Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Joe Flatt, Sam Went and Emma Gadsdon: Joffrey! The Pantomime

By | Published on Friday 7 January 2022

Sometimes I forget that pantomime isn’t just for Christmas, and I am not sure why – in my childhood I was always taken to one in mid-January.

But there are, of course, pantomimes still running, and there’s one in particular doing a short run at the Bread & Roses Theatre this month that rather caught my eye when I heard about it.

The show – presented by Quintuple L Productions – is called ‘Joffrey! A Pantomime’. And yes, anyone who is even vaguely in touch with popular culture will surely know that this particular work has been inspired by that vaguely successful TV show ‘Game Of Thrones’.

To find out more about what to expect from the show, and to learn about the creative team behind it, I spoke to director Joe Flatt, writer Sam Went, and Emma Gadsdon, who plays principal boy Prince Joffrey Baratheon

CM: Can you start by explaining the premise of ‘Joffrey!’ – what’s the narrative of the show?
SW: ‘Joffrey!’ is a reimagining of the first season of ‘Game Of Thrones’ – or the first book of ‘A Song of Ice And Fire’ if you prefer – but retold first as a Christmas panto and secondly from the perspective of the often misunderstood Prince Joffrey.

We follow the same basic beats of the plot. Joffrey is the handsome son of King Robert and he has to woo the Lady Sansa Stark while also fighting for his rightful place on the Iron Thrones against the evil machinations of the villainous Ned Stark, and Ned Stark’s filthy lies about Joffrey’s parentage. But we’ve also added in some “he’s behind yous, oh no it isn’ts” and a lot of jokes.

CM: How and when did you decide to stage an original pantomine?
SW: We’d talked as a group of friends about doing a pantomime for a long time, and even thrown around a couple of ideas. We’d all done local panto as kids, and really enjoyed it and missed it.

It was at a house warming party just after I’d finished my Scriptwriting MA that we finally committed to the idea. I was completely sober when three of my very drunk friends came up to me and ordered me to write them a pantomime.

After that night we just held each other to that promise and formed Quintuple L Productions to make it happen. So that’s also our origin story as a theatre company.

CM: What made you decide to go with a ‘Game Of Thrones’ theme for the show?
SW: Panto came first. But we knew we wanted to do a pantomime for adults and not pick a story from the usual stable of fairy tales. I thought that taking a story we’re used to doing “seriously” and reinterpreting it through panto tropes and silliness could be a source of a lot of comedy.

We talked about doing ‘Hamlet The Pantomime’ or ‘Macbeth The Pantomime’, but quickly landed on basing it around something from pop culture. I broke down what were the essential characters of a panto – principal boy, principal girl, dame, villain and villain’s assistant – and then tried to cast the main characters of various TV shows in those roles.

It was the height of ‘Game Of Thrones’ fever – before the Long Night Of Season Eight – so this was obviously a favourite option I kept coming back to, but I couldn’t make it fit. Then I had the eureka moment of flipping it so the villains are the good guys. If Joffrey’s the hero and principal boy it fits strangely perfectly and that’s how we landed on ‘Joffrey! The Pantomime’.

CM: Over the Christmas period we have seen lots of pantomimes with unconventional themes happening in London. Is this part of a trend?
JF: With the surge of adaptations and reboots of films and plays alike in recent years, it is no surprise this is stretching to pantomimes and parodic performances. With fringe shows this summer like ‘Mario: A Super Musical!’ and the Garrick Theatre presenting their seven pantomimes in one – ‘Potted Panto’ – storytelling has truly been turned on its head.

Although some may argue that original concepts have creative importance, there is a chaotic beauty to exploring already developed worlds and expanding them within the boundaries of the established rules. We see this with historic events too. In fact, it is said that ‘Game of Thrones’ was loosely inspired by The Wars Of The Roses. Albeit emphasis on the loosely!

CM: Did you try to explore specific themes through the play?
SW: Not initially, but themes crept in. Being a parody of an existing text, and a pretty radical reinterpretation of that text, switching who the heroes and villains are, I think we end up talking in a lot of ways about our relationship to stories.

Why do we like certain stories? What do the tropes of this genre really say? How does the point of view a story is told from affect how we feel about the characters?

And in taking a story that was pretty morally grey and turning it into a pantomime where heroes and villains are very clear cut, the contrast that creates allows us to examine how we talk about “good” and “evil”.

Also a lot of it ended up being about how monarchy is inherently ridiculous.

CM: How did you go about putting it together? How did the creative process work?
JF: From my point of view, this creative process has been like no other. I was brought onto the team as director at quite a late stage, with the talented cast already being selected, and the producer, Becca, and the rest of the company sharing a lot of the heavy load. This was for a second run, at The Lion And Unicorn for the Camden Fringe.

My directing style is quite collaborative, I believe many cooks serve a feast, so the more ideas the merrier. This experimental energy often meant rehearsals were full of trial and error, causing crazy fun and the cast having a very hands on approach to their characters. Big up to Becca, who will be praising the theatre gods once the show begins its run at the Bread & Roses.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about the cast and creatives behind the show?
EG: Our lead producer Becca Rowson is truly a driving force behind this show and all Quintuple L projects. She’s a powerhouse all unto herself and I find myself constantly amazed by her work ethic.

Hannah Diver is our assistant stage manager, and Becca’s right-hand in all things ‘Joffrey!’ She lends a creative and distinctive voice to the behind the scenes of our show, with her experience and passion for film helping us to see new directions in the production.

Joe is our director, of course. He integrates his creative vision well with Sam’s script, leading us to the best versions of every scene, and helps us to think of nuance to our character that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Sam is not only the writer of ‘Joffrey!’, but also steps into the role of Robert Baratheon. His script is fun and cheeky, as any good panto should be. Combined with his distinctly witty Sam Went flair, it makes for some very entertaining lines to read.

On to the rest of the cast: November Walker plays the principal girl Sansa Stark, and to this role she brings both sweetness and slyness in equal measure. But alongside that, she has also shouldered a good number of production duties to get this show up and running.

Henry Rapley is our brazen dame and we love it. His reactions are larger-than-life even when he’s not in the spotlight but, when he is, he is a scene stealer.

Charlie Humphreys is playing the villain Ned Stark. His voice work is especially brilliant – evocative of traditional goatee-stoking, maniacal laugh-having baddies of old.

Jessamy James plays Little Finger, the side-kick to Ned Stark. She brings a wonderfully endearing quality to Little Finger that is sure to make audiences root for them.

Ruth Mestel, our chorus, is the connective tissue between each scene. She has a fantastic grasp on the meta-nature of her character, as a diva who has found herself at the whims of Joffrey’s ‘autobiographical’ propaganda pantomime.

Finally, there’s me. Speaking as the titular Prince Joffrey, I won’t compliment myself too much, but I will just say that working on this project has been an absolute blast.

It’s been wonderful to see this talented and creative group of people come together and get this show off the ground, especially with all the tribulations of COVID. We’re very thankful for everyone’s hard work and can’t wait to perform at the Bread & Roses Theatre.

CM: Do you need to ‘know’ Game Of Thrones to appreciate the show?
JF: Short answer – no. Three word answer – it might help. Long answer – I am grateful to have seen the entirety of the series before my involvement in this process, but it would be bold of me to say I ‘know’ GOT just from seeing it once. Have no fear, Sam Went has provided us with a clear and comical script with appeal for both avid watchers and avoiders alike. This truly has something for everyone, you won’t want to miss it.

CM: It’s been a tough couple of years for the arts industry because of the pandemic – how has it affected your company and this production?
SW: Well it hasn’t been fun. For anyone. We initially planned to do this show in 2020 and then 2021 and each time we’ve gotten so close to doing it then been thwarted by the pandemic. We’ve got all that pent up energy and we’re very excited to finally, hopefully, be able to get this show out there.

Also over that time we’ve seen a pretty big change in people’s opinions of ‘Game Of Thrones’. People haven’t started to like the show more. But we’ve taken that in our stride and it’s been incorporated into the show as a source of comedy. There are more Season Eight jokes in this version of the show than the one I first wrote.

As a company it’s been interesting. Quintuple L started with the goal of making ‘Joffrey!’, happen but over the course of the pandemic it’s morphed into a proper theatre company with multiple projects on the go and a very exciting future.

I don’t know if that would have happened if ‘Joffrey!’ hadn’t been delayed. It’s been a slow couple of years but if all goes well we’ll have a very busy 2022.

CM: What aims do you have for the future?
SW: Edinburgh Fringe 2022. Fingers crossed. After that? I’d like to follow up this show with another pop culture pantomime. I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to be, too.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SW: We’ve got a lot coming up this year. We’re staging two one man shows, the first is a coming out story called ‘So You Found Me’ and second is the true story of the Scottish con man who invented a country, Sir Gregor McGregor. That one’s called ‘The Wolf Of Poyais’.

We’re also producing a drama about the origins of the alt-right called ‘Red Pill’. We have a second show coming with ‘Joffrey!’ to the Edinburgh Fringe, an on stage adventure game called ‘Chaotic Neutral’, and we’re going to be releasing two podcast dramas over the next year too.

So it’s going to be a very busy 2022 and I’d encourage everyone reading this to follow Quintuple L Productions if they’d like to hear more about these shows.

‘Joffrey! The Pantomime’ is on at the Bread & Roses Theatre from 18-22 Jan, for more info and to book tickets head to the venue website here.

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