Quiz Master: Rob Drummond
Playwright, actor and 'amateur cosmologist' Rob Drummond has two new plays coming up – Quiz Show and The Riot Of Spring premiere in April and May this year. We caught up with him to talk about life, the universe and wrestling
When he isn't fighting muscly men or being shot at by audience members, Rob Drummond is a serious chap. "I don't understand people who aren't interested in big questions," he says. "I loathe talk of mortgages and tax returns – it bores me to tears. Yes, we have to deal with these things but please don't talk to me about them while I'm trying to live." Now that his hit from the Traverse's Fringe programme, Bullet Catch, is taking him to the USA, this intellectual drive has helped him to write two new pieces: Quiz Show for the Traverse and The Riot of Spring as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Auteurs season.
Since his previous successes – including the spectacular Wrestling, which had him rucking with Scotland's finest sports entertainment grapplers – have featured Drummond in a starring role, Quiz Show almost feels like a return to the classic format of scripted theatre.
"I've never hidden my desire to be considered a serious playwright who writes, well, plays with characters and a plot and a fourth wall and all that," he admits. "With Quiz Show the format came first. I knew I wanted to take the structure, rules, atmosphere of a quiz show and use them to tell a story. I just didn't know what story."
While the advertising hints at dark secrets and mysterious hosts who are offering greater prizes than a mere holiday in Benidorm, Quiz Show has that Drummond enthusiasm for big ideas. He explains that "the quest for truth was an obvious step. The story itself, you'll just need to wait and see." And although he claims that had he not been persuaded by an advisor of studies to study theatre at University, he could have easily become a writer for television or film, he enjoys the freedom of live performance.
"Well it's immediate, that's appealing," he continues. "I can pretty much say or do what I want without delay and interference." Since he has frequently taken detours to discuss the vastness of the universe and existential despair (in Bullet Catch, nominally a study of the vaudeville trick), or childhood fantasies of macho violence (Wrestling, unsurprisingly), Drummond makes full use of theatre as a place of ideas and debate. It allows him to entertain his intellectual curiosity.
"I don't care what colour your curtains are, I care that electrons behave differently when they are being filmed by a camera!" he insists. "What the fuck is that about? I don't understand people who are not curious, people who don't die a little inside when they realise they will probably go to their deaths knowing on balance next to nothing about the universe they exist in."
"I think there's something quite beautiful in the fact that originality cannot exist" – Rob Drummond
While Quiz Show plugs into contemporary society's anxiety about television, snatches its tired style and chucks it back refreshed and sparkling with ideas, The Riot of Spring goes back a century to the premiere of The Rite of Spring: a ballet that caused a huge fuss because of its startling originality. If Quiz Show throws down with truth, Riot hustles originality. One of the characters is an artist driven to insanity by his need to be original.
Drummond has made his mark by applying unexpected juxtapositions – fighting and personal monologues, or suicide and stage magic – but he is less worried about being unique. "I used to worry about it. What's the point in even doing this, it's all been done before. What's the point?" he says. "Even The Rite of Spring, which seemed to come from nowhere but Stravinsky's soul, had its sources."
"I don't worry so much about it now because I think there's something quite beautiful in the fact that originality cannot exist." He has found an alternative to originality, fortunately. "It's about honouring those who have gone before and taking their gifts and making them relevant to your situation, borrowing, adding, changing and then hopefully leaving enough for the next lot."
Drummond might be looking forwards to the future generations already, but he is still regarded as part of a new generation of theatre artists – the NTS Auteurs season has lined him up next to Kieran Hurley, another graduate of Glasgow University, Nic Green and Claire Cunningham: all performers who, while not necessarily sharing themes or even genres (Cunningham is most famous as a choreographer, for example), do have a common enthusiasm for new ideas and expressing a personal vision.
However, in presenting two works close together, Drummond has managed to both bridge the Edinburgh-Glasgow divide and the one between Live Art, traditionally more of a west coast matter, and The Script, supported in the identity of The Traverse as a theatre for 'new writing.' This eclecticism might come from that same restless energy that seems to have him in training for every other production he writes.
"I mentioned earlier that I wanted to be just a plain old playwright, and that's true," he reflects. "But I also want to be an actor. And a director. And a wrestler. And a magician. And a dancer. And a filmmaker. And an astronaut." Whether the next production will be Rob Drummond's Gravitational Leap Of Faith, he refuses to stop asking questions and trying new things. "Why would anyone not want to do everything? We're only here for a short time, it's criminal not to try to get as much out of it as possible," he continues. "At the moment people seem to be allowing me to make this type of theatre and that's great, so for now, I'll do as much of that as I can. But I'm still also a playwright and a husband and a football fan and an amateur cosmologist."
He is also an entertainer – willing to take a bullet to entertain during The Fringe or get beaten up by wrestlers. Quiz Show, although it is as much a thriller as a parody of celebrity culture, follows up on his interest in the way that popular culture can embody profound truths. He made Wrestling come on like classical mythology and Bullet Catch like a metaphor for free will. Yet for all of his investigations, he admits to a disappointment.
"The insanity I experience when making a show is not to do with creating something new so much as creating something perfect," he concludes. "Which I will never achieve. And much like the realisation that I will die not knowing the secrets of the universe, that fact sucks."