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Life in Stages: Kae Tempest and Clint Dyer (S1 Ep6)

The National Theatre's interview series, Life in Stages, sees two big names from the British theatre scene sit down and reflect on their respective careers. In this episode, poet, playwright and musician Kae Tempest converses with the Deputy Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Clint Dyer.

We had three of our writers watch this interview, and let us know their thoughts...

A striped orange pink and green background. The foreground is a screencap from National Theatre's Life in Stages series. Kae Tempest and Clint Dyer are pictured mid conversation, both are smilling.


I never expected a 40-minute interview to be so easy to watch. I love hearing people talk

about their creativity and life experiences, but when it’s presented to me on screen as a solid

block of chat I inevitably find my attention drifting elsewhere; my tiny attention span just can’t

handle it. Here though, I was engrossed the entire time.

I think the reason that Life in Stages held my attention, when so many other interviews have failed to do so, is down to the way it breaks up the normal interviewer-interviewee format. It was a real conversation, with both Clint and Kae asking thought-provoking questions of the other and allowing them time to speak. This brought in more variety of perspective which prevented the video sliding into monotone monologuing, and kept the spontaneity of a vibrant conversation between two passionate, creative minds.

The format doesn’t get off scot free though; as engaging as the discussion itself was, there was absolutely no reason for it to be a video rather than a podcast. The production team seemed to try and get more value from the video format by adding a camera crane into the mix, this resulted in random camera movements and constant cuts that blend to create a distracting mess. On top of this, the video is cut off every few minutes for adverts, so it ended up being really difficult to keep track of the conversation against all of the additional noise.

And that’s a real shame because the conversation itself is genuinely one of the best

interviews I’ve listened to. Both Kae and Clint manage to be funny and casual, but also

incredibly insightful. Clint’s story really brought out the sincere love for the work he does,

while also dusting me with a few drops of grief as I found myself asking: after fifteen years of

cuts to youth centres and colleges, how many kids are losing out on chances to follow in

Clint’s footsteps? It was a really engaging listen that also raised some difficult questions about what it means to be a creative professional today.

Kae meanwhile, was hugely inspiring. Their enthusiasm and commitment to craft was

obvious and infectious, precise and articulate without ever devolving into pretension; hearing

Kae talk to Clint really endeared me towards them as I came to understand the artistry of

what they do. And here’s the thing, my dark revelation: I don’t even like Kae Tempest. I had

no interest in hearing about their creative process going into this interview. I’m only revealing

this now because you’re too far into the review to back out. After years of trying and failing

to care about Kae’s work, I was untainted by any prior affections for Kae, yet I was still

completely enthralled: not only by everything they had to say, but all the questions they

asked Clint as well.

This was a powerful and inspiring duo to put together. The respect they had for one another

was obvious, and led to brilliant conversation held on equal footing. Camera issues aside,

very few interviews succeed in delivering such depth of creative insight in such a short time,

and if every episode of Life in Stages can uphold this calibre of insight, then I might become

an avid watcher.

A photograph of Kae Tempest. They face the camera head on. They are wearing a light brown buttoned shirt, with the first button undone to show a black undershirt beneath. They have short, cropped brown hair and don round glasses. The background is a brick wall.
A photograph of Kae Tempest. Credit: Evening Standard


What struck me throughout watching this episode of Life in Stages was how lovely the connection between Kae and Dyer is. They both had early passions with their craft, stoked up by support and opportunities to engage and step into their passion. They both experienced different bumps along the road, like getting kicked out of A-Levels or thrown out of Method Man's dressing room.

The paths were complicated. I was struck by Kae talking about a short Greek mythology course that led them to write Paradise. Kae recognises here how everything is linked, and anything can fuel your creativity. You just have to keep moving forward.

I enjoyed hearing how much Kae centres studying, deconstructing and learning about your craft. It banished the idea that it's just about talent (whilst acknowledging they did have a natural affinity and love of words) and that they still had to work and study. The way they talk about collaboration and co-creation is inspiring. A lovely discussion about the de-centring of yourself in the process, and Dyer is right when he comments on Kae's eloquence when talking about making. Something that he seems to have in spades too. Particularly during the discussion of the objectification of actors and his comments on how that intersected with race. I enjoyed hearing about his journey to writing through his desire for broader representation.

The pandemic experience that Kae describes reflects my own, so that was interesting to hear. How that strange, scary time forced people to look after themselves. For Kae, it was a time to recalibrate, allowing time for your creativity to recover. As someone in a creative career, what they said about the kind of creativity a 'go, go, go' busy life can give you, but that being rested opens up a new, different type of creativity resonated with me. I had been questioning why I felt a more profound creativity at the moment, and that's the answer. Rest.

I enjoyed watching two people get excited about their shared interests and experiences. You can see them agreeing wholeheartedly and really listening to each other. Taking in everything the other is saying. They seem genuinely excited, and there are many points where the question/answer format begins to fray as they start to talk over each other with enthusiastic energy.

I did get annoyed at one point with the format. The conversations feel intimate and honest, and I did feel they kept breaking out of that feeling of close conversation by cutting to a wide shot and panning around. I understand why they did this. I theorise that it's one of those "The theatre becomes the third member of the conversation" things, but in my mind, it just pulled me away from what they were saying, metaphorically and literally.

That being said, I enjoy the format of these chats. It reminds me of the Variety: Actors on Actors series – which I would highly recommend if you enjoyed this - where interesting combinations of talented people are given space to be curious with each other.

All of this leads to a conversation that feels far-reaching, touching on many aspects of creation and the effect of broader society on that creation encompassing the Covid-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter and The National Theatre itself and how that affects how we watch, participate and create. It was also a space to share their joy about telling stories that were important and resonant with them. Using those stories to explore the scope of experience and how by telling that story can help you feel a part of something.

A photograph of the inside of Lyttelton Theatre from a side view.
Lyttelton Theatre - Life in Stages is filmed here. Credit: MONDODR


Let’s start by getting my suspicions out of the way: the National Theatre’s Life in Stages

could be called some sneaky business. To the question ‘are you truly reflecting the nation?’, the prestigious venue comes out looking good by placing two visionaries on its stage to croon their beliefs. Flip that coin and, hey, here’s forty minutes from a pair of voices who absolutely deserve your time. Kae Tempest and Clint Dyer’s stories kind of match: both having worked through feeling boxed in, then subverting status-quos and now firing out fresh and authentic content into the National Theatre’s seats.

I’m torn, but I’ll stay optimistic here and just encourage more of this artist repartee, a medium

becoming more popular by the day since Hollywood Reporter started letting people sit

around a table. Together, Tempest and Dyer make solid discussion, reminiscing on their roads to the mic, getting personal on where their love for thespian-hood emerged and, yeah, learning they share a love of boxing. The result is an impressive record of current and future-pointed discussion as the world steers from three troubled years towards a new dawn. It’s an

exciting time.

Tempest is fun, theirs is a frank voice with no time for getting judged on once ‘rapping my way backstage to meeting Method Man in Paris (Kae was chucked out once they were in the

king’s dressing room, but I join them in finding that whole incident low-key impressive). Kae

repeatedly nicknaming their moves into the right place at the right time as ‘rapping my way’

is hilarious and charming. Tempest’s talk of surprising people with their love for rap makes their quest for the artform’s spotlight feel earnest and relatable.

Dyer, too, knows about surprising others with your talents. He laughs in disbelief as he recounts being told to retake a school exam because he was dyslexic. He got an A. He confides he felt trapped in school, and is surprised by how much social change has happened within the span of his lifetime. These are powerful accounts, speaking to disenfranchisement and how the work triples for anyone that affects. Dyer is brave to discuss how that’s impacted him, and the school story, I imagine, will not just resonate with this educator writing on it here, but students and teachers viewing this Life in Stages, as aren’t we all learning or teaching sometime in our life?

Let’s not linger, nor does Dyer need to… as Deputy Artistic Director of the NT, he’s at the table.

Cued by Tempest’s curiosity at how it feels to be objectified as an actor, Dyer reflects on the casting process. Auditions for him, this moment, are being end-gamed by scribes and directors that get too specific with their search. Kae agrees it’s moving the needle to an uncreative era. Fascinating ruminations as questions of actor authenticity linger (in some contexts it’s a must, for others it limits). I’m glad this topic came up in the conversation, as even a year on from this interview’s publishing, my, does it still feel fresh to hear pondered about. Look out for such conversations to continue going forward.

All I can add is by referring you to my question at the top: of theatre institutions and how many of us they’re bringing in – how accessible they’re making the craft, and what that looks like.

Still, as Dyer states, “theatre’s a church, the communion created between the players and audience.” Come watch for that.

Edited by Florence Strang Boon.


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