Caro Meets Musicals Interview

Benji Sperring: Holy Crap

By | Published on Tuesday 6 June 2017

If you’re aware of the hugely successful likes of ‘A Slice Of Saturday Night’ and ‘Big Sin City’, the you are aware of critically acclaimed musical-makers The Heather Brothers. Their latest creation, which tells the comedic tale of a televangelist who turns to screening pornography, starts a run at the King’s Head Theatre this week.
To find out more about it, I spoke to director Benji Sperring.

CM: So, what’s Holy Crap all about then? What’s the story?
BS: ‘Holy Crap’ is like Rocky Horror 3 – Religious TV meets pornography! It tells the story of the Reverend Bobby Del La Ray, an American evangelical preacher, who comes over to the UK to start a pay-to-view subscription religious channel. Utilising Rex Bedderman, an internationally renowned pop singer (a la Cliff Richard), as the headline presenter, it thoroughly flops and loses money.

When sales are down, Bobby has an idea – why not start showing hardcore pornography on the channel to raise subscriptions? After all, if people need to avoid sin, they should at least know what it looks like. And when this proves a success – and after they manage to keep Rex on to legitimise the station – how much can they push it to keep the money rolling in?

CM: Who are the central characters and who is playing them?
BS: We’ve got an incredible cast. Bobby Del La Ray is played by John Addison, fresh out of the critically acclaimed ‘The Life’ at the Southwark Playhouse. We’ve also got Arvid Larsen, who has a huge amount of West End and UK tour lead roles under his belt, playing the religious Rex Bedderman. The roles of Bobby’s two stooges, Clarissa Lafayette and Vinnie Ginelli, are taken by the wonderfully comic Rachel Marwood and beautiful Nuno Queimado respectively. Destiny Jackson, the young singer who Rex has fallen in love with, is played by the incredibly talented Letitia Hector who recently appeared in ‘Venus Vs Mars’ on Sky. The two multi-rolling chorus roles are taken by Emma Salvo and Peter Bindloss.

CM: It’s a comedy, obviously, but does it have any serious points to make?
BS: Yeah, absolutely, and I feel very strongly that the serious points a script can make are made all the stronger when the comedy is on the nail. The piece examines how easy it is to use religious scripture to justify almost any behaviour, which has a huge significance in the contemporary world. Bobby uses religious quotes to justify watching porn, committing sin, and even killing people; beneath all the music and comedy, there is a crucial point that needs discussion about how fundamental, unquestioning belief needs to be challenged, and the voices of those in charge of inciting dangerous rhetoric can be hugely damaging to everyone concerned.

CM: Readers will probably be familiar with the previous work of the creative team behind the musical, but can you tell us a bit about The Heather Brothers?
BS: The Heather Brothers are great. They’ve been an absolute delight to work with as we’ve gone through the process, and so open to changes as we develop the piece. They’ve written a number of shows, all of which have had a lot of success. Their first musical, ‘Big Sin City’, toured nationally and then played a season at London’s Roundhouse – as did their second musical, ‘The Comeback’, which they also co-produced.

They then wrote and co-produced ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’, their award winning 60s pastiche musical. After a sell-out season at the King’s Head and breaking records at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End, ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’ went on to complete four national tours of Britain, two European tours and three tours of Japan. The show has enjoyed well over 400 productions world-wide and has been translated into nine languages.

When their next musical, ‘Lust’, opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the brothers had two shows running simultaneously in London’s West End. ‘Lust’, which was subsequently translated into Swedish for Sweden’s national theatre, received its American premiere at the prestigious Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, before transferring to the John Houseman Theatre in New York. Their thriller ‘Blood Money’ also received its American premiere at The Walnut Street Theatre.

CM: What attracted you to this? What made you want to direct it?
BS: Having directed ‘Shock Treatment’, which was the world stage premiere of the sequel to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, this piece really made me excited from when I first read the script. The story is quintessentially ‘Rocky Horror’ in style – two people (Rex and Destiny) who are put into a world which is out of their control and manipulated by nefarious and charismatic individuals. The piece has got a great comic heart to it, and the music is so catchy – it’s just a joy to work on, and the fun that comes from the cast is palpable in every rehearsal.

CM: Can we talk a bit about you now? What attracted you to a career in the arts? Did you always want to be a director?
BS: I started off at The University of Manchester and the plan was always to be an English teacher. In my first year I wanted to direct a musical, and after a few conversations with people in Manchester it ended up being performed at the Palace Theatre (a 1,600 seat venue in the city centre) for three nights. That gave me the bug, and a hell of a lot of experience, and after directing at university I went to train at Central in directing.

From that I took various different directing residencies at Eton College and Portsmouth Grammar School, before coming back to London to set up my own company. I always loved theatre, ever since my Aunt and Uncle were involved in Walsall Amateur Operatic Society, and it was a dream job. I was always taught by my father that you spend a third of your life at work, a third having fun, and a third sleeping, so it was best to enjoy your working life so that all of your life was having fun. So far, so good!

CM: What would you say have been your career highlights thus far?
BS: I think getting involved in the first stage sequel to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ was a huge career highlight. ‘Shock Treatment’ was on at The King’s Head Theatre two years ago and it was a great piece, but working with Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley, and getting to know the original cast who wanted to show their support, was absolutely mindblowing – I was literally surrounded by my heroes! Other than that, singing ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ with David Bryan from Bon Jovi at a karaoke club in Elephant and Castle was pretty bloody amazing – he wrote ‘Toxic Avenger’ and came over to support it, so we went to celebrate as a company and he wanted to sing with us!

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about your company, Tarquin Productions, and what it does?
BS: My company was set up in 2012 to explore work that has either been forgotten or never made it to the stage. We started on plays, but we work predominantly in musicals now. We take slightly quirky work – usually dark comic musicals, and have a lot of fun with them. The core team I work with include the goddess that is choreographer Lucie Pankhurst, the genius brain of lighting designer Nic Farman, and the musical direction of Alex Beetschen (although Ben Ferguson has stepped into the breach and has been equally wonderful!). I think having fun in rehearsals, and making one another laugh, is the backbone of the company – we’ve all got wacky senses of humour, and we come together in a wonderful mess!

CM: What’s coming up next for you?
BS: Next I’m off to Edinburgh and the West End with ‘The Toxic Avenger’! After a sell-out run at the Southwark Playhouse last year, we’ve got three months in the West End at the Arts Theatre, with a brief highland fling to see what Toxie looks like in a kilt. It’s going to be amazing to work on the show again – that had a very similar vibe to ‘Holy Crap’, and it’s a delight to bring it back to the audiences who have been asking to see it again ever since!


 

‘Holy Crap’ is on at King’s Head Theatre from 7 Jun-8 Jul, see the venue website here for information and to book.

LINKS: www.kingsheadtheatre.com | twitter.com/benjidirector | tarquin.carbonmade.com



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