Tom Fowler on katzenmusik

katzenmusik is the latest play by young playwright Tom Fowler. The play is co-directed by Young Court Manager Romana Flello and Royal Court Artistic Associate Chris Sonnex.

Shortly after Romana and Chris asked me to write the Royal Court Youth Theatre show, I decided the play should be a response to the current socio-political climate from the perspective of a group of young people.  It struck me that most members of the Youth Theatre would’ve been too young to vote during the EU referendum, despite being of a generation that will have to face its consequences.  Following this train of thought, I was excited by the idea of having a young ensemble performing, and reflecting on, the world that’s being ruined for them.

As research for the play, I wrote a list of questions for the Youth Theatre, and Youth Board, to answer.  The questions were devised to gauge how hopeful/angry they were about their individual futures, and the world’s future.  At the same time, I read Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours by Slavoj Zizek.  He writes:

‘What kind of universe is it that we inhabit which celebrates itself as a society of choice but in which the only available alternative to the enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out?  The sad fact that an opposition to the system cannot present itself as a realistic alternative, or at least articulate a meaningful utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst, is a grave indictment of our predicament.  What does our celebrated freedom of choice serve, when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?

It seemed to me that this line of thought could be applied to both violent outbursts (namely terror attacks) and democratic outbursts (such as Brexit or the election of Donald Trump).  It felt right to portray a struggling community unable to imagine an articulate, progressive alternative.

In the book, Zizek refers to the Great Cat Massacre that took place in Paris during the 18th Century.  He recounts how a group of apprentice printers, suffering from hard living and working conditions, grew to resent their masters’ cats.  They believed that the cats were being treated, and fed, much better than they were.  One night the apprentices rounded up all the cats that they could find and murdered them.  As soon as I read this, I knew this was the story that I wanted to tell.

A common response to recent political events seemed to be one of shock and surprise, as if things suddenly exploded without there having been a real cause.  For this reason, it made sense to me to tell this story backwards; to start with the explosion, and go backwards chronologically to the cause.

After pitching this concept to Romana, Chris and the cast, we workshopped the idea together.  We decided to re-contextualise the story of the cat massacre, setting it in a fictional town in contemporary Britain.  It felt important to show a diverse range of voices responding to the event.  For this reason, together, the cast of twenty five play about fifty characters between them.  We hear from victims, perpetrators and the government officials in power.

Writing katzenmusik has been the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever done but having the opportunity to work with an insanely talented, and supportive, creative team and cast has been deeply inspiring.  I am excited and proud (and terrified) to share it with audiences next week.

Tom Fowler | August 2017

katzenmusik is at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs 18 – 19 Aug 2017. Information and tickets here.