10 Feb Interview | Baby, Maggie Journal
Seanna Yang interviews Doppelgangster’s Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Dr Tom Payne.
Doppelgangster is a tough company to write about without falling into the black hole of raving groupie tropes or arty wankspeak. Despite it only being six months since inception, the company’s reputation – based heavily on the two idiosyncratic partners at the helm, Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Dr Tom Payne – is a fuelled by alienation and left-wing politics. The few Doppelgangster write-ups I could find bounce between ‘What is wrong with these insensitive clowns?’ and ‘I’m staring into the horrific visage of my own demise’ to ‘This group is just making work about climate change, immigration, fascism, and whatever other lefty flag is hot to fly’.
Looking at the reviews and documentation of past works from the two directors of Doppelgangster I see why the company is getting such polarised responses. Both directors have a flair for the critical when approaching performance making: Tom has come from fronting a Bowie-esque rock band, and is a researcher on a major AHRC funded project focusing on the global water crisis and the anthropocene while Tobias’s dubious narrative includes everything from classical ballet training to former terrorist rankings and a string of one-star reviews.
It is an understatement to say that I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard about their live shows, especially Oxygen Support which was implausibly invited to perform in December at COP21 Solutions in the Grand Palais, Paris, a space occupied by thousands of people and the site of high profile public demonstrations and police arrests.
Meeting them, I’m getting the sort of extreme anxiety I’d imagine would come if I had been asked to go bungee-jumping, sky-diving or swimming with alligators. Having lived in London for five years, and thus not counting myself as a tourist for some time, I can’t recall the last time I walked past the London Eye, but now, at Doppelgangster’s bizarre request, I find myself standing beside the ticket booth waiting to meet them. Despite this ridiculous meeting location, I can’t stop thinking about the plays, the performances, and the politics. I’m staring at the Thames when I’m met in typically surreal fashion by Tom and Tobias.
Tom is in a three-piece grey suit, and Tobias is wearing only his underwear and a lace shawl – despite the 6-degree weather. Both are donning homemade gaudy masks with black and white printouts of my own face.
WHERE ON EARTH THEY GOT THAT PHOTO I AM STILL WONDERING. SERIOUSLY, HOW MUCH TIME DO THESE GUYS HAVE ON THEIR HANDS?
Confronted by the get-ups, I find my resolve to speak about their personal histories weaken, so instead I ask how the rehearsals for their next show, BABY, are going. ‘Tom’s three-year-old son made us play dress up super heroes for about six hours yesterday,’ says Tobias.
Tom elaborates ‘We all got to be Batman, except my son, who was dressed as Dracula, who he claims is the real Batman’.
BABY comes as a moment of evolution for the directors of Doppelgangster. According to Tom ‘This company and this show feels like the difficult second album, so we’ve thrown out all the methods we used before. Steal again. Steal better’.
I think he’s winking at me but the photo of my own countenance taped to his own face obscures any possible irony.
Before BABY, Doppelganster managed to secure notable associations with international NGOs and arts organisations, causing some industry backlash from the start. Their first show, TITANIC, was programmed for a highly competitive UK experimental arts festival before the company had ever been on stage, a decision that had more cynical and parochial tongues wagging. Tom’s recent PhD on National Theatre Wales also caused a stir in certain industry circles. ‘They staged a really innovative relational model of national theatre that Doppelgangster is a product of, but some of the company’s work theatricalises relations’.
In Australia, Tobias says he has felt the heat from major industry players for being outspoken, and active, often against the wishes of his peers, typical of the stifling fear induced by savage arts cuts in both Australia and the UK.
Tobias’s last venture Lucky, produced with his Melbourne-based company MKA, was poorly received, and Tom’s former band TheSilver Rocket Club, appears to have imploded in classic rock’n’roll calamity. Tom says ‘I reckon we’d both put ourselves in dangerous situations. We’d overstretched ourselves, and we had been trying to make the grand work that explains it all. My to do list read: 1. Take out the rubbish. 2. Do half an hour of freeletics. 3. Write the Great American Novel. I’d finish the first two and think, well two out of three before breakfast? Not bad. Probably time to order a pizza and get started on a case of Stella. So now I’m just down to the pizza. Hashtag pizza.’
Tom and Tobias are both clearly happy with the road ahead. ‘We’ll keep getting ignored, keep pissing people off, keep alienating most of the industry; and right now we’re doing it from a point of objectivity. Or we’re lying about ourselves, and so far no one really knows which one we’re doing,’ says Tobias.
Tom’s teeth flash through the hole in the front of the mask and his tongue flickers back and forth as he confirms the hunger that the two are driven by, ‘Doppelgangster shows are like every other thing you ever saw…and the text is like everything you’ve already heard. It’s not a copy, it’s not a replica, it is the same thing. Some people want to see a show, theatre, dance, a gig, whatever, and they’ll want a program telling them “Why is this new?” They’ll want an apolitical song about interpersonal relationships or a verbatim play about saving the third world, or they’ll want choreography to the sound of a broken air-conditioner’.
Tobias interjects: ‘Those people should fuck right off’. Tom smooths the mood over: ‘All I can say is that Doppelgangster shows will not be an escape’.
The interview closes gently when the London Eye finishes its circuit. As Payne steps off the monstrous ferris wheel he says to me ‘Can you send a copy of all this to the British police and the Australian Consulate for clearance before going to print’.
I squint at him, ‘Why would I need to do that?’
‘Never mind. They’ll find it themselves’ he says. ‘Enjoy the riverside’.
And I do – I stroll down the Southbank and thank the stars that it’s still there, and that I can walk along it without a police check.