Doppelgangster, a UK-Australian collaboration led by Dr Tom Payne (Sheffield Hallam University) and Tobias Manderson-Galvin (MKA Theatre of New Writing) are an iconoclastic contemporary performance company first seen in Sydney for Puntila/Matti.
The company returns to the Kings Cross Hotel with Everybody Loses, a continuation of its antagonistic theatrical practices and anarchistic approach to climate catastrophe.
Tom and Tobias, you’ve previously had a show shut down for being ‘too dangerous to perform’. Have you learned your lesson for Sydney? The promo says, Tom, that you poison yourself with snake venom for the show …
Tobias: We weren’t – as they say – born yesterday. Like everyone else, we were born two days ago, and have had a full two days to learn everything there is to possibly know.
Tom: We certainly weren’t born yesterday! Shooting up snake venom as babies would have been very, nearly impossible. Tiny, baby hands.
Tobias: We’ve both really grown up since that first show. The sign in our UK office says it’s been 68 days since our last accident.
Tom: I’ve done an online YouTube course on health and safety. I’m a regular Steve Irwin slash Evel Kneivel slash Harry Houdini slash Owen Hart.
Still, shooting up venom, what’s been the impact on you, Tom?
Tom: The impact has been like Chernobyl, but instead of the reactor meltdown destabilising the Cold War standing of the USSR, it’s just one guy getting progressively more jaundiced over the season.
I’ve got to have a lot of bedrest. The poison hurts and you’ve got to respect it. Last night it was my first night back after a couple of nights off and instead of just dizziness and the fever and cold sweats combo, I spent almost the whole show forgetting how to breathe.
Do you think it’s necessary? What gave you the inspiration to bring that sort of very real danger into a performative space?
Tom: Not strictly. There’s a certain school of thought that says it’s been affecting my performance and certainly my home life. My wife prefers this to remain a touring show. I’ve been inspired by method actors like Brandon Lee, comedian Tommy Cooper, and the original drummer from Megadeth.
Tobias: We wanted to recreate a swansong. And the swans in England are all the property of Her Majesty so a literal solution was impossible.
If your 2017 show Puntila/Matti was an end-of-capitalism road trip how would you describe Everybody Loses?
Tom: It’s this perennial problem, isn’t it? “Describe one kind of expression using another”. We make theatre in order to combine all possible modes of interaction.
It’s a lot like ouija boarding; the letters are all there, but then, communally, we put them in the right order to get the message.
And what’s the message? Its from an unknown soldier who had a State Funeral, where there’s a flag on the coffin, and lots of candles. But someone knocked over one of the candles, and now the flag is burning.
People are saying Everybody Loses is “no picnic”. How do you feel about that? Do you even care?
Tobias: What a disgraceful accusation. People have brought blankets. Baskets. Ants have mysteriously taken over a baguette when no one was looking.
We can’t cater to everyone’s dietary requirements but to claim that it’s not a picnic is shameful and unfounded. We have punnets of strawberries! Though attendees should be advised that the strawberries may have needles in them.
If you had to describe Doppelgangster in three words, what would those words be?
Tom: Doppelgangster. Doppelgangster. Repetition … Doppelgangster.
Tobias: It means double.
For this show you’ve name checked the Chicago Field Museum and Mark Whitehead, a professor in geography, and in previous works the Climate Commission for Wales and Cape Farewell. Who’s on your wishlist of activist/artist superstars to work with?
Tom: We’ve been trying to work with Vivienne Westwood for three years now, but their only idea is that they build us up as famous artists fashionistas kind of like that fake Banksy in the exit the gift shop movie, and to be honest, we’re very bad at pretending so we keep putting it off.
Tobias: But you know we’ve worked with some major international movers and shakers already. Like Royal Wolf Containers, Dylan Thomas Containers, and Kabin Hire Cardiff. Actually those are all of the movers.
OK … Any locals? Anyone in Sydney?
Tobias: ‘The Professor’ – that guy who used to be a producer on The Footy Show (NRL), but now he has his own Friday night late show on Fox Sports. And former rugby league mortal Brett Finch.
Tom: We’d love to have been written up in RealTime Magazine before they folded but I guess this’ll do.
Your 2015 show Doppelgangster’s TITANIC was a radical metaphor: the images of a boat sinking surrounded by the helpless crying poor gave a clear semiotic connection to the burgeoning climate crisis. Why did you pick something so massive to make a work about? What can we do to solve the problem?
Tobias: Thank you for describing the metaphor as ‘radical’ because the ninja turtles always used to use that word but I’ve never heard it in a sentence from someone who wasn’t a cartoon or an animatronic puppet.
Tom: I think a lot of people don’t realise that other people – the ones in positions of power – have really relatable problems, just like our own, but with much greater consequences.
The Titanic was in such a hurry to leave port for its maiden voyage that they forget to pick up the only set of keys for the box that housed the only set of binoculars on board. I’m very forgetful, too. And the tremendous gravity of the situation hit me when I discovered the horrifying truth that I was starting to forget the big three. Names. Faces. Um, did I mention names?
Here was the crisis of our planet and the Anthropocene. Plus, I can never find my keys. Still, your question, ok solve the international climate crisis. Everyone needs to keep an eye on just one other person to make sure they’re ok.
I’m told you infiltrated the French government in 2015? Really?
Tobias: Tom got as far as a secret service-protected cocktail party with the Minister for Agriculture, but only because of a matching suit and tie that led them to mistake him for a ministerial aide.
Tom: We danced. We shared a plate of olives. It turns out not all of the French kiss with tongue.
Everybody Loses has gone to a lot of cities (Madrid, Paris, London, Margate, Sheffield, Singapore, Athens, Brisbane, Melbourne) before coming to Sydney? Why the long journey?
Tom: It has been quite a journey. We’ve performed it in the basement of a former Nazi boot factory, the backyard of an eminent anthropologist, a 15th Century convent, in an old Victorian coachhouse, a former bowls club, an old cinema, an academic conference, beneath the arches of Waterloo Station, a garage, an old warehouse, and now we’re in a sometimes fetish club in the increasingly gentrified red-light district of Kings Cross.
Tobias: Some of the lines change.
Tom: You can’t say, “Good Evening Chicago!” unless you’re in Chicago.
You debuted the show in Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast. Why there?
Tobias: Hell yeah we did!
Tom: Aberstwyth is a special place for Doppelgangster. It’s cool and the locals really ‘get’ us. We had plastic party masks made of our faces for our last show there and months later they keep popping up in local robberies.
How do you two make a work when you live on opposite sides of the globe?
Tom: Oh, just the normal ways to be honest. Like, we’ll both be on Chat Roulette for hours watching lonely dudes ‘showing off’ and then every few days we’ll be randomly connected.
Tobias: We both speak English too. So that helps. And our respective government’s intelligence services keep track of whatever we say, so as long as we wait 30 years there’ll be a lot of notes to go back over.
I’ve heard that you review audiences at some of your shows – live during the show, and then after the show online. Does it concern you that it might turn people away?
Tom: We’re live both during and after the show. So, yeah. I don’t know about that.
Tobias: We have been writing reviews of all the dumplings shops in Ashfield High Street. At one of the restaurants we went to today, the tea was cold. It seemed like maybe they’d hadn’t turned on the steel urn they make the tea in. It’s unconscionable. Fuck the Cold Teas. That’s our big message these days.
There’s a bit in Everybody Loses where you Tom, take a pill. What’s the pill?
Tom: You’d have to ask the desk draw we found them in. Neither of us knows. It doesn’t taste like anything. Maybe it’s a booster for the antidote. That’s not really my purview as a performer.
Tobias: It’s concentrated B12, he gets jacked on the stuff, and we’ve been able to include an extra 10 pages of script in without extending the duration of the show.
I was told that you were in talks to accept money from an American intelligence agency, to make a show in the South China Seas.
Tom: Good lord no. An agencY devoted to AmErican intelligence soundS like a great idea. That said it’s possible that we’ll make a show in the South China Seas, we’ve had contact but We only rEply through magazine articles in code thAt often comes across as nonsensical but to our handleR in the South China Sea it’s all very clEar.
If you had to die by snake bite, which snake would you have bite you?
Tom: I think actually probably not a snake at all. Or a spider, or a shark. Probably a shark-spider hybrid. With eight legs, a dorsal fin, and and like when it gets washed down the drain pipe it can’t swim back up again, because of the gills only go one way. So I guess I’ll survive actually. Next, please.
You’ve been together five years? Almost? Will you give each other anniversary gifts? Five years is wood.
Tom: For ages I thought, “One of these nights I’m going to drive a stake through Tobias’ heart as he sleeps,” and our Wood Anniversary seemed like the perfect time to do it. But now I think actually if he turns me vampire one night, well, what happens? He gets blood, and I become immortal. It’s a win-win situation.
You started the company in Wales and they overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. What are your feelings on the whole Brexit thing?
Tom: That’s why we’re doing this tour. We’re looking for a new home. Outside of Europe. It’s what the Welsh would have wanted.
Tobias: But also in our heart of hearts we know that tomorrow is another day. Until it isn’t. Your whole concept of time speeds up as you get older. And the rate of technological change on the planet in the past couple of hundred years should give us a clue to the fate of humanity.
All this media – this interview – our show – it’s your whole life flashing before your eyes. That’s why we called the show Everybody Loses and not Everyone’s A Winner.