the
performance is about challenging expectations and thinking about my identity.
There are these two backing dancers who are male and super-hot and both have same sex relationships and identify as queer and I think that recently there’s been such a commodity of ‘queer’ and in particular the gay male. You see a lot of gay and draggy references in pop culture and I think it’s a chance to question and celebrate and play around with that as well.
Q: And then in what way, if any, would you describe the work as feminist?
Lucy: I would describe it as feminist because my understanding of feminism is about equality and is about humanism rather than it being sort of exclusively for women, let’s say. I identify as a woman and I’ve only got my own body to use and so it’s about how I fit into these roles that this story is giving me; if that’s even really possible in a socio-political way: being in a woman’s body and being in an historically, patriarchal society. So, it definitely is feminist and celebrates strong women, but I think it celebrates strong people and equality really.
Q: You talked about the show as having this religious story running through it, the retelling of the bible: Would you say that the show is aimed at a religious audience?
Lucy: So, I do have some Christian friends who have really enjoyed the show and that’s been so pleasing to me because I’ve never really set out to undermine the story, I’ve just taken it as this source material and then gone ‘How does that make sense to me and what are those kind of modern references?’, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be for everyone. But I think, just as much as you might be quite a traditional Christian person, you might be an atheist who’s quite traditional or just isn’t into subversive cabaret in which people get very messy and get naked.
I think it’s for anyone who wants to have a really good laugh, but also is up for something maybe a bit challenging. I think it’s really, really accessible and that’s something I’ve been so pleased with. I didn’t necessarily expect it to be, that’s almost been a bit of a surprise, but it seems like the show is massively accessible. It’s a bit outrageous for some people, especially if they haven’t seen a lot of this kind of work. I think it’s an ideal sort of work Christmas outing!
Q: The show has previously very successfully played at the Edinburgh Fringe and at the Soho Theatre before, has it changed at all during its development?
Lucy: It’s changed a bit, especially since the very beginning; I’ve been clarifying some of the ideas and images. It came out of club performance, so by this point a couple of years ago I was making ten-minute acts to do in cabarets and clubs, and one Christmas someone asked me if I wanted to do a Christmas thing and I decided ‘Oh we could put on a little nativity’. It worked so well I thought I’d keep looking at the New Testament and see what else we could use.
At that point, I was really playing around with the story, but I think now the show has really clarified itself and it really works with the structure that we have. It’s one of those shows where you know there’s banter and chatting to the audience and, you never know exactly how it’s going to unfold, but the structure stays the same. When I was at the Soho last time I was downstairs in what they call the cabaret space, and this time I’m going to be in the theatre, so it’s going to be quite a different atmosphere. I’ve played it in both kind of spaces before so that will be exciting and, I suppose with it just being at Christmas, it’s just going to be so relevant to everything that’s going on.
Q: You’re working on this show with Ursula Martinez and you’ve previously worked with Lauren Barri Holstein on Splat!: Are there any other performers or companies who have inspired you in the work you now make?
Lucy: There have been so many inspirations. Ursula has been a massive influence and we’ve got a really specific way of working now by which I generally make the material and then she’ll come in and give feedback on it and help me shape it. She’s brilliant at doing that and she’s got such a naughty sense of humour so it’s worked really well.
Lauren is an incredible artist and has kind of paved the way in terms of the performance art stuff. And other influences – gosh I’ve got loads – David Hoyle is a massive influence, and Kim Noble. There’s a performance artist called Daniel Oliver who works in absurdity and awkwardness and I just love watching his stuff. I just want to be like that! But I think that’s what artists do all the time: taking these influences and letting them swim around in your own brain.
Q: What should audiences expect when they come to see your show; what should we be looking forward to or threatened by?
Lucy: Well, on the one hand the audience can expect entertaining dance numbers, lovely songs and lots of really hilarious moments, and on the other hand I think they can expect to be a little bit challenged and made to think a lot; to have some good post-show conversations in the bar – hopefully.
Q: And finally, you’re performing back at the Soho Theatre again: I was wondering if there’s anything particularly exciting about performing specifically at the Soho?
Lucy: I think the Soho is great for having a really diverse range of audience, because you’ll have people from so many different walks of life that will go there, whether that be because they’re literally walking past on the street, or they work locally and they like to go to theatre after work, or just because it’s a very central location. I also think they’ve got a really good reputation around artists and lots of more edgy performance artists. They do loads of comedy and stuff so I think it is a great place to get your work out there and not know exactly who is going to be in your audience. Whereas, with some of the venues, sometimes you can feel like it might be the same people a lot, or you’re performing to your friends, so it’s a great opportunity to get your work out there. I also think they do a good job at programming really interesting stuff and you know there’s a million different options for what to get for dinner, so it’s great!
Thank you very much to Lucy for being such a delight to speak to this morning. I very much look forward to seeing her show next month. Make sure to catch Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat at the Soho Theatre, Monday 11th to Saturday 16th December 2017, 9.45pm.
Interview by Joseph Winer
Following smash-hit sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Soho Theatre, Triple Threat returns to Soho Theatre for one week only from the 11th – 16th December 2017.
United Agents & Soho Theatre present Lucy’s provocative and subversive cabaret show that retells the greatest story of all time. Triple Theatre gives the most unique twist to be seen on stage in the run up to Christmas.
Casting herself in all the main roles, Lucy attempts to reconnect to her own moral conscience by re-enacting the New Testament via a nu-wave holy trinity of dance, power ballads and absurdist art.
Triple Threat was commissioned by hÅb and Contact for Works Ahead, with support from Soho Theatre, Cambridge Junction and the Marlborough and funding from Arts Council England and is directed by Ursula Martinez.
Dates: 11th – 16th December
21 Dean Street, London, 020 7478 0100