Leave reality behind at Club 2B this Christmas – an interview with Corey Campbell
This Christmas, you’re invited to a festive party like no other when Club 2B throws open its doors for the very first time, taking over the Belgrade Theatre’s B2 Stage from 11-31 December. Combining immersive theatre with live music, food and drink, dancing, gaming tables and much more, this interactive, genre-defying experience will take audiences on a journey through time, centred around a compelling story of love and revenge.
Recently appointed one of the Belgrade’s three Co-Artistic Directors for 2021, Corey Campbell heads up the show, a co-production between the Belgrade Theatre and Strictly Arts – the Midlands-based physical theatre company Campbell set up with fellow graduates from Birmingham School of Acting, which has since toured around the world, enjoying sell-out shows and massive critical acclaim.
As work gets underway to transform the theatre’s studio space, he told us a bit more about what to expect from the show…
Tell us a bit about Club 2B. Where did the idea originate?
The idea originated from some work that Strictly Arts were doing in between shows. We’d go into nightclubs, bars and venues that didn’t have enough footfall, look at the space, pick a theme and create a piece of site-specific theatre. Once footfall picked up we’d move onto the next place.
Obviously as we got busier with our shows, we had less time for that. But because the Belgrade had already been hosting alternative Christmas shows for a few years, this year, we decided to merge the two ideas together. So it’s almost like the opposite way around – we were bringing theatre into clubs; now we’re bringing the club atmosphere into the theatre.
What can audiences expect from the show?
You can expect the works! Singing, dancing, live music, DJs, magicians, photo booths. It’s gonna be a world of surprises. We’re actually still in the process of casting, and with new performers come new skills, so there’ll be elements that we don’t even know about yet.
But the real question is, what do we expect from audiences? Now you’ve got an idea of some of the things you might experience when you get here, it’s up to you to make sure you’re ready to get up and get involved. This is not the sort of show where you just sit down and keep the fourth wall – we expect people to interact with us. Come dressed up in your best clothes from your favourite era and be prepared to engage!
Why should we be excited?
You should be excited because this is something brand new for the Belgrade Theatre. But you should also be excited because this is about all of us together. We’re breaking down the barriers between the performers and the audience. This is a fully immersive experience where you can leave reality behind. The place to be is Club 2B!
Tell us a bit about the story and the characters we encounter?
Over the course of the show we’re exploring the relationship between Zeus and Hera, so it’s the story of the birth of love and romance, but also of infidelity and revenge. Usually the story goes that Hera demands revenge on the women that Zeus has cheated with, but in our show, we’re having Hera instead getting sick of Zeus, and deciding to take revenge on him by turning the whole of mankind against him.
The show moves through time, with Zeus and Hera taking on different forms in different eras, including some real-life people like Lady Godiva and Marilyn Monroe, as well as fictional characters like The Great Gatsby and Daisy, who are based on an American ideal of what a relationship should be. So we’re bringing a lot of different themes together.
With any live experience, it has the potential to go right or wrong – how do you deal with the element of unpredictability?
I love this question. The thing is, whatever happens, we go with it. Technically, the big things can’t really go wrong because we’ve done all our risk assessments – all that boring stuff. And we’ll have rehearsed it, so we know our characters. So if something goes “wrong”, it would be with the audience interaction.
But we are so ready to bring on board any audience member that gives us something to play with. It sounds like it would be a problem, but it’s what this show is all about, so even if it feels like it’s gone wrong, actually, it’s gone right.
Basically it’s a win-win. If people don’t interact, then we’ve still done enough that we’ve got a great production and they’ll have a great time, but if they really want to get the full experience, then they can join in and it will become a very different beast.
You’re encouraging people to dress up. What should we be raiding the charity shops for?
These are really good questions! Basically, the most important thing is that you come ready to party. You can dress in your Lady Godiva outfit, your Great Gatsby gear, or you can dress in your modern, contemporary Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Gucci – anything you like, as long as you come ready to have a good time!
Although there is a real vintage feel to it, the show is actually set in 2019 – that’s the current timeline, so we’ll be covering all different eras from Zeus’ and Hera’s wedding in Ancient Greece right up to the present day. So you can wear whatever you want to party in. And if you don’t want to party, don’t come!
Should we come in a big group or as couples?
Again, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re ready to have fun. You can come by yourself and meet a range of exciting people, or you can come in a huge group with all your friends – but don’t forget to still interact with our characters!
There’s going to be a live band and music to accompany the evening. What kind of music can audiences expect to hear?
There’s going to be a real mix of different styles. At the moment, we’re exploring a lot of swing music and a lot of blues and jazz, but then at Zeus and Hera’s wedding, we’ll be doing folk music, and throughout the show there will also be contemporary pop and rock ‘n’ roll songs – though not necessarily played the way you’re used to hearing them! Our musical director Jonathan Campbell is working really hard with the live band to create some interesting new versions of songs we all know.
At the after-party, well, then it’s going to be whatever the audience wants. The live band will be jamming, and if a member of the audience wants to hear a particular song, or wants to get up and sing a number, then the band will jam with them. I’ll be doing a few songs myself and rapping a few lyrics. My favourite song to perform is one I wrote in 2013 called Taking the Lot, so look out for that!
It sounds like there’s going to be a lot going on. How do you keep the focus of the story amongst this?
Let me tell you a bit about Strictly Arts and what we do. Strictly Arts creates live, energetic, physical work that carries stories with political, economic or social messages. In amongst our other physical styles, we often break out into big dance numbers, make animals and shapes out of our bodies – we do a lot of physical creating. But we always do that to enhance the story, not to interrupt it. The same is true with the immersive elements in this show. If we get this right, all of the extra things we’re bringing in will only add to the story, rather than distracting from it.
You’ve been appointed a Co-Artistic Director for City of Culture 2021 – what does this opportunity mean to you?
This is a real opportunity to excite the people of Coventry about all the things that are important to them – the diverse work that goes on in Coventry, all the underground heritage that’s been ignored. It’s an opportunity to show Coventry off to the world, and even more importantly, for us to show what true diversity means in all forms. That’s not just about being black or white: it’s about people with disabilities, any marginalised communities, and allowing the building to represent them in one way or another, even if it’s not on the stage.
For me, this feels like a real opportunity to bring people together for 2021 and beyond, and I’m really excited to be one of the people making decisions that will have an impact on the people of Coventry. I want to enable people to be proud of this theatre, because it belongs to them.
Why do you think Coventry won the accolade?
Because the rest of the places were rubbish! But in all seriousness, I think Coventry has more to offer than it will ever realise, sadly. Aside from the fact that the average age of the population here is much younger than most places – there’s a real youthful energy to this city, even amongst people who are older. Over the years Coventry has been a pioneer of and a springboard for so many different things – whether it’s the Theatre in Education movement, 2-tone or the underground rave scene. Coventry has been sending amazing things out into the world long before we were here, and City of Culture is an opportunity to highlight everything that is already simmering away. Besides, Coventry has waited long enough for its time to shine, surely?