Featured image: the cast of Kvetch.
So So Gay recently had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with DIckie Beau, multi-talented star of Kvetch – currently playing at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington and reviewed here this week.
SSG: First off, what does Kvetch mean?
Dickie Beau: It’s a Jewish word, meaning nagging anxiety or inner turmoil, which is the main point of the play – all the characters and everything they’re experiencing can be related to by members of the audience. It might be that you’re in a situation where you’re feeling incredibly uncomfortable but putting on a brave front, while inside you’re going through a lot of turmoil. The first scene of the play is a dinner party and it’s split between real-time action and the dialogue in their own heads – it’s a very funny, frenetic scene that slowly exposes the melting pot of anxieties the characters are part of, as the action on stage progresses.
Sounds interesting… Tell us more?
It’s a really funny play, which I love. One of the things that drew me to it initially was the queer plotline. Hal, the character I play, is invited to the home of one of his colleagues, for a dinner party. Gay sexual fantasies come up over dinner, and that’s where some of the anxiety and inner turmoil begin. It was written 25 years ago, but it’s still really relevant. Berkoff is a brutal writer, and while the characters might have homophobic anxiety, the play itself isn’t homophobic – it deals with the issues in quite a celebratory and unexpected way.
That’s some impressive makeup you’re all wearing. Is that how you’ll appear onstage?
Yes, definitely – the whole performance is very stylised, rather than naturalistic. The make-up takes the actors face and emphasizes the emotions they’re feeling. Always etched on to the character’s face is an external expression of their anxiety. This comes from the Commedia dell’arte school of theatre, which I’ve always been drawn to and often take inspiration from in my own solo work.
So this show has special significance for you?
Yes, very much so – I performed Kvetch with the same director, about seven years ago, in Milan, at an acting school. They invited me back the following year to come and work on it some more with them. They’re very Commedia dell’Arte, which heavily influenced my style. When I came back to London I would go and audition for regular acting jobs in a commedia dell’arte style. I wasn’t getting any work anyway, so there was nothing to lose. I realised that there were so many ways to work, rather than just the naturalistic one that we see so much. Dickie Beau was born on the back of that, and since then I’ve been experimenting, really and trying out new things.
At experimental cabaret nights at Bistrotheque and the RVT, for example?
Absolutely. Under Construction at Bistrotheque gave me a platform to try out stuff very early on that I would have been too afraid to do in other forums: a really safe place to play around with ideas. Under Construction and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, especially Duckie, have been really helpful in my career so far.
Including group collaborations?
Oh, yes. It’s so helpful to the creative process to have people to throw ideas around with – the only reason I performed alone when I started out was because I simply didn’t know anyone. It’s much nicer to work with someone,to come together to show and discuss things. Sometimes we just play together and see what comes up… [frequent collaborator] Scottee says ‘there isn’t only one golden ticket’ – meaning that if one of us does well, it’s good for all of us. With people like him and Johnny Woo leading the way with that sort of attitude, I think there’s a real sense of family on the circuit…
Is it a very close-knit, Warhol’s Factory-esque community?[He laughs] Nowhere near as glamorous! I don’t think it’s cliquey, either. When Lisa from Under Construction first met me, she didn’t know me from Adam. She saw me sing a song, then got in touch and asked if I wanted to come and do something. It’s not who you know, just a passion for the art that is important.
Have you found through performing Kvetch that you’re more aware of your own inner turmoil?
I notice them more, certainly, and can address them more quickly. I think it’s made me very conscious of nerves before a show. It’s like the feeling when you’re on a rollercoaster, or jumping out of an aeroplane, or coming up on a pill – it really is like that. You need a shit. You’ve got so much fucking nervous energy – you don’t know if it’s something profoundly exciting or completely horrible… After years of performance, I still get nervous before each show. I don’t think it ever goes away, it keeps the adrenaline pumping…
Are you working on anything for after Kvetch?
Yes, I’m part of Duckie’s Barbican Christmas show, called Copyright Christmas – traditional christmas with a Gay Shame flavour. I’m working on it with Ryan Styles, Scottee Scottee, Bird la Bird, and a really fantastic bunch of people. There’s going to be lots of things going on, lots of audience interaction. This isn’t going to be a traditional piece of theatre, where people just sit and watch – they’ll be moving through it and interacting with it.