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5 Guys Called Moe – Clarke Peters Interview 5 Guys Called Moe – Clarke Peters Interview
5 Guys Called Moe – Clarke Peters Interview

Director Clarke Peters talks about the latest production of Five Guys Named Moe showing at the Marble Arch Theatre.


Take us back to the origins of Five Guys Named Moe, how did it come into being?
I remember feeling rather intrepid. I’d had the idea and called up the original Moes and asked if they would come with me on the journey. I also found a wonderful director, Paulette Randall, to help me structure the script. This was around the summer of 1988. I was doing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National Theatre, and asked if I could use the Cottesloe Theatre to try it out. We ran for three performances and on the final night there was a queue round the building, which made me think we were onto something.

It ran for four years in the West End – how did that come about?
The year after that first run, Philip Hedley offered me a slot at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. I reassembled the creative team and together we refined the show into the version that’s known today. Cameron Mackintosh came to see the run and he clearly saw something in it. So he sprinkled a little of his Mackintosh magic over it and the rest, as they say, is history.

What was your intention in writing it in the first place – was it to honour Louis Jordan’s music, or the story you were telling?
It was a bit of both. Louis Jordan’s music is of course integral to the show. His songs are entertaining, tongue-in-cheek, and revolve around relationships. I used those songs to address some of the situations I was dealing with myself at the time. And we were also celebrating his persona; I’m sure there’s a whole other musical to be written that focuses entirely on his life. But Five Guys Named Moe is more about the personal journey I was on when I was writing it.

What can you tell us about the forthcoming production?
Well this will be a very new production, staged in a brand new venue on Marble Arch. We’ll be working in the round, which none of us have done before, so that will be an exciting challenge. I think it will give it a rather madcap, circus feel that will lend itself wonderfully to the production. There will be some changes, but the love at the show’s heart is timeless, so that’s not going anywhere.

What is the advantage of working in a pop up venue?
What you get in a traditional theatre is a sense of intention; that the building was constructed for a fixed purpose. In a pop up you don’t usually have that, but there are lots of creative possibilities when it comes to staging and lighting and sound, which makes things more varied and unpredictable. It’s exciting to think this will be the first time anyone has been into that venue.

You starred in the original production. Were you tempted to reprise your performance?
No. I think directing and writing it is enough. There are a couple of songs I’d love to sing again, but I also get enormous pleasure from seeing others performing them. Theatre is a collaborative, playful artform, and nobody likes to play all by themselves! It’s also important that a new generation gets to play those roles. Culture has changed hugely since the show first appeared. Young black men today are not the same as they were 25 years ago. So although they won’t have a completely free rein to reinterpret it, I’ll certainly encourage them to put their stamp on it.

There’s a lot of discussion about diversity in theatre. Do you think Five Guys Named Moe is an important production in that context?
To be honest I’ve never seen it that way. Someone asked me a question about its socio-economic importance the other day, and I just didn’t have an answer for him. I only ever saw it as a piece of entertainment. It ain’t Shakespeare, mate, just go and enjoy the show!

It’s a feelgood show. Is that particularly important in the current climate?
Theatre’s function in society is multi-faceted, and one of those functions is escapism. It can be a panacea for a lot of ills; many miracles happen in theatre. With the political landscape as it is now, I’d say it’s a great time to experience the joy and the frivolity of Five Guys Named Moe. Although it isn’t what you’d call topical, it concerns love, which is a serious subject that never goes away.

You’ve worked on many impressive projects, including The Wire. Where does Five Guys rank in terms of your career highlights?
It was the first project I wrote that showed me I could be a success. I still write, but nothing has matched its success. Five Guys was unique partly because of the people I brought together to work on it, and partly because of the the time we were living in. It was a confluence of elements that remains unique in my career. I feel like it would be much harder to create it again in today’s celebrity and social media-focussed world. Back then you lived on your merit.

By Theo Bosanquet
Marble Arch Theatre, W1C 1CX Tel: 0207 400 1257 www.fiveguysmusical.com for ticket information.

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