Pass the Spoon: The cast of characters in David Shrigley's opera
The artist on collaborating with Magnetic North on the musical extravaganza
With Pass the Spoon David Shrigley is bringing his eye for the bizarre, comic and downright disquieting to bear on the world of opera. Here the Glasgow-trained artist tells us how he came to collaborate with Magnetic North on the musical extravaganza, and introduces characters including an egg, a banana and a dung beetle
Pass the Spoon came about because I was invited to make a project with (composer) David Fennessy and (director) Nick Bone. They wanted to collaborate with someone who would write an opera libretto. I’ve never been to an opera but I was interested because, apart from liking what Dave Fennessy does musically – I’d seen a piece he’d done in Stirling in a church a few years ago that I really enjoyed – I thought it’d be an interesting way to try making a longer narrative, which I’ve never done before. My animated films have only ever been seven or eight minutes at most.
I decided that there should be some kind of meta-theatre thing going on that acknowledges there are people on stage talking to an audience. That was the starting point in writing it as a studio TV cookery show à la Ready Steady Cook. I don’t have any specific interest in TV cookery. I watch Gordon Ramsay, I kind of hate him, he’s so rude. And I watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, he’s good, but he’s becoming annoying as well.
I sat down and wrote this story and wondered whether it would change once Dave and Nick heard it, but they said, ‘Yeah, that’s good, we can work with that.’ It starts as a TV cookery show, but it has a story to it whereby the ingredients are characters and they’re cooking a meal for a sinister guy (Mr Granules) who comes along at the end, and they’re all slightly scared of. All sorts of interesting things happen along the way, which are sung and set to live music from Red Note Ensemble. It’s a comedy of sorts, but it’s quite at odds with what Dave’s written musically because the music isn’t very comic, it’s quite angular and not easy listening.
Dave says that technically it’s a melodrama, and I’m not disinclined to agree with him. He’s a very talented guy and a very interesting composer – the show will be successful in spite of my contribution and not because of it, because my contribution seems a bit ridiculous in a way, this stupid story that I’ve written. I suppose that these characters and these events that I’ve imagined will come from the same place as all the other crap I’ve produced – they will be recognisable, and I think you will see my hand in it. To be honest with you, the only thing I’m really qualified to do is to make the poster.
She’s a lady in her 40s who’s a seasoned television professional and is a very good cook, and she’s sort of the leader of the show. Beneath the surface she’s also a little bit mad. She talks quite a lot of nonsense, but then a lot of the script is about nonsense. I think if there’s going to be an inspiration for these characters it’s from the kind of TV cookery shows that I wouldn’t normally watch. June’s somewhere between Fanny Craddock and Nigella Lawson, with some other people who aren’t TV chefs thrown in.
He’s June’s cohort in the kitchen. Phillip’s a bit stupid. He’s quite funny too, but he’s mostly a bit stupid. He has a slightly fractious relationship with June, but it’s not totally apparent. It’s more of a latent conflict. I guess if Phillip was a real-life TV chef he’d maybe be like Gary Rhodes – a little bit daft and doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
He’s a manic depressive alcoholic egg. He has pendulum depression, whereby he swings from joy to despair and back again. And he’s an ingredient – well, he’s actually the waiter, but he turns out to be an ingredient when he’s used as one later. But he’s an alcoholic and depressed before he finds out he’s going to become an ingredient. He does actually die – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but there you go. You become an ingredient on account of being dead. His depression is neither here nor there thereafter.
The Banana is the voice of reason, the sensible character who contextualises some of the other characters’ irrational thoughts and steers them towards more reasoned behaviour. Mr Banana is also an ingredient but the important difference with Mr Egg is he is aware of being an ingredient prior to that, but nevertheless is very pragmatic about his position.
He’s the sinister character, the dinner guest everyone is cooking a meal for who appears towards the end of the show and everybody is slightly scared of him. For one thing he’s kind of a giant, so he’s a lot bigger than everyone else. He doesn’t really speak as such, he just moans and groans. He’s quite an unpleasant guy who does something mean to June.
He’s a proper opera singer. And he’s an average butcher – he sells meat products, as butchers do. He has a really fine voice, and he has a certain sort of ecclesiastical quality to him. The Butcher’s shop is like a place of worship, which makes him a minister of sorts. The Butcher is a giant in terms of his voice – he’s a got a big, big voice. He’s not as physically big as Mr Granules, who is a medical giant.
The Dung Beetle
He’s a little sidekick of the Shit. Like the Root Vegetables, who also appear as characters, the Dung Beetle is a puppet. He has a few lines, but he’s basically a puppet operated by the Shit.
He’s a shit. He’s kind of a metaphysical character if you will, in the sense that he represents some kind of evil – or at least something very unpleasant – which is the consequence of something that happens in the course of the story. He’s called the Shit, and he is a shit. He doesn’t even really have a name, he just is what he is – he lives in a toilet.
(As told to Malcolm Jack.)
Pass The Spoon, presented by Magnetic North, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 17–Sat 19 Nov, 7.30pm, £14 (£10).