“Live low-tech storytelling theatre that acknowledges a lit audience and celebrates the fact that actors and audience are in the same room, breathing the same air. It revels in reconnecting us with the best playful, den-making, dressing-up, make-believe, childish part of ourselves: to the imagination, nothing is impossible!” – Carl Heap
Beggarsbelief was the name first used to give a separate identity to productions that had their origin as Christmas shows at BAC [Battersea Arts Centre], when, under the auspices of the production company Schtanhaus (The creation of Producers Tom Morris and Emma Stenning), they were subsequently taken on National Tour.
The name has since been commandeered by Carl Heap as his own branding for all the work he has produced since his return to theatre, after a ten year period of voluntary exile, in 2000.
The work has in many cases been initially produced with and for other companies and under other banners which are here identified with due gratitude and acknowledgement. The common thread is the set of ‘poor theatre’ artistic values espoused by Heap which evolved out of his decade as artistic director of the Medieval Players Theatre Company, which he founded with producer Dick McCaw in 1981. Actor Mark Heap, Carl’s brother, toured with the company for its first six years.
Tom Morris shares some responsibility for Heap’s return to theatre with an invitation to co-write and direct a Christmas show at BAC in Christmas 2002. Presented with a menu of possible subjects, Morris’s eyes went down the list and lit up at the joke suggestion added at the last minute: Ben-Hur. This set the bar for the subsequent shows, which had to match the mischievous preposterousness of taking on a sea battle and a chariot race in the confines of a large room: flying harpies, a dragon’s tooth army, England’s legendary World Cup victory, the crusader siege of Antioch were all to follow.
Initially approached by the NT to adapt Shakespeare’s Pericles for a tour of London primary schools in a 70 minute version, Heap was at first offered a cast of three, which expanded to 5 when he declared he had no need of a lighting design or recorded sound. The success of this first adaptation, which was 99.999% in Shakespeare’s own words, led to 4 further adaptations, the last two of which were given a week’s run in the NT’s Cottesloe Theatre. Twelfth Night‘s cast of seven featured the now award-winning novelist Jessie Burton as Olivia.
Heap (who is half American) admits to an obsession with the US’s historical Old West, so often in stark contrast to Hollywood’s mythical Wild West. He discovered the difference while researching the events around a prismatic event in American history that has become known as ‘The Gunfight at the OK Corral‘. Two plays have previously been extracted from this world: an epic, large cast, account of the famous gunfight — piloted at East 15 Drama School; and ‘Tombstone Tales (and Boothill Ballads)‘, a graveyard cabaret telling, singing and dancing the stories of some of Tombstone’s less celebrated victims. The current project, ‘Goodfellow‘, highlights the tragic legacy of Hollywood myth and the US constitution’s second amendment by focusing on the small community of surgeons who were tasked with pulling out the bullets – rather than the heroes and villains who put them in.