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Kemi Clarke - Merboy Interview

Merboy written by Liam Sesay promises a poetic, queering retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. 

The fantasy world of fairytale meets the dramatic yearnings of 1960s girl band music and the intense depths of gay shame in Merboy.

Using verse, storytelling and lip-synching, Merboy tells the story of a sexual awakening of a mixed heritage queer boy navigating school homophobia and the brutal complexities of gay scene.  

The show, presented by Campfire Theatre, is playing at London's Omnibus Theatre where it runs from 21st February until 4th March. Tickets are available here.

Kemi Clarke and Yasmin Dawes in reherasls for Merboy. Photo by Stuart Hull.

Ahead of the production, I spoke with writer Liam Sesay to discuss the production which you can read here. In this interview, I speak with star Kemi Clarke who plays the titular role of the Merboy.

Can you tell me in your own words about the show and about your character?

‘Merboy’ is a play that draws heavily upon the classic tale of ‘The Little Mermaid’, reimagining it in the context of a young boy navigating the world in relation to his own sexuality, and varying degrees of acceptance and discrimination. It so wonderfully tells a parallel story to the original, while reconstructing the world to centre on the fundamental issues of oppression and suppression of queer young people.

What attracted you to being part of the show?

In general, I’m incredibly excited to be part of a piece of new writing, bringing in a new company (Campfire Theatre). I love being able to work on new material and bring it to an inaugural audience.

Specifically, this story is one that I feel so lucky to have been chosen to be part of because it so importantly presents a story that I’m sure so many can relate to (and hopefully even be inspired by).

With this being ‘a poetic and queer retelling of The Little Mermaid’ what do you want audiences to take away from the show?

I think, largely, the parallels between ‘Merboy’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ serve as a reminder to the audience of the concept of really yearning to simply be able to be your true self; one of the biggest things an audience can take away from either of these stories is that there is always a place in the world for your authentic self.

What work do you do on your character away from just learning the lines?

A large part of stepping into a character aside from learning the lines is actually finding the reason to say the lines; each word - especially in a poetic story - is imperative, and as an actor, it’s important to find the reason why it character NEEDS to say these words.

Finding the character physically is also so important and helpful; Merboy ages gradually throughout the play, and so finding different weights and energies in my body to present that is such an interesting & exciting process for me personally.

How important is it for there to be queer stories like this given a stage to be seen on?

Minority stories are increasingly being presented onstage, but it’s still very much a niche, not necessarily mainstream topic. I think it is so important to tell this story to ensure that we not only increase representations but also normalise queer (and in general, minority) stories. People need to be able to accessibly see themselves in the art they consume, otherwise, what’s the point?

Kemi Clarke (centre) with Ralph Bogard and Anthony Psaila in rehearsals. Photo by Stuart Hull. 

What does theatre mean to you?

Art is the reason we are alive, and Theatre specifically is such an inexplicably resonant vehicle to be able to connect with people as people. At its core, all theatre is about people and relationships, and is itself a relationship between those in the theatre and the audience - neither exist without the other, and theatre only reaches its truest, fullest form in this symbiotic state while the performance actually occurs. And it lives on from this initial spark of connection.

Why should anyone book to see Merboy?

As mentioned, ‘Merboy’ is such an incredibly important and valuable story to be told, but alongside that, it is incredibly fun! The show is packed with joy, theatricality, music, and togetherness, which really uplifts all the moments that hit deeper about discrimination versus acceptance. You will, as a minimum, have fun while engaging with a truly important concept!

Merboy runs at London's Omnibus Theatre from 21st February until 4th March. Tickets are available here.

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