Cressida Peever answers the phone so quickly after I call that, for a second, I think I’m the one about to be interviewed.
Luckily, I’m not called upon to answer any probing questions, but instead listen to Cressida describe the process behind writing the new Gothic cabaret, Red Palace.
The cabaret, which is showing at The Vaults in Waterloo, is described by Cressida as “an immersive roller-coaster of macabre, circus and music based experience.”
If you’re looking for a nice relaxing night, sipping on a chardonnay, before perhaps indulging in an ice cream at the interval, you should think again, as Cressida says the audience “can expect to get out as much as they put in and to be transported to a place that feels like it could be now but also could be another time entirely.”
Red Palace is not a conventional piece of theatre, Cressida explains. “The way that the structure works is that the whole audience of up to about 240 people each night experience the opening and the finale together,” she says, “and then in a time in between that, they’re free roaming to some extent. There are scenes happening in the rooms which all finish at the same time.”
Cressida tells me the ambitious nature of the project is what made her so excited to take it on. “It’s one of those rare opportunities where you get to throw lots of things into a space and allow them to bounce off one another in terms of the genres and the stories and the characters and the types of things that happen in the space.”
If the audience spends a little bit extra, then they get the experience with dining, before everyone else arrives. The three course feast is from the mind of Masterchef semi-finalist Annie McKenzie, but don’t fret, once the meal is over everyone gets to enjoy the same wandering show.
Although the script is the same for every performance, the audience interaction and malleable cast leads to a unique viewing every time, as, “someone who plays Prince one night can be a mermaid another night”. Cressida adds that the writing was “challenging to ensure that we were staying true to the theme of the story and not taking things in a direction that felt tangential but at the same time, making sure that it all matters.”
It can be hard to be a playwright in a place as expensive to live as London, and finding time to write is not always easy, but Cressida brims with determination. “I’m carving out more time for writing than I ever have,” she notes, “so this show is a bit of a landmark moment for me. I’ve decided to make a bigger commitment to my writing in terms of the time I’m spending on it.”
The cast is made up entirely of non-binary and female performers, a vital statement for Cressida. “I think representation is really important in the industry at the moment, and I cannot understate the kind of liberated atmosphere of the rehearsal room and the whole project by having that dynamic.”
This liberation extends itself to the performances and the play is a celebration of gender and sexual freedom and Cressida tells me: “I am an advocate for knowing as much about myself as I can. And that includes sexuality as much as includes every part of me. And I think it’s healthy to know those things about yourself.
I feel that it’s something that gets overlooked because as an idea, it’s not what people want to talk about or hear. But actually when I speak to my friends and my peers and other women and men or people of any gender, or no gender my age, lots of us feel like we haven’t been given the opportunity to properly learn and grow in that way.”
Sexual freedom is just one element of Red Palace and Cressida’s work in general and this is how Cressida wants it. “I think more and more people are beginning to think of it as just as just one element of the show rather than just falling under the headline that ‘sex sells’. It’s an all round look at people from every angle.”
Red Palace will be showing at The Vaults until 12 January 2020. Tickets can be bought at: https://www.thevaults.london/red-palace