Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Gemma Kerr: The End Of History

By | Published on Sunday 3 June 2018

This called out to me when I heard about it, mainly because it’s a site-specific piece, and I am always interested in that sort of thing, but also because it addresses themes that are relevant to anyone who lives in a big city – gentrification and redevelopment, loneliness, isolation, community.

To find out more about the play, what inspired it and what to expect from it, I spoke to theatre maker Gemma Kerr, director of the show, and the company behind it, High Hearted Theatre.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the play is about? What story does it tell?
GK: The play is in part the story of what is happening in London now, where continued gentrification and redevelopment is raising questions of who is the city for? This is explored through a meeting between two characters from opposite sides of a social and political spectrum who meet by chance in St Giles, at a moment of crisis for each of them.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
GK: The play talks about loneliness and isolation, and what community means in London. It’s also about what we sometimes project onto other people in order to hold our own position, and what happens when we’re confronted with views that challenge our own beliefs.

CM: What inspired the play? What made you want to create a show for this particular venue?
GK: We were initially invited to create a piece of work for the church. St Giles has a rich and fascinating history, and the area is a hub of redevelopment at the moment. The church feels a bit like the still point at the centre of the circle of all that change, so it felt like a perfect place to examine the layers of history and the stories of the area and to explore what the changes mean for the city and the local community.

CM: In what ways did the site inspire the content of the piece?
GK: As a company we’ve always made work for unconventional non-theatre spaces. We’ve always enjoyed what happens when you take an audience out of a theatre building and how that changes the relationship between the audience and the performance. We’ve tried to create a very immediate and intimate space within the church, but also to show the audience this very extraordinary and beautiful space through the way the characters explore it.

We felt quite early on that it would be exciting to use music in the piece to highlight that tradition within the church and to find other ways of telling the story, and we’ve worked with a wonderful composer Ed Lewis to create songs that run through the play.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
GK: Our amazing actors are Sarah Malin and Chris Polick. They’re both really experienced theatre actors and have brought so much insight to the two characters. They both deal brilliantly with the challenges that come with site-specific theatre, which can feel quite exposing for performers, especially given that the rehearsal room is usually a very private space for actors. Sarah and Chris both engage very naturally with an audience and we’ve all been excited about being able to work in the space.

CM: What future do you think the play will have? Can it only be performed at this location or do you think it could be adapted for other venues?
GK: In some ways the content of the play is very specific to St Giles and the local area, but equally the themes and questions are issues which are taking place across London and the UK today. They are certainly characters who could be found in any city. We have previously taken a production that was originally written for Brighton, and re-conceived it for London, and that fit the new space very naturally, so it’s definitely possible! I’d love to have a future life for the play.

CM: Can you tell us about the company you run with the writer of the play Marcelo Dos Santos, High Hearted Theatre? How was it formed and what ethos does it have?
GK: We started High Hearted Theatre to create new work for non-theatre spaces, and to explore the relationship between the audience, the performer, and the space the work happens in. We create site-responsive work, so our work looks at the geography and architecture of a space, but also the social and historical context, so that the stories feel really embedded in a place. It’s never really been about re-designing a space to make our work fit in it; we’ve always quite consciously welcomed the slippages and liminality that appear when layers of life and history and story-telling come up against each other.

CM: What plans do you have for the future? Any grand ambitions?
GK: As a company I want us to carry on engaging with different communities, telling stories that reflect life today and exploring the ideas of place and identity that are really exciting to us. I’d love to do more work beyond London and internationally.

There are some amazing buildings and spaces I’d love to do shows in; I’ve always wanted to do a play in one of London’s disused tube stations, and for a while we’ve thought it would be great to stage a play in a show-home!

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after ‘The End Of History’.
GK: I’ll be directing a new play by Liverpool writer Lizzie Nunnery in the autumn, while Marcelo is currently developing a new play for the Royal Court. And we’ll be planning the next High Hearted project…


The End Of History is on at St Giles-In-The-Fields from 5-23 Jun, see the Soho Theatre website here to book tickets.