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Spike Theatre's Mark Smith On...The Games

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Followng critical success at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Liverpool based Spike Theatre take their timely comedy  The Games on a national Tour. Mark Smith is artistic director of Spike and his directing credits for them include Rudy and the Reindeers, At the Races, The Fairy School, Jason and the Argonauts, This Side up, Backwater, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Top of the World and Danny the Champion of the World

Other directing credits include Legless and Harmless (R.A.W) When I Wake Up I Want to be Famous (FUSE Theatre), Aesop’s Fables and Grimm fairy Tales (LIPA), Beasts and Beauties a Christmas show in co-production with The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal. He will be creating later in the year Sink or Swim to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Spike Theatre. We caught up with Mark to discuss The Games, Spike and the comedy genre.

For the unitiated, what is The Games about?

The Games is comedy theatre show, which is set in the ancient Greek Olympics. It has been created using the comedic structure of Aristophanes and follows the fortunes of 3 Greek nobodies that become embroiled in a bet between the Greek gods, Zeus, Hera and Hercules. The gods gift each mortal, which allows them to compete and win at the games. The gods want to prove that mortals are weak, greedy and vain, but fortunately our three heroes prove them wrong, by valuing friendship over glory.

It sounds like the piece incorporates many genres, how challenging is it to stage?

The show is made up of a gamut of styles, (puppetry, clown, musical theatre and dance) each performer has a variety of skills, but in no way specialists in any particular area, in fact this adds to the comedy as our characters play each style as if we were. The show is incredibly busy, and you really see us work hard, this will be third outing for the show and so staging it now is much easier than when we originally created it, put it like this - the backstage area is just as busy as the action in front of the audience.

It could not be better timed with the Olympics being held in London. Will there be a nod and wink to Sebastian Coe's games?

We created The Games to culminate with the run up to the London 2012 Olympics; this project started in autumn 2010 and has developed at each stage for the better. There are some very subtle nods to the modern games, but we wanted to be true to the ancient games, so the references are fleeting. We will be visiting many town and cities at the same time as the torch relay, which will be very exciting in addition we are one of a handful of theatre companies in the UK that have been granted the use of the inspire mark issued by the cultural Olympiad 2012.  

The tour is quite extensive. How do you keep the show fresh each night?

The show is set but with enough room for spontaneity, these moments keep the show fresh and might only occur in that moment for that audience that night. Many moments that are now found in the show have been found in this way.

Touring a comedy piece must be a hard thing to pull off as regions react differently. How do you tackle this?

We have found that because the comedy is rooted in truth and the playing is very epic that audiences react to it in a very similar way. The comedy is essentially silly but with an intelligence behind it, there are moments throughout, which are genuinely touching and you come away really caring about the three characters whilst having laughed at the scrapes they get into.

What is Spike Theatre's USP or mission?

Spike was established in 1997 and is a small-scale, touring theatre company that creates accessible, engaging and visually exciting work. With an emphasis on exploring and developing a bold style of storytelling using physical creativity, it draws upon various disciplines such as, acrobatics, ensemble performance, animation, puppetry, mime, clown and strong characterisation. Spike produces an original style of ‘Total’ theatre with the performer at the centre of its creative force.

Why should people come and see The Games?

The Games is a comedy theatre show very similar to the work of the pythons, it is rooted in a time (the ancient games) and then goes gloriously haywire. It uses lots of theatre forms to deliver it’s comedy, and at the end of the show we will have made you laugh and you may have learned a soupcon of ancient history.

What's next for Spike Theatre?

We are about to enter into our 15th year and we have some exciting plans afoot in fact it will be our busiest year if bookings go well. We are hoping to make two new pieces of work Sink or Swim a new comedy show about three men in a lifeboat who only have one oar, a new adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and taking out two previous much loved pieces of work, Hoof! our improvisation show and Top of the world a show about the story behind the ascent of Everest and this will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the ascent in 2013.

Mark Smith was speaking to Glenn Meads

The Games arrives at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool from 23 - 24 March and the Lowry on 11 June.

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