** Originally published in Made In Plymouth, May 2017 **
In February 2017, a heady mix of live theatre and cocktails came together when Thespis Project Productions theatre company performed “The Wrong Side of Prohibition” to sell-out crowds at Plymouth’s speakeasy, Tigermilk at the Duke. Local writer Sally Bell met Thespis’s founder and Artistic Director, Tassos Chalas to find out how this creative collaboration came about.
It’s always lovely when passions combine and it was a real treat to be asked to attend a theatre performance in my favourite bar. Since it opened three years ago, Tigermilk has gained a reputation as being the perfect place for anyone wanting to enjoy carefully crafted drinks in an elegant, if somewhat hidden, location. And that’s part of its charm; there are no flashy signs for this establishment, just a small bronze plaque next to the door, which is tucked around the corner from the main entrance of the Duke of Cornwall Hotel. No door handle either – just press the buzzer then create your own dramatic entrance down the staircase and into the 1920s salon-style space.
It made the perfect backdrop for “The Wrong Side of Prohibition”, an immersive theatre performance, set in New York at the end of the prohibition era. Written and directed by Greek-born, now Plymouth-based Tassos Chalas, “The Wrong Side of Prohibition” takes a dark look at gangland warfare, illicit love, prostitution and refugees and is performed using the whole of the floor space of the venue, with actors delivering lines and at times, throwing punches, around tables of cocktail-drinking audience members. I met with Tassos Chalas afterwards to learn more about the company and discover how Thespis met Tigermilk.
Sally: How did Thespis Project come about and who is its driving force?
Tassos: Thespis Project was (and is!) my dream. The company was established back in 2015. My creative ambitions were clear and ambiguous at the same time, but I was ready to work hard. Then, I remembered the classical character of Thespis of Icaria, who was said to be the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor portraying a character in a play. His mythology and pioneering spirit to create, experiment and persevere inspired me and they now serve as my constant reminder to do the same. I wanted to share what inspired me with the world, I wanted to create theatre here in Plymouth – where I have come to call home – and create opportunities for other artists.
Sally: What’s the ethos of Thespis?
Tassos: To present original writing and support local talent from all backgrounds.
Sally: Where has Thespis performed and what have been the highlights so far?
Tassos: We started with Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 and then Plymouth Fringe in 2016; followed of course by The Wrong Side of Prohibition at Tigermilk at the Duke. I would have to say performing at Tigermilk is the cast’s and my favourite.
Sally: How did the collaboration with Tigermilk come about?
Tassos: I walked in there one day – having no idea what Tigermilk was – and the connection was instant and perfect. I could just see The Wrong Side of Prohibition and the lead character Tony’s speakeasy being there. It was just the right play for the right venue. I immediately pitched my idea for an immersive performance of the play there and co-owner Mark welcomed it straight away. Both he and his business partner Eric wanted to hear more and make it as much of a wonderful experience as possible – I cannot thank them enough.
Sally: How was it to perform in the space?
Tassos: Magic. I’ve always wanted to do an immersive performance; I love its intimacy; how close you are to the audience. And it was perfect. You could feel it straight away; there was something in the air. It felt honest and we could not get enough.
Sally: How do you feel about the cultural and creative climate in Plymouth?
Tassos: It’s flourishing and it’s wonderful to be part of it. You can see that there are artists who just want to create and audiences who crave for more. Thankfully, there is increasing support and opportunities to showcase our work and I cannot wait to see what’s next.
Sally: Where do you want to take Thespis in the future?
Tassos: I already have many different ideas and plans for the company and future productions. But the core of it all is to develop it, involve more people and create more opportunities for local talent. I also want to be able to showcase our work around the UK – which could be achieved with The Wrong Side of Prohibition going on tour.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of The Wrong Side of Prohibition. The characters were full of pathos and well-cast; the storyline matched the environment perfectly and it was fascinating to watch the response of other audience members to the physical immediacy of the actors through both love scenes and fight scenes. It was quite a wild ride at times and as well as being engaged by the central theme of gang warfare and prostitution, the additional storyline of immigration and refugees has significance and relevance in today’s world. With Tigermilk looking to collaborate on future creative projects, I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s on the horizon – it can only be a welcome addition to the city’s cultural scene.
Thespis Project Productions: www.facebook.com/thespisproject/
Made In Plymouth: http://madeinplymouth.co.uk
(C) Sally Bell 2017