ANTS Theatre wants to make the impossible possible.
The emerging experimental ensemble's new show Qrumpet is running at Camden People's Theatre and Brighton Fringe.
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If you throw a sub-atomic crumpet against a wall an infinite number of times, there is a very small possibility that it will eventually pass right through to the other side.
That – more or less – is the sort-of-scientific theory of quantum tunnelling, and it sits at the heart of Qrumpet, the new show from emerging ensemble ANTS Theatre, running this week at Camden People’s Theatre and next month at Brighton Fringe. It is, the group say, “an earnest experiment in qrumpet tunnelling” based on “quantum physics, pseudoscience and clown.”
“A lot of what we do involves taking a challenge and being creative with it, giving ourselves an incentive and finding the spark in it,” says Eva Lee, one of ANTS Theatre’s members. “We all get in a room, give ourselves a prompt, play around with it and see where it goes. We are very interested in taking impossible tasks and making them possible.”
“Usually, they are ideas that are far-fetched, like throwing a crumpet through a wall” adds fellow ensemble member Lu Curtis. “Or communicating with an alternate universe through a fax machine. They are ridiculous tasks, but they really spark the imagination. We always know when we are onto a winner because we all start laughing.”
Lee and Curtis are two of ANTS Theatre’s six members. The group met in 2019 while studying advanced theatre practice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. They were thrown together by their course leader for a postgraduate project, and immediately hit it off, bonded by a shared love of experimental theatre like that made by Forced Entertainment, among others. The chemistry was obvious from the off, says Curtis.
“We knew and liked each other before that, but we weren’t particularly friendly,” she remembers. “Something just clicked, though. There was some kind of magic in the room.” Lee agrees. “Our course leader told us that every year, she gets it exactly right with at least one group,” she adds. “I guess we were lucky.”
Part of the company’s chemistry comes from its members vastly varied cultural backgrounds, continues Lee. She herself is South Korean, but was born in Spain, raised in Brazil and educated in Beijing. Fellow member Paul Hernes Barnes hails from the Scottish Highlands. Diana Vallverdú i Cabrera comes from Catalonia. Mengqiu Xu and Zhaolin Zhou are Chinese. And Curtis? “I’m the boring one from England,” she laughs.
“It wasn’t just that we have got all sorts of different cultural backgrounds,” continues Lee. “It is that we all see things very differently. Some of us are theatremakers, but we also have a doctor, a computer programmer, a civil engineer and a linguist. Everyone has different tricks up their sleeves. One prompt can take off in six wonderful, creative, entirely different directions at once.”
“We are very interested in taking impossible tasks and making them possible…”
The Covid-19 pandemic arrived halfway through ANTS Theatre’s time at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, a week after they had performed their first sharing of Qrumpet. They were forced to put the development of the show on ice for two years, and to find other ways of creating work instead. Thankfully, though, they were well-suited to the task.
“We work by giving ourselves challenges, and the pandemic just became another challenge,” says Curtis. “We weren’t going to let it stop us. We wanted to create something that would bring people joy and love and escapism. We wanted to see the pandemic as a really unique opportunity, rather than a hindrance.”
Meeting and working online did take its toll, though. In fact, it was the frustration of the endless Zoom calls and video-conferencing that resulted in ANTS Theatre’s show We Still Fax. It was, says Curtis, “a sort-of escape room, immersive, theatre thing” that was “completely mad”, and it was born out of a pandemic-induced prompt.
“It was so incredibly difficult to find that creative spark via Zoom, so we decided to try and communicate with each other without using the internet. We left boxes outside each other’s doors. We tried to grab pigeons and tie notes to their legs. We Still Fax came out of the crazy idea of sending someone a fax machine and trying to communicate with them through it.”
We Still Fax first ran in early 2021, and has since found a home at Watford Palace Theatre. ANTS Theatre continued to make work during the pandemic – Zhao made Walking Cats, an online short film using Lego puppetry; Vallverdu I Cabrera made maths-based experimental show 3+D; and Curtis directed Triple, a series of nine mini-plays, a trio of trios, written by Lee Lauren. And, when circumstances allowed, they met up in person again, and continued to collaborate on Qrumpet.
“What does the show actually look like?” laughs Lee. “Good question. It is essentially a genuine, logic-driven experiment to throw a crumpet through a wall. There is more meaning to it, but we don’t like to enforce that on an audience. When we ask people who have seen it what they got from it, we get all sorts of answers. The French Revolution. Socialism. Lockdown. All sorts.”
So what is that meaning, really? “Qrumpet about humanity, it’s about perseverance, it’s about how we deal with problems,” answers Lee. “And it is about throwing a crumpet through a wall.”
What do you want to do?
We want to be a renowned, experimental, bold force in theatre. We want people to look forward to our new show coming out. We want to tour, both nationally and internationally. We come from all over the place, and we want our work to be seen all over the place, too.
What support do you need to get there?
We need to build up relationships with venues and other companies. They have so much knowledge, and we could definitely use that. We have always dreamed about banding together with other artists and buying a space for ourselves where we can create and perform and network, too. Anyone that shares that dream should get in touch!
Oh, and it would be really nice if a rich, old lady decided that she would sponsor everything that we do.
How can people find out more about you?
People can come and see Qrumpet at Camden People’s Theatre this week, or at Brighton Fringe in May, or at Cornerstone Arts in Didcot or Cheltenham Science Festival in June. They can book We Still Fax through Watford Palace Theatre, too.
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