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Best of VAULT Festival
Interview 2015

Matthew Grinter

The Dog and the Elephant
25 January - 20 March 2022

‘The Dog and The Elephant’ is the compelling story of the unlikely kinship between boxer Bendigo Barlow & ‘Ina’, an elephant from a travelling menagerie.


Hello Matt thanks for talking to The New Current, how have things been going?


So far so good, we are one of the smaller companies at Vault only formed this year to produce and promote The Dog and the Elephant and for a long time, it was just myself (the writer-director) and Jack Johns (the Actor). The crew is steadily growing and the piece is coming together nicely. Its first full outing will be at VAULT15 so we’re deep in rehearsals at the moment!


How does it feel to be part of Vault Festival 2015?


It has been great to have such a great LaunchPad for our piece. It’s a rare thing to find a truly ‘Fringe’ festival that has the financial and creative freedom to take risks on things they believe in. I think the landscape of fringe theatre is very different now, it has become big business and often involves the same sort of budgets as more mainstream productions. It’s been a joy for us to work with people that really have their focus on the artistry of theatre and make it perfectly viable for theatre makers to bring their work to an audience in such a great space.


Any finishing touches ahead of the festival?


For us the festival is our debut apart from a preview at the Bristol Old Vic in my (and the play’s) hometown so there will be a lot of work going into the show between now and opening night


What has been the biggest challenges you've faced putting your show together?


The biggest challenge for us has been stepping up into a larger theatrical world. The festival organisers have been wonderful but for an actor and a director dealing with the production side, selling tickets, organising a show that has been created and rehearsed across 2 cities, has been a challenge. We are used to creating the work but selling it, organising it, these are all new things for us. Luckily we have had some great advice along the way and we are now recruiting more and more people to the Cuckoo team so that job is becoming easier and we are able to focus on the Jobs we know best!!


Tell me a little bit about The Dog and the Elephant, how did the show come about?


I grew up in a little village on the outskirts of Bristol and, as with most places, we have our collection of local legends. I had heard in my secondary school about a local churchyard that had an elephant buried in the graveyard. This captured my attention simply because the idea of something so foreign and fantastic ending its days in the dull and grey streets I’d grown up with just seemed wonderful and magical to me. I hadn’t written a play in a few years and the idea had been sitting, fermenting at the back of my mind so I started to research. I couldn’t find much about the elephant itself, only that it had been part of a travelling menagerie called ‘Bostock and Wombell’s’ and that it had died from eating yew leaves, but my research lead me into so many fascinating areas such as the travelling freak shows, the gypsies in Victorian England and eventually (and oddly) into the initial research into nervous conditions such as Tourette’s and OCD. The story of Bendigo Barlow the bare-knuckle fighter who grows up with the Romane and makes friends with an elephant was the sum total of a year’s research. I couldn’t satisfy myself with the true account of how an elephant came to be buried in my village so I made it up! I’d also worked with Jack Johns a number of times before and I’d wanted a vehicle for us to push ourselves further. I came to him with an initial draft of the script which was twice the length of the show now and read more like a novel and we started from there!


Have you always wanted to create theatre?


I started in my teens as a musician and that was all I wanted to do, then in my sixth form I started acting which I threw myself into and then that’s all I wanted to do, then I wanted to be a novelist then and playwright. In my early 20’sI was attacked and quite severely beaten up and I had to put my acting on hold whilst I recovered. This was when I wrote and directed my first piece, a short piece of theatre called ‘orange juice with the bits in’ I suddenly realised that as a director I got to do all the things I loved, after that, I have been solely focused on writing and directing film and theatre, mainly theatre in the past few years.


What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned so far?

The most valuable thing for me so far has been the value of a good producer! If you can get your hands on one hold on fast. There is a skill, patience and a meticulous nature, which I definitely don’t have in the right quantities, which you need to see potential and negotiate what is needed to make it happen. It’s something that drives me mad but for some, it’s what they love! The other lesson is don’t hold back, if you know what you have is worth something push and push and push. It’s the only way you’ll get anywhere.


Who have been your biggest inspirations?

I have a few but above all, I think Anthony Minghella, I love his writing, I love his films and I love what he had to say about theatre and the arts. I had the privilege to meet him twice at my film school and both times he very gently inspired a hall full of people without even really moving. I love how he writes dialogue too. The Dog is grander, more theatrical than his work I think but I can definitely see his works influence in it. I think he was unafraid of sentiment and true emotion and I think that’s something that is often missing from modern theatre. 


"The other lesson is don’t hold back, if you know what you have is worth something push and push and push. It’s the only way you’ll get anywhere."

Do you have a favourite theatre quote?


I have 2, the first is Michael Gambon quote referring to acting as ‘shouting in the evening’ and the second is an Arthur miller quotes from Death of a Salesman ‘Never fight fair with a stranger boy, you’ll never get out of the jungle that way.’ I think that may be the Cuckoo moto, I’d have to talk to Jack.


And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your new show?

This is always a tough question and it’s hard to avoid cliché’s but truly, the show is a great story that I hope will take the audience in a few directions they don’t expect and should entertain them. If it challenges them or makes them think then brilliant but at the end of the day I want to tell an interesting story that makes people listen.

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