Renowned alternative theatre company People Show was founded more than 50 years ago. Bill Palmer has been following their work for 35 of them and appears alongside three of the company’s stalwarts in their latest offering, People Show 137: God Knows How Many, now at Southwark Playhouse. We caught up with him. Time to get booking!
From the troubadours of the Parisian boulevards of yesteryear to today’s global corporate domination, People Show 137: God Knows How Many, will take you precisely nowhere. But on the way, you will laugh, possibly cry, and feel a sense of what it is we might be doing here.
Talking to… Bill Palmer
Bill Palmer co-devised and appears in People Show 137 alongside long-serving company stalwarts Emil Wolk, George Khan and Mark Long. He has also created the production’s special effects.
When did you first come across People Show?
I think I first saw a People Show around 35 years ago. Either in Manchester or at Edinburgh. The shows I remember from then were The Cabaret and The George Khan Show but also Farrago. I don’t think there is any specific memory but a realisation that this kind of thing was possible. By that, I mean that a show in a theatre could mix visual art (what was then called performance art) comedy, music, acrobatics and not worry too much about narrative, that there were no rules, and the only logic was the internal one the performers shared and the audience were encouraged to buy into.
How did you come to work with the company?
Eventually, I came to have my own company Avanti Display. We make outdoor performance and, through a school gate meeting, Mike Lister, who formed the company with me, said: “you’ll never guess who I met today”. We nervously asked People Show’s Emil Wolk to help us with an idea we were having trouble with, and he generously offered to help. That show, The Spurting Man, has travelled the world since then. I don’t think we ever even paid him. He subsequently directed a second show for the company (for which we did pay him). Emil then left Manchester, emigrated to Australia, perhaps to stop us bothering him.
What have you learned from Emil Wolk, George Khan & Mark Long?
Everything, nothing. The word ‘Jossers’. The value of the lunch break. That most of my working method, such as it is, has its roots in how they work. Everyone has a voice in the process, each skill is equally valued: text, lighting, sound, music etc etc.
What’s the atmosphere like in the rehearsal room?
They know what they are doing, but there is no road map. They speak and they listen, they say “not sure but let’s try that and see”. George says little but is usually right.
Can you tell us about some of the special effects?
I worked with Dr Dave Southall on the effects. These are not things that come from a catalogue. There is not a page in Flints Theatrical Chandlers for The Ball Dropper – more than that I can’t say.
How does the finished piece of People Show 137 compare to what you imagined on Day 1?
I don’t think the show will ever be finished. It is tweaked and changed on a daily basis as we find what works and what does not.
Do you have a favourite line in the play?
“Always wear your swimming trunks under your trousers, in case you drown.”
In a nutshell, why should audiences see People Show 137?
For anyone who has followed People Show, this show is an archive of myth and fact. For anyone new to People Show, it will be like eating a curry after a lifetime of cheese sandwiches.
People Show 137: God Knows How Many runs from 5 to 29 February 2020 at Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD with Monday to Saturday evening performances at 8pm, with a matinee on Saturday 29 February at 3.30pm. Tickets are priced £14-22. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!