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You had me at ‘immersive show’…

In a world where there are so many theatrical fish in the sea, it can be hard to find true creative love. But Laura Drake Chambers and Cressida Peever have it. We interrogate the relationship of the Creative Producer and Writer of Shotgun Carousel’s new immersive experience, Red Palace, to ask how the hell did they manage a match made in heaven?

[Photo credit: Cressida Peever]

[Photo credit: Laura Drake Chambers by Rah Petherbridge]

How did you meet?

Cressida Peever: Through a mutual friend, Celine Lowenthal, Director of Red Palace. Just over a year ago Celine got in touch to ask if she could set me up with the new show she was currently working on, Divine Proportions. The team needed a script, and they needed it fast. Luckily I was on the market, having just come out of a relationship with my previous project, and when I heard about Laura and the show I got butterflies.

Laura Drake Chambers: On a hot day, in a sweaty panic in the South Bank centre as I placed all my hopes in Cress’s ability to pull together a script for a 90 minute show in about 6 days. She did. The script was stunning. The show got 5*s, and here we are collaborating a second time around, this time with a good 10 month lead time.

What were your first impressions?

Laura: That any friend of our director Celine would be a friend of mine. And observing that Cressida liked spreadsheets as much as I do, I knew at that moment she was the love of my life.

Cressida: That this woman was insanely cool and impressive, and I was just going to have to blag myself through this initial production date as best I could to stop her realising I was a total geek. Turns out I didn’t hide that very well, but thankfully she was into it.

When did you know you were a good match for one another?

Laura: Well, see above. And also, when introduced to the unbelievably bizarre and out-of-the-box concept of what our show was about and what we were asking her to do - (“Ok, it’s Greece, there are Gods, and a flying puppet, it’s also set in the 80s, it’s all about sex, pleasure and identity fluidity, oh there’s also a 5 course banquet and FIRE EATING”) - she didn’t bat an eyelid, but immediately and electrically began spit-balling character ideas and bringing a whole new side of the world we were building. She was the missing jigsaw piece to our beautiful, bonkers, theatrical puzzle.

Cressida: When I delivered the first draft of Divine Proportions a few days later she responded immediately with such love and support for the mess of words I’d spewed out that I knew this was one of the kindest and most loyal people I’d ever meet. It’s so hard as a writer to send your early drafts to someone, but Laura made – and continues to make – me completely fearless in that respect. An incredible thing.

What’s the best thing about her?

Cressida: Her genuine interest in other people, their ideas, and their concerns, which results in an unrelenting ability to see the best in others and to have faith in them (even when they don’t deserve it…). The Divine Proportions cast called her ‘Mama DC’ because she looked after them so well, which tells you everything you need to know. She inspires me to be a better person.

Laura: Her incredible capacity for life! She achieves so much in the same number of hours in the day as us mere mortals. She is basically Beyoncé. Her ability to juggle a full time work, write impeccable and expansive scripts, particularly negotiating with grace the sheer scale of the creative writing content for Red Palace, all whilst maintaining the ability to champion those around her with fierce support. I am constantly impressed. AND SHE CAN PAINT! I mean honestly...

What did you learn from the birth or your first child, Divine Proportions?

Cressida: I learnt that sometimes the best thing for a project is a tight-timescale! There was no room to second-guess our gut instincts, and that led to a coherent and confident show. And also I learnt how to make a piece of theatre that educates and advocates without feeling preachy.

Laura: I learned, quite surprisingly, that even a 90 minute dining experience has the power to change peoples lives. It sounds so grandiose, but I mean it in the most humble terms - the themes, content and community that we crafted for the show caused such a palpable waterfall affect of positivity throughout so many peoples lives. I’m only really starting to see and appreciate it, now the dust has settled, and it’s left me speechless.

Not just the bond of our cast, but the professional relationships that were forged particularly between myself, Celine and Cressida - as well as the multitude of audience members who I’ve met that have described the freedom and release the show gave them, that it lifted their spirits and gave them the confidence to make changes in their lives they were afraid to make.

I cried my eyes out at Glastonbury when I was introduced to someone who, without hesitation, told me seeing our show totally changed her life. I’m still stunned.

And how have you found the gestation of your second, Red Palace?

Cressida: I’ve been more nervous than last time, because I’ve had time to quibble over this word or that, and to think about what the critics might say. But those nerves have been counterbalanced by the incredible support from Laura and the whole team. And the excitement of having so many firsts this time around surpasses any anxieties: this is the first time I’ve been part of a creative team that’s built the shape and intention of the show together from scratch; it’s the first time I’ve seen a costume designer create images based on my characters; it’s the first time I’ve had to understand time code and write for free-roaming audiences. I’ve never felt so integrated in a show before, and it’s such a brilliant place to be writing from, because it means the show practically writes itself.

Laura: Wholly different. The building of Divine Proportions was a wild, thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride. It was my first rodeo really and was intense, fast-paced and terrifying - but obviously a thrill - and I came back for more. But this time I knew to make much more use of the time we had in advance of Red Palace’s launch. Time is your friend, but I’ve always been a ‘homework night before the deadline’ kind of person, so having to force a sense of urgency on my own process with false deadlines was a tricky thing to teach myself to do.

I find Cressida particularly inspiring at this, she’s delivered every single draft of our script with days to spare before our deadlines. No, I don’t know how she does it either.

So overall Red Palace has been a more measured process, it’s taken a lot more deeper thought, more time to process our decisions and question things. Celine, Cress and I have all learned so much about building hybrid theatre work, and we were able to carry those lessons quickly into the beginnings of the next show. From embracing the lead time and giving ourselves those disciplined hard deadlines, to allowing an expansive casting process that Celine and I put together earlier on in the year - every stage of Red Palace has been a confident advancement from building Divine Proportions.

Will the two shows get along? Or will there be any sibling rivalry?

Laura: I think they’d get along like a house on fire!!! I see Divine Proportions as lounging in the heavens over Red Palace, a heavenly ethereal glow in the clouds, the characters looking down and waving at their darker counterparts who are inhabiting this dark, rich and opulent earthly environment. I think they’d all visit each other for dinner parties, they have in-jokes and pet names.

Red Palace is the depths, Divine Proportions is the heavenly layer. They are the duality that exists in all of us, balanced.

Theatrically they are twinned by the same hybrid, multi-disciplinary style of work that Celine, Cress and I are passionate about making. The kind of productions that showcase numerous skills of so many incredible performers, full of personality, humour and depth.

Cressida: Yes, both shows share the same essence – a signature blend of provocativeness and inclusivity that I’ve learnt from Laura and is really compelling for an audience to be part of. Red Palace is much bigger though, taking over seven of the spaces in The Vaults, where Divine Proportions had only one, so by nature I’m expecting it to be hungrier, more demanding and very different. For both shows, there have been times where we think we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, but it’s that danger that pushed us to take risks, grow as artists and make challenging work, so I hope our gamble pays off the second time around!

What do you hope Red Palace learns from her older sister?

Cressida: I hope she learns how to make people respect one another. Because Divine Proportions was sex-positive in theme, it was really easy to include consent messaging to keep our audience members and performers safe. But Red Palace’s Prince is a misogynistic dictator, so we want to create a thrilling show but make sure than none of our audience members sing from his hymn sheet!

Laura: That she sits proudly, in an arc of art-making with our company and community Shotgun Carousel, that will continue long after her doors have closed. That regardless of reviews, she mattered – she counted – she brought joy to hundreds of wide-eyed and excited humans and artists together, and even before she’s had press night, she’s made an exciting and positive difference in those peoples lives. 

Which parts of each of you do you think Red Palace will inherit?

Laura: Oh, unwavering grit, ambition and commitment to going big or going home!! If it’s not extra, I don’t want it.

Cressida: I hope the show inherits Laura’s ability to overcome adversity – one of our big themes of the show! And from me, I want it to inherit a dark humour that you wouldn’t expect from the exterior.

What’s the key to your successful relationship?

Laura: Letting Cressida make her own spreadsheets, rather than me forcing my (much sloppier) ones upon her.

Cressida: Respecting each other’s boundaries: I don’t try to produce and Laura doesn’t want to write the script. And, Celine, who completes our creative threesome is fantastic at enforcing that when it comes to notes and feedback.

What do you keep in your special memory box?

Cressida: A pair of birthstone earrings she organised for my birthday last year, which fell during our rehearsal period.

Laura: A poem scrawled on a piece of pink lined paper, read over pumpkin at a company dinner. A golden hand from the table of Dionysus & Divine Proportions, a grape with a nipple on it from the trees of Mount Olympus and a tacky as f*ck friendship bracelet, which I'll cherish for as long as I’m making this wild kind of work.

What’s her signature move?

Laura: The '8am breakfast meeting'

Cressida: The last-minute epiphany.

How do you balance your work and your relationship? 

Laura: With a bottle of white wine.

Cressida: Is now a good time to tell you I prefer rosé...?

What’s your key piece of advice for other creative couples?

Laura: Pick your team well. Work together. Play together. Trust each other. Communicate. Ask for help. Know that you don’t have to do everything yourself, and that delegating, or allowing someone to support you will nearly always bring you a better creative result. Always listen. Always be prepared to be wrong and to learn.

Cressida: What she said. And wherever possible, work with Laura.

Venue: The Vaults, Waterloo SE1
Previews from Tue 24 Sep
Show opens Wed Oct 2
Tickets https://www.thevaults.london/red-palace

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