Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Emily Louizou: Fabulous Creatures

By | Published on Friday 17 May 2024

I’ve always had a soft spot for the ancient Greek myths and I love it when creative people use them as the inspiration or basis for contemporary work. So it’s no wonder I was interested when I heard about ‘Fabulous Creatures’, which opens at Arcola Theatre this week. 

It’s from a company we’ve taken an interest in before – Collide Theatre – and focuses on the female monsters that feature in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, though of course there’s a modern twist. 

It’s a musical piece of theatre, co-written by the company’s AD Emily Louizou and Quentin Beroud, with music by Irene Skylakaki. I spoke to Emily to find out more. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Fabulous Creatures’ is all about? Who is it about and what story does it tell? 
EL: ‘Fabulous Creatures’ tells the story of the female monsters of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. So in the show we get to meet Scylla, Charybdis and the Sirens, who were iconic monsters in Ancient Greek mythology.

In our version they have set up the first assassins’ agency of recorded time and so we envision them as more than just ‘men-eating monsters’.

Our story begins when the Monsters are visited by a mysterious woman with a very particular request!

CM: What themes are explored through the play? 
EL: I’d say that some of the main themes we wanted to explore are: justice, sisterhood and transformation. As well as the notion of how others perceive you – and particularly how easy it is for a community, or the whole of society, to vilify someone just because of their preconceived ideas.

Our Monsters were not always perceived as ‘monsters’. Something happened and then society’s perception – and attitude towards them – shifted. The ease with which we still label people ‘ugly’, ‘weird’, ‘bad’ is quite scary.

CM: It’s a musical show – can you tell us what the musical element adds to the telling of this story and what to expect in terms of style or genre? 
EL: We are experimenting with a very interesting format, as we blend a lot of different styles and genres, creating a show that sits between a gig and a play.

The first part of the piece takes place on stage in a cabaret show, so expect a lot of musical numbers and funky tunes! But then for the second part, it shifts to quite a different space – literally the backstage of the show.

The music is written by Greek composer Irene Skylakaki, who has created a very exciting musical world, blending darkness and sensuality.

Some of our biggest inspirations when making the songs for the show were PJ Harvey, Bjork, James Blake and St Vincent – so expect a lot of quirky punchiness, and fun! 

CM: What made you want to create a piece of work about this particular subject? 
EL: I grew up in Athens in Greece and so I first read ‘The Odyssey’ as a set text in school when I was about fourteen. And of course Homer’s epic poems and Greek myths have played such a huge part in my love for literature and stories.

But it was only a few years ago that I started becoming very interested in re-inventing these myths and in filling in the blanks somehow. Reading Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ and ‘The Song Of Achilles’ absolutely blew my mind.

It was this experience that fuelled my desire to re-shape the stories of the monsters from ‘The Odyssey’.

Similarly with ‘Circe’, Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens are often just perceived as ‘evil monsters’ – and I knew there could be so much more in their stories! 

CM: Is there a political – maybe feminist – angle here? Does the show have a message to impart?
EL: Oh yes, plenty of such angles and messages! But I always feel like it’s the audience’s role to put these messages in words.

To me this is very much a show about today – despite it drawing inspiration from ancient myths. For us making this show has to do with all the shame attached to women – throughout generations and centuries – and the battle to shake this shame off. Or perhaps instead of shaking it off, exploring how we turn this shame and anger into action.

All female characters in the play have been victims of abuse, and have been punished for all sorts of nonsensical reasons – such as turning down the advances of a man, or being perceived as acting in a way that a woman shouldn’t act!

I’d love it if the show acted as a cry for help, but also as a celebration for women finding their own fierce way of living their lives. 

CM: It’s a co-written piece – how does the collaborative relationship work?
EL: I am incredibly grateful to Quentin Beroud for being my partner in crime – and in writing! The two of us have collaborated on other projects in the past and I feel like we complement each other in the most creative way.

Quentin has an incredible flair for comedy, which balances out my drive for surreal darkness!

The writing process of ‘Fabulous Creatures’ has been very collaborative, as we’ve had four rounds of R&D in the past year, with a lot of actors joining us in the rehearsal room to test ideas, improvise scenes and discuss structure.

It’s been a real joy to see this project develop with the help of so many creative brains. The past month in particular has been integral in the writing process, as we’ve had our wonderful cast joining us with so many ideas and contributions.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast? 
EL: The cast is a true gift: Hannah van der Westhuysen is channelling groovy dance sea-monster vibes for Charybdis, Kate Newman is the six-headed rock-punk monster Scylla, and Jazz Jenkins is the woman-bird Siren with the one-of-a-kind voice.

I cannot describe in words how talented they all are – but you can check out our teaser trailers if you need some convincing before booking your tickets to see them live.

CM: We first spoke to you about Collide Theatre a couple of years back. How have things been going since then? How is the company progressing?

EL: The past couple of years after the pandemic have been busy, but in a different way.

It feels like the industry has changed a lot, and we’ve had to see a lot of dear friends and collaborators quitting the industry or moving out of London. The truth is that both the industry and London have become too hard to navigate!

Collide has been fortunate to work with some great venues, such as the Arcola now, or the Omnibus last year. Both venues have supported us a lot in the process of creating a new show – but we are not sure how sustainable this will be in the years to come. 

CM: What grand plans do you have for the future? 
EL: We are really putting all our efforts into ‘Fabulous Creatures’. We’d love for it to have a future life after this current run – perhaps taking it to Greece too!

But we have also already started R&Ding a new project based on the Lulu plays by German writer Frank Wedekind, which we’ve sub-titled a ‘monster tragedy’. We’ve got something going on with monsters, right?! 

‘Fabulous Creatures’ is on at Arcola Theatre from 22 May-15 Jun. For more information and to book tickets see the venue website here.

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Photo: Mariza Kapsabeli