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Director Angela Clerkin: ‘I’ve had to reinvent myself like Madonna’

Angela Clerkin Angela Clerkin
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Angela Clerkin is co-directing and performing in her play The Secret Keeper. She talks to Roda Musa about the politics of keeping secrets and the struggles of working in theatre during hard times

What’s The Secret Keeper about?

It’s a fairytale aimed at adults, so if you think along the vein of Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman, this story is in a similar style. However it is also quite kooky with a few songs in it. Underneath the fairytale setting I get a licence to tell quite a dark narrative. It gives you licence to poison people and to tell them unpalatable truths. So it is a modern story set in a fairytale world. At the centre is a girl who looks after all the secrets of the kingdom and the consequences that unfold when it becomes too much for her.

Where did the idea come from?

I wanted to explore people’s personal lives and whom they tell their secrets to and how do they decide if they should keep a secret or if they should expose it. For example, when people such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were scrutinised and vilified in the news, it was interesting to me how we seemed to dismiss exactly what they revealed. We chose instead to focus on the individuals. Similarly I looked at how we treat people who didn’t speak up when they saw something unacceptable. The idea actually came from several different strands. There was a lot of talk from people I knew who were accused of telling family secrets, and then there was the Jimmy Savile case when we found out just how many people already knew about his abuse and kept it as an open secret.

Is politics important to your writing?

I’m interested in politics but I think a lot of human stories are already political, especially if you’re talking about changing the world or the status quo. The production is not a set-up for me to stand on a soapbox and start preaching, neither is it about party politics. I am, however, interested in asking questions, because that is how change really happens, through debating each other and truly listening to what people have to say.

What impact are you hoping the play will have?

Well it is entertainment and so I would love it if people had a really good time. I would be interested to hear what people want to talk about afterwards and would of course hope that they would be talking about the issues in the play. Mostly I want them to enjoy the songs and all the funny, kooky things that happen.

What struggles have you faced in your career?

I think any actor who has managed to keep working in the industry has had many highs and lows. One of the hardest things is to keep going. Some people really make it big in terms of fame and money, but my career does not look like that, it is more of a snakes and ladders game. There are joys in that I really get to choose what work I want to do. Then there are times when it is tough out there, especially for women in their 50s to find work. I view myself a little like Madonna, having to reinvent myself a few times.

CV: Angela Clerkin

Training: Middlesex University, Performing Arts, 1985
First profession role: Gaudete, Almeida Theatre London, 1986
Agents: Berlin Associates (writing), Emma Engers (acting)

The Secret Keeper is at Ovalhouse, London until October 21

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