Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Conrad Murray: No Milk For The Foxes

By | Published on Tuesday 21 April 2015

As soon as I read about ‘No Milk For The Foxes’, I knew it was something I wanted to find out more about. A co-production from Camden People’s Theatre and Beats & Elements – aka Conrad Murray and Paul Cree – the show is a theatre piece incorporating spoken word, comedy, and beatboxing.

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The play explores contemporary society from a working class perspective, examining how class roles have altered, and weighing up whether or not it’s desirable to aspire to a higher status. I sent some questions over to co-creator Conrad Murray.

Caro: Can you tell us what ‘No Milk For The Foxes’ is all about. What happens in the show?
Conrad: The show take places over one night shift at a washing machine components factory. Two bored security guards pass the time talking, debating opposing views and reminiscing. Both are on zero-hour contracts and still waiting for this week’s pay-cheque; so tempers are short and their chats get a little heated.

One guard, Mark, is keeping his head down, praying for a permanent contract. He’s keeping a watchful eye on a hole in the fence he’s convinced is getting bigger… The other, Sparx, is constantly on the brink of quitting – he’s had enough.

It’s a playful mix of theatre, comedy, beatboxing and spoken word.

Caro: What themes does it explore?
Conrad: Status and aspiration, from a working-class perspective. Particularly, we explore the random cruelty and exploitation of zero-hours contracts and the dog-eat-dog nature these working conditions breed.

We also look at how working-class roles have changed in society. We used to be skilled, to be connected with our labour, to be able to make things. Whereas in the modern world we are often completely disconnected with what we do and a large number of us end up doing what exactly what we see in ‘No Milk For The Foxes’: sitting around, with no job worth or value, being exploited on awful contracts.

Caro: What gave you the idea for the play? How was it developed?
Conrad: Paul and I would always talk for hours through the night in my studio (shed) in Mitcham… Again and again we came back to this idea that working-class characters and voices weren’t shown, or shown accurately, in popular culture and on the stage. We wanted to tell a story from our perspective that felt true and authentic.

So, it was this desire that came first and it felt right to make the story reflect the long midnight conversations we had! The characters in the play were inspired by people that we knew growing up on council estates and going to London state schools so they are real characters, complex, flawed and funny. They are authentic; they are not Vicky Pollard.

We first scratched the idea at Battersea Arts Centre, with whom Paul and I have worked a lot with in the past. We then shared a full hours worth of material at Camden People’s Theatre in Spring 2014 after which Artistic Director Brian Logan proposed a co-production to headline this year’s pre-general election ‘The State We’re In’ festival.

Every time we shared the developing work we were overwhelmed by the positive and excited response from the audience. We were totally taken aback by the feedback and entered into this most recent rehearsal period determined to do justice to the show and to a work that we feel is really important.

Caro: The show combines a number of different elements – spoken word, beatbox, etc – how have you married them altogether…?
Conrad: The show is first and foremost a theatre piece which folds the beatbox and spoken word in through the narrative. Just as a musical production includes songs provoked by and anchored in the action of the play, so our musical pieces are rooted in the story. A poem or a monologue might give some back-story to a character, or a song might reflect on the themes the characters discuss.

Caro: The show explores notions of class and status – do you think we are a society moving away from class barriers, or do you think those structures are very much still in place?
Conrad: We have definitely regressed back to having much more obvious class barriers, I think especially in the last five years. Privilege and background now means a lot more now than it has done in recent decades.

If you look at all the top theatre companies, media figures, journalists and creatives, they all disproportionately come from privately educated backgrounds. Without a doubt it is very difficult to break into this culture if you are not born into it.

We felt there was a need for this show to happen and that we were the right people to make this piece. Paul and I worked hard to get where we are and felt that as working-class artists, not only were we a minority, that we have a responsibility to use the support we were being given by arts organisations to make work about our backgrounds and champion work from this culture.

Caro: So do you think art and politics is increasingly excluding those from traditionally working class backgrounds? Would you agree with Chris Bryant’s feelings that culture is becoming dominated by the likes of James Blunt and Eddie Redmayne…?
Conrad: Yes. Of course art and politics excludes those from working-class backgrounds. I just don’t think are any real entry points for people to get into these industries and any opportunities that there are, are diminishing!

In art, there are a lot of age restrictions on opportunities and funding – to me this is totally classist. Many young people from working-class backgrounds have not managed to get access to any art before 25. To cut programmes off at such a young age limit is incredibly harmful. Tories cutting local councils and arts cuts have worsened this. Less and less young people are gaining access to art.

I do agree with Chris Bryant. To take the music industry for example, the days of Noel Gallagher are gone! Now you need to be self-funded to be able to commit to entering the music industry. There isn’t the support there for young people to discover music and have time to develop and nurture what they love. Its seems like only those from wealthy backgrounds can afford to take risks and the leap of faith you need to when trying to establish yourself as an artist. The resources just aren’t there now to develop working-class artists.

Caro: Will this show go on elsewhere after its London run? What’s next for you? Anything else in the pipeline?
Conrad: We really want to tour the show and are hoping to transfer it to another London venue in the near future.

I’m currently being supported by Battersea Arts Centre to develop my piece, Denmarked, which is about growing up on a council estate, my relationship with my social worker and how I managed to not end up in prison. It takes a similar form to ‘No Milk’ in that it is a blends of theatre, looping, rapping and beatbox. It’s due to perform end of this year at BAC.

I also direct the BAC Beatbox Academy so we have an exciting summer of gigs lined up – we’ve just performed at the Royal Festival Hall and are off to Latitude in July.

Paul is working on an EP and a show that will be performed at the Roundhouse as part of their Last Word Festival on 30th May. It’s a brilliant collection of four stories about growing up in 90s.

We are really excited to do our first performance as Beats&Elements and already have some ideas bubbling up for the next show.

‘No Milk For The Foxes’ is on at Camden People’s Theatre until 9 May as part of the venue’s ‘The State We’re In’ season. See the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.

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