Cabaret Interview Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Emily Aboud: Splintered

By | Published on Friday 11 February 2022

I was immediately interested and intrigued when I heard about ‘Splintered’, which begins a run at Soho Theatre this week. It’s a show described as theatre-cabaret, which focuses on the experiences of queer Caribbean women, created by director Emily Aboud. 

It sounds like there’s so much going on in this, I really had to find out more – about the inspiration for the piece, its format, and the creator behind it. 

To that end, I arranged a chat with Emily ahead of opening night. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a little about what sort of show audiences should expect from ‘Splintered’? It’s described as ‘theatre-cabaret’ – can you elaborate on the format?
EA: ‘Splintered’ is a combination of many different stories, inspired by the lived experience of queer Caribbean women. It’s fast-paced, funny and keeps you on your toes. I wanted it to feel wide-spanning, with many overlapping acts and scenes. You can expect to be uplifted, educated and, for LGBTQ+ members of the audience, kissed with a little bit of nostalgia.

The show is seated firmly in Caribbean identity and history, so there’s a lot of soca music, wining and jumping up. Direct audience address from the MCs felt like a natural choice for a show that wanted to both educate and entertain. And from this, I landed in a cabaret format – with a succession of acts, some connected and others not.

CM: Does the show tell an overarching story?
EA: Well, in addition to having MCs who lead us through the varying acts and experiences, they each take on the role of a character with a unique journey.

The show particularly follows the character of Ruby, a young Trinidadian who spends the show wrestling with coming out to her mum, while living away from home. You also witness Shanice’s longing for her straight best friend, as she revises for her CAPE Geography exams in Kingston, Jamaica. 

CM: What themes do you explore through the show?
EA: The show weighs up cultural belonging and homophobia; how can you feel at home in an environment that ultimately rejects you for who you are?

In this, it approaches the influence of Christianity and colonialism on the Caribbean and specifically on the lives of the individuals who helped conceive this show.

‘Splintered’ also speaks heavily on the cultural significance of Carnival, namely as a mockery of the oppressor and rebellion through celebration and resistance. Without giving too much away, a highlight of the show combines Catholicism, drag and dancehall.

CM: What was the inspiration for this? What made you want to stage this kind of show, with these particular themes?
EA: The first iteration of ‘Splintered’ was a cabaret night I organised in Trinidad, platforming local queer and/or female artists.

I was inspired by the freedom that was able to live in the safety of this night; that was both playful and joyful, without ignoring the pain and truth of living as a queer person in the Caribbean.

For a culture that created Carnival, ultimately the greatest celebration of freedom and unity on the planet, it is jarring that homophobia is so rampant. I knew this would make a great show. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative process you went through in putting the show together?
EA: I began interviewing queer women in Trinidad and Tobago in 2018 and this led to a series of workshops with queer actors of Caribbean heritage in London. From the first day of workshops it became clear that a collection of supremely playful, ultimately truthful vignettes were emerging from the verbatim stories I had recorded.

I am personally very interested in cabaret as an artform – I perform as a drag king – so getting to explore this form, dismantle it and mess around with an audience’s expectations of a ‘play’, was supremely exciting.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast, and the rest of your creative team?
EA: We’ve got the most wonderful cast – Chanté Faucher (she/her), Melissa Saint (she/her) and Alice Vilanculo (she/her) as our MCs. Chanté and Alice are returning from our run at the Vault Festival in 2020, as MC 1 and 2, and Melissa joins us now for the first time as MC 3.

It’s been a real joy to rehearse with these three – the energy, humour and power they bring to the script is invaluable. I think we all shed a tear when they perfected the opening.

We’ve also benefited from the abundant talent of an amazing creative team in designer Hazel Low (they/them), sound designer Annie May Fletcher (she/her), lighting designer Laura Howard (she/they) and movement director Buntu Yello (he/him).

CM: Can we talk about you now? Did you always want to have a career in the arts? What steps did you take to begin and build your career?
EA: I  grew up doing theatre in Trinidad with the Lilliput Theatre, which I will swear is the greatest youth theatre troupe in the world. Every year we devised and performed a new piece about the political climate at the time.

I always wanted to be a theatre director, but actually came to the UK to study Engineering. At uni, I split most of my time between the student theatre and the ice lab – it’s true, my speciality was material sciences – dabbling in stage management, performing and, finally, directing. I did a lot of musical theatre  and after a particularly successful production, directing ‘Spring Awakening’ at the Fringe, I was enrolled for a Masters in Theatre Directing in London. 

I have always been interested in new writing, particularly work that is inherently theatrical. I love theatre that challenges the system but is entirely playful. In the beginning, my career was really about finding new writers I admired and cultivating a network of people who I wanted to work with. I am really blessed to be friends with some incredible collaborators who trust me to direct their words.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
I have too many favourite playwrights and theatres. To direct at the Dorfman Theatre in the National has been a long standing goal of mine. I would love to work on the development of a new musical, as so much of my work relies on music and musicality for narrative.

And, in opposition to most of what I’ve just said, I would love to direct a revival of an old classic – I won’t tell you which one though, I can’t risk anyone nicking my plans.

CM: How was your work affected by the pandemic? How did you get through it?
EA: What a question! The pandemic was rough. Luckily my side hustle as a videographer and editor kept me in London. During the height of lockdown, a lot of productions wanted to film and distribute their plays, so I was lucky to get some work on that front.

I was also supremely lucky to get work directing at drama schools. I adore directing for drama schools because there is so much scope for exploration, without the pressure of press coming to review.

Additionally, I get to direct some pretty amazing plays that, under normal circumstances, would never be put on without serious star-studded casts or big West End budgets. Some of my proudest directing moments are from the shows I worked on at drama schools.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
EA: I’ve got a lot of plates spinning. I’ve set my sights on some big venues, but I’m also looking forward to more associate work. I feel like I’m at a very exciting point in my career where I can continue to make the work I want but also learn from other brilliant directors on larger-scale productions.

Additionally, my theatre company, Lagahoo Productions, is in the middle of working on our second production, ‘Bogeyman’, which is ACE-funded. We recently completed an R&D of the piece in 2021 and we’re looking to develop it further with another venue and bring our play about the Haitain Revolution to life!

‘Splintered’ is on at Soho Theatre from 15-26 Feb. See the venue website here for more information and to book.

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