Jerry Springer: The Opera is makes its Irish debut this week, but how will its wildly popular yet highly controversial themes play to an Irish audience, asks Lizzy Beecham
The theatrical selection in Dublin usually conjures up a dichotomy of worthy drama by the great playwrights of our nation, or family friendly musicals (inevitably ‘starring’ Twink); Jerry Springer: The Opera ticks neither box. Acclaimed and protested against in equal measure, the stage show is inspired by the titular tabloid talk show’s notoriously confessional style and risqué topics, and has toured extensively across the UK, Australia and United States. It features everything from a woman declaring her long held ambition to become a pole dancer while the Springer audience croon that she is a ‘hoe’ to a chorus line of Ku Klux Klan members to round off the first act. In anticipation of its first run in Ireland, Otwo spoke to actor Derek Collins, who plays the dual roles of Chucky (a member of the KKK) and Adam (he of biblical fame) to discuss how he feels the Irish public will respond to a show filled with profanity and overtly religious iconography and why students should opt to enjoy a night at the Opera rather than vegging out on TV repeats of Springer’s British cousin, Jeremy Kyle.
This production of Jerry Springer is, according to Collins, much truer to the original version envisioned by writers Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas. With its chorus of over sixty singers and dancers, Collins describes this adaptation rather dramatically as a “full-on opera”. He is particularly excited about performing in the Grand Canal Theatre due to the wing and pit facilities it provides for staging larger shows of a “West End quality”. The beauty of the Grand Canal as a performance space, he explains, is that it can stage these larger shows without losing the intimacy that makes the theatre experience so electric.
Collins also proudly states that the six night run will be the first production in the Grand Canal Theatre featuring an all-Irish cast since the venue’s opening in March 2010, and as an experienced performer in Riverdance, he is extremely excited about making his operatic debut in front of a home crowd.
Collins revels in the opportunity to play a “hillbilly redneck” in the form of Chucky and is gleeful about playing such an inherently dislikeable character. He is also particularly keen to highlight the show’s choreography, which he describes as the necessary “comedic pull from [the show’s] shock factor”, in particular the Klan entrance scene where the group perform an ensemble tap dance.
Acknowledging that there may be some protesting from groups, as was the case in 2005 when the BBC’s screening of the show caused a furore among certain Christian organisations and received no fewer than 55,000 complaints, he states that such controversy does not diminish his excitement about performing in the Opera.
Some religious groups will undoubtedly find elements of the show disdainful, shocking and feel that Jerry Springer is a further attack on Christian views at a time when hostility towards religion pervades the domestic climate. Collins believes the show is not a targeted critique and states “we have something to offend everybody equally!” as the Opera doesn’t focus solely on religious figures, though the inclusion of characters such as Satan-worshipping pre-op transsexuals may prove inflammatory to the more conservative elements of an audience. He also maintains that the show’s depiction of religious figures is firmly tongue-in-cheek, far from a scathing critique and should be viewed in the context of a satirical comedic piece of theatre.
Collins is adamant that open-minded people looking for a laugh will flock to the production and be very pleased with the show. Perhaps students raised on a diet of internet spoofs will also understand and appreciate the unique brand of humour that defines the show.
Collins reflects on the importance of being able to draw humour from all aspects of life, which is something that Jerry Springer: the Opera certainly doesn’t shy away from. So for all of us for whom Jerry Springer provided the first introduction to phrases such as “Oh no you didn’t…” and “ Yo momma is a hoe”, the Opera should provide an amusing slice of low-brow entertainment in a very high-brow environment.
Jerry Springer: the Opera is running at the Grand Canal Theatre until November 5th. Tickets are priced from €17.50