Q&A: Kathryn Marquet of The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek

Hot Chicks with Big Brains are thrilled to be working with La Boite Theatre Company for their first play of the year, The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek, which runs from the 10th of February to the 3rd of March. Exploring modern society’s response to climate change and species extinction, the play is promising laughter before it makes you look up at the stars and have a serious think about the world.

We spoke to playwright and actor, Kathryn Marquet (above) to hear more about her, the ideas behind this biting comedy, and the importance of leading the charge for change. These images (below and throughout) are behind-the-scenes shots from the latest rehearsals!


Please tell us a bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?

I’m an artist, down to my bones. I’m interested in history, science, philosophy and literature. I write plays and I’m also a professional actor. I teach casually at the University of Queensland in the drama and creative-writing departments, where I’m also doing my masters. I’ve worked for the major theatre companies as an actor and writer, and have worked as an actor on several major film and television projects.

Can you give us some insight into the processes and ideas which lead to The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek?

For some years, I’ve watched in a kind of paralysed horror as the world has failed to respond sensibly and logically to the major environmental challenges we face. We’re in the midst of the sixth-mass extinction in Earth’s history. We’re responsible. We haven’t discovered a vast proportion of the world’s flora and fauna and yet we’re destroying them. Climate change is occurring at such a rate that most of the planet’s creatures will not have time to adapt. We’re responsible for that too.

A lot of the people who run the world seem to be more concerned about lining their pockets with money than about the inherent value of the planet’s biodiversity. It keeps me up at night. So, I wrote The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek.

Who are some of the performers and writers that inspire you most? 

For my 13th birthday, my parents gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works. The poetry of his words seemed to speak to the pain in my heart, in a way that nothing had. Shakespeare has been a great comfort to me. The way he wrote about the human condition — about philosophical ideas, anger, depression, and about love and joy — spoke to me. He is my ideal.

The great thinkers, the great scientists, the great artists inspire me: Leonardo Da Vinci, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, the Brontes, Einstein, Carl Sagan, the list could go on and on. Anyone who’s creative and curious, who questions the status quo and thinks ahead of their time. Ethical people with deep and compassionate hearts.

 

How have you developed and adapted your playwright techniques over time?

Playwriting is notoriously difficult. There’s so much blank space that is filled with expression, subtext, sound, lighting, behaviour. It’s a leap of faith, I guess, that you leave that blank space on the page and hope that it will be filled in on the stage in the way you imagined. I have a few rules that I try to stick to: 1. I try to write only for myself, not to please anyone else’s agenda. That gives me courage, because I try to trick myself that no one else will read it. 2. I try to write for the smartest person in the audience and stay a step ahead. 3. I write for my own ethical compass, not for anyone else’s. I’m beholden to myself, not to anyone else’s sense of what I should say. I don’t believe art should be censored in that way. Leave that for politics and corporations. This is my artwork and I have to be responsible for it, because, trust me, no one else gets blamed for the script but me.

What’s given you the greatest sense of achievement throughout your career so far?

I’ve had some truly wonderful highlights and I’m very grateful for those. I performed at the Opera House with Bell Shakespeare/Queensland Theatre playing Gretchen in Faustus. And, I got to work on stage with John Bell, who’s a bit of a legend. My first play, Pale Blue Dot went up at La Boite in 2014 and that was pretty magical. I felt so blessed and it was so wonderful — it far surpassed my expectations.

 

When giving some insight into the play, you mentioned that “when things get dark, [you’d] rather laugh than cry”. Is the dark-comedic theme of Dead Devils a reflection of this idea or perhaps, a strategy to project a deeper message to the audience?

Indeed, it’s both. The world is deeply absurd at the moment. To me, anyway, and I suspect a lot of people. My play is absurd and ridiculous because life is absurd and ridiculous. I guess I’ve just heightened that to spotlight it. The play works as a micro example of the macro that we’re seeing currently.

I don’t think theatre should be a hard pill to swallow. It should be joyful and hilarious.  The audience certainly doesn’t need to feel more depressed about the state of the world and I’d rather not preach to the converted.

I guess you could say it’s a Trojan Horse: a rollicking night of fun at the theatre — some moments are truly silly — but, below, there’s an urgent and clear message — we need to do better.

You’ve also mentioned the idea of a post-truth world, where people can post something on the internet and it will automatically be true. Could you elaborate on this idea and its connection to the play?

Certainly. Of course, free speech is a wonderful thing and what would we do without the internet? But, there are certain problems: the difference between opinion and fact is being lost and that has far reaching ramifications for science and for rational and logical thought. There’s a rise of anti-intellectualism, a rise of hatred and bigotry, and the internet is helping to facilitate these things. I’m pro-science and it makes me sad that scientists are being undermined by people who don’t understand scientific process.

You can’t write a play about the destruction of the planet and not discuss why this is happening. Everything is connected. Our only way forward is radical change. In many ways, Dead Devils is a play about thinking and how we think, but also the difference between what we say and what we do. Actions speak louder than words.

 

What have you enjoyed most about your experiences with the Dead Devils team so far?

I’m absolutely loving being in rehearsals. Everyone is so committed to the play, and it’s wonderful working together for a common goal. We have the most extraordinary cast and creative team and I’m so grateful and excited.

 

What’s next for you and your career?

That’s always a loaded question in this field. Unemployment is never far away! I’m lucky that I was commissioned to write the book and lyrics for a children’s opera based on The Owl and The Pussycat, so that will be having its world premiere in April. Exciting times.

Get tickets to The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek here!


Images shot by Dylan Evans via La Boite Theatre Company

Compiled and Edited by Lauren Muggleton

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