Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Adam Lenson: The Quentin Dentin Show

By | Published on Thursday 15 June 2017

You might already have caught a performance of cultish musical ‘The Quentin Dentin Show’ in one of its previous outings at the Arts Theatre and up at the Edinburgh Festival, but if you haven’t, you’ve missed a treat.
Fortunately, the show begins a new run at the Tristan Bates Theatre imminently, this time with director Adam Lenson at the helm. I spoke to Adam to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us the premise of the show? What’s the story and where is it set?
AL: It’s about a synthetic, organic robot called Quentin Dentin who travels into people’s living rooms through their radio to dispense wisdom and to attempt to figure out the human condition.

He’s a hugely charismatic presence, part rock star, part evangelistic preacher and part psychologist. As the piece progresses, the motives and reasons for his visit begin to show a darker side. The piece is what happens when a speculative science fiction parable crashes into a living room drama.

CM: Who are the primary characters and who plays them?
AL: The piece focuses on Keith and Nat – a couple in the midst of a relationship breakdown. Quentin and his two assistants interrupt Keith and Nat’s mundane, domestic existence and ask them why they aren’t aspiring to more. In doing so, the show finds the surreal side of the everyday and the everyday side of the surreal.

CM: What themes does the show explore? Does it have serious points to make?
AL: It explores a plethora of themes. What it means to be normal. The noise of modern living. The complexities of capitalism, medication, religion, technology and the struggle to be good.

CM: The show has been performed previously at the Arts Theatre and at the Edinburgh Fringe. Has it changed significantly since those earlier runs?
AL: The show has continually evolved and grown over each iteration. I saw and enjoyed the piece greatly at the Arts Theatre and was asked by Hannah Elsy to come on board this iteration to help the piece grow. It has expanded into a two-act piece since its previous runs.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creators of the musical? Have they been involved with the current production?
AL: I have been working alongside the director and choreographer of the last incarnation of the show Caldonia Walton. The writer of the piece Henry Carpenter has been in rehearsals reshaping the piece and we have also been collaborating with a new book writer Tom Crowley. Musicals are such a collaborative form and the teamwork has been a brilliant part of the process.

CM: What made you want to direct the show?
AL: I appreciated how enjoyable and explosive the show was when I saw its previous version but how deftly it made me think about complex and knotty themes. It really left me thinking about the meaning of life, but also about the possibility of theatrical forms. It is not a conventional piece of musical theatre and I am always interested in work that breaks our traditional notions of what a musical is.

CM: You appear to specialise in directing new musicals – what is it about this area that you find so appealing?
AL: I think musical theatre is a widely misunderstood form. The combination of music and text should be able to incorporate a much wider range of stories than it usually seems to. I love all forms of theatre, but realised that musicals often seemed to be ignored or generalised so I ended up speaking up about them more often. As such I have decided recently to focus my attention on them. This feeling that they weren’t discussed enough led me to starting a podcast (Dischord) where I talk and debate about musical theatre.

CM: Was this the career you always wanted? How did you get into directing?
AL: I was originally training to be a doctor but I realised that my true passion was theatre. I had always loved science and people. That’s what led me to thinking medicine was a good career. But theatre is also a combination of those two things. It’s scientific and technical – it requires the integration of many layers, but at its heart is communicating with people. Both with the people making the work, and also with the audiences who are coming to watch it. I got into directing at university. When I graduated I emailed a few directors whose work I admired asking if I might assist them. The wonderful Terry Johnson kindly returned my email and that led me to my first assisting job on La Cage aux Folles at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

CM: Do you have any other projects in development at the moment?
AL: I am also currently directing Superhero at Southwark Playhouse. This brilliant new British musical is having its world premiere in July and is a one man musical about an ordinary man trying to win a custody battle for his daughter. It’s about what it means to be a parent in the 21st century. It’s a musical about a character who you wouldn’t look at twice if you saw him on the street, and you definitely wouldn’t expect him to sing.

‘The Quentin Dentin Show’ is on at Tristan Bates Theatre from 20 Jun-29 Jul, see the venue website here for info and to book.

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Photo: Lidia Crisafulli