When Penelope Green published an article in the New York Times in 2015 about a gay couple founding a spiritualist commune in rural Pennsylvania, she probably had no idea that her article would go on to inspire Callum Cameron, an upcoming playwright and intern at NYT, to produce one of the most hotly-tipped new plays of the Edinburgh Fringe based on her research. Happily for audiences across the UK, it did, and They Built It, No One Came has enjoyed a sell-out run in London and is now coming to Oxford.
“If you’d told me a year ago I would never have believed it” says Callum Cameron, the writer and star of They Built It, No One Came, in reference to the success of a play that was originally intended purely for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Speaking to Cherwell in anticipation of an upcoming performance at The Old Firestation, Cameron says he is both “surprised and excited” by the prospect of taking his show on a tour that has extended from Scotland to Brighton.
Produced by Fledgling Theatre, a production company founded by Cameron and some friends from drama school, They Built It, No One Came tells the story of Tobias and Alexander, a couple who found a commune in the remote countryside based on their vision of a peaceful and cooperative community. There is only one problem – eight years later, not a single member has joined. With live music throughout, the play has been praised for its blend of comedy and tragedy in relating the tale of the two men, which Cameron describes as “surrealist and absurd”. How would he describe the play in one word? “Darkly comic. Wait, that’s two”. But darkly comic seems apt for a play that The Edinburgh Reporter has described as “a spectacle of mirth-shattering surreal brilliance”.
How does it feel to both write and act in your own production? “Doubly exposing”, Cameron says. “But I’ve also enjoyed the collaborative process.” Most of the play has been workshopped by the company, from character development to more logistical aspects of the production that have been the result of collaboration, and the outcome is a very minimal set, designed to represent a “timeless space”, with a cast of only four. The clear parallels between the bare set and the “location-less rural space” inhabited by Tobias and Alexander are almost metatheatrical.
Is there any advice Cameron would give to budding theatre makers at Oxford? As someone who had never properly acted before university, but went on to go to drama school after his degree, his career trajectory has certainly been an interesting one. “Start making stuff” Cameron says, “and if you can, take it to Edinburgh”. He also recommends checking out other pieces of new writing and attending as much theatre as possible, “just see what works, see what you enjoy”. Perhaps They Built It, No One Came could be the perfect starting point.
They Built It, No One Came is playing at The Old Fire Station on May 9th at 7.30pm. Tickets can be found here.