Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Theodora van der Beek
RAM OF GOD
Assembly Roxy - Downstairs
Aug 3-16, 18-28, 20:30 / Tickets
July 11, 2022
Welcome to the Church of Ram, where sheep are people, people are sheeple and the apocalypse is just getting started. Bow down, rest your head against the holy breast and suckle on the holy teat; only Ram can save you now. Part religious ceremony, part stadium rock concert, part cult AGM, this subversive sermon asks wild philosophical questions and provides long-lasting and uniquely milk-based catharsis.
Hi Theodora, thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current, how does it feel to be heading to Edinburgh Fringe & Assembly this summer?
If we hadn’t had a pandemic I’d probably be feeling quite exhausted and out of pocket, but it’s made me recognise how much I enjoy the hustle and the slog, almost as much as the community and adventure. I went to Glastonbury and there was a special atmosphere because we are all collectively aware of how lucky we are now. I hope it will be the same in Edinburgh this year.
The reviews of your work have been incredible and Ram of God gained two theatre nominations in 2021, what has it meant to you to get this type of praise of the shows you are creating?
It’s incredibly validating to know people are getting it, and it helps cut out the self doubt and be able to enjoy making things. At the same time you have to take it with a pinch of salt because one day it will go this way and the other they'll be saying the opposite, all you can do is hope no one reads those ones.
Ram of God was originally a digital play due to Covid-19, was this the first time you created a digital piece of theatre and how much did your background as a filmmaker help you in this process?
To be honest I didn’t have much background as a filmmaker – I’d had a Flip video camera and made some YouTube videos of a spoof daytime reality TV show, but the focus was always on the writing and performing, not the camera work. But I always liked its possibilities and how playful you can be with editing. In lockdown my friends started a film club and we’d make 3 minute films every week and then watch them on Zoom together. I’ve fallen in love with making films now and I've made another film of a different show: Drink Your Pink. It’s all set in a teenager’s bedroom, so I painted a room in my house, and my hair pink and spent 9 months living in a strange pink world. I’m screening it in Edinburgh as a one off event (23rd Aug, 13.30pm, Banshee Labyrinth - Cinema Room).
"I get to be reactive to the room and you find new bits of humour and darkness when you have people there responding to you."
Did you always have in the back of your mind that you would stage Ram of God once theatres and festivals fully opened?
Yes, and not only because otherwise the Arts Council said I’d have to pay them back! When I made the film I was so excited to have this thing that you can whip out whenever anyone wants to see your work and it doesn’t mean undertaking the huge amount of effort that repeating each live show is. But when I performed it the first time I remembered what’s important about live work. Being able to connect with audiences in the moment is terrifying and exhilarating which makes it irreplaceable. I remembered one of my aims with making this show was to create something that was fun to perform with lots of space to play, and there is. I get to be reactive to the room and you find new bits of humour and darkness when you have people there responding to you. I’m basically using them like a focus group.
Can you tell me how Ram of God came about, where did the inspiration for your cultish leader “Ram” come from?
When I put the costume on for the first time I realised he was a parody of all my ex boyfriends. I was laughing at myself because I’ve always been attracted to those charismatic, (sometimes) narcissistic, showman types, and really it’s about how we as a society get charmed by those figures because they’re sexy and end up letting them get away with anything and everything. Which is not a comment on any of my ex boyfriends, to be clear. In so many places there’s this same abuse of power, specifically over women, and one of those I researched a lot was groupie culture. The rock and heavy metal bands in the 70s and 80s got away with doing horrific things to their young fans, and until relatively recently it was just seen as rock ‘n’ roll. But I mean, Louis C.K. just won a Grammy so not that much has changed. I looked at lots of real life cult leaders, conspiracy theorists, incels and the rise of the alt-right, serial killers – the women at Ted Bundy’s trial who were in love with him, which we see again with Johnny Depp. It’s hard to avoid examples because they’re everywhere.
Has your show changed much since its digital incarnation?
It had to change a lot because the film, which emerged as a kind of deadpan 70’s style dark comedy horror, wouldn’t have been fun or funny onstage. The show was always meant to be upbeat and interactive because I'm trying to make the audience complicit, and to get them on board I had to make the character bigger, louder, and sillier than the one in the film. I had to make the cult appealing to groups of potentially drunk people. Instead of having a sexy, American drawl (based on Brad Pitt’s Chanel perfume ad) I am now a cross between an Ozzy Osbourne type old rocker and a Russell Brand-esque mockney metrosexual. They were both influences for the new slant on the character.
What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have taken from writing and performing this show?
To be bold and take risks. You’ve got to not worry about what people will think. My family were scared people would think I was attacking religion. And though the ideas did come from lots of religions, as well as from speaking to my friend who was born into a cult, the attack is on patriarchal systems in general and not one specific belief system. I think it’s fair to say that in a lot of religions women and queer people are marginalised. And that because of that, abuse has had the potential to flourish. It’s not the same as saying religion is bad or judging anyone for having religious beliefs. My focus is much more on the mechanics of the systems that allow for bad people to get away with being bad. And the function of the crowd, fans, or congregation in facilitating that.
Some of the themes you explore in your work focus on gender binary, power and privilege, how important is it for you as a theatre maker to use your platform to highlight these themes in your work?
It’s the main motivation for doing what I do. Those things are the main preoccupations of my life, so they’re the things I can be most confident in talking about and therefore have the most potential to make an impact. I have a lot of privilege, the place where I notice a lack of privilege is in being female and that’s where I get my fire from, because of, in a very mundane everyday way, a consistent unconscious bias that gives some people less faith in me to be intelligent, interesting, funny or competent. So getting on stage and being those things feels like a statement in itself. And once you notice that you have to notice how similar biases are being applied to other marginalised groups and that’s not fair and no one should be silent until that is changed. I am a middle child so I do desperately want things to be fair.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
It’s what I always wanted to do, even when I was tiny. I was a big daydreamer and would make up long winded plays that no one wanted to watch. I would spend hours speaking in different accents or dressing up as different characters. And then I’d try and make my brothers be in them but they refused. I couldn’t wait to grow up and meet people who would be in my plays, but that hasn’t happened. My life is remarkably similar to when I was a small child.
How much has your style and the approach to your writing and performing changed since you started out?
One of the things I don't like is that art and theatre can be alienating to various different kinds of people, and I used to always prioritise making work accessible and palatable. As I’ve got more experienced I’ve realised that’s kind of patronising and doesn’t get the best outcome for an audience. So I’ve embraced being true to my voice and if that means being weird or political or subversive that’s okay, and you can still do that in a way that’s accessible. Not everyone has to like it. There’s a thing women are trained to do which is wait for permission, I’ve stopped waiting for permission.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer a fellow playwright or performer?
The first time I went to the Edinburgh fringe I took myself very seriously and didn’t socialise or enjoy myself much. That was wrong thinking: it’s important to have a network of people to champion and support you. Go and meet other performers, flyerers, and stage managers! They are your colleagues! Go and make friends with them!
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Ram of God?
I want them to have an amazing night out and then go home and feel slightly dirty without being able to put their finger on why.