Interview: Juan Echenique, Red Button

“It’s out of this world!” says actor and writer Juan Echenique. “I’ve seen nothing close to what we are doing. We have so many elements, working together in harmony: drama, social commentary, live music, physical comedy, dark humour, sharp wit, science fiction, cloned kittens, pansexual au pairs, radio dramas, and… well… the red button that destroys the world. It’s a 60-minute adrenaline ride, where there’s little time to breathe or blink. Daring, out there, and incredibly energetic.”

He’s talking about Horatio Theatre’s play Red Button, a science fiction comedy about love and the end of the world: “It’s about a young couple, who are mostly bored with their lives. They decide to apply to a charity programme, thinking they will be given the task of taking care of adorable kittens and puppies, but instead they receive the red button that destroys the world. All of this is framed within a futuristic world, where TV and films are forbidden, and the only radio station blasts news, commercials, and propaganda everywhere, and at every minute.

“It’s a story about love and rebellion, about people who make the strangest decisions based on the ones they love, and their desire to be free. Love involves compromise, as well as struggle, sacrifice, altruism and egotism. It could be argued that the red button – that terrifying object that would end it all – represents parenthood, as it can be seen as the end of childhood. The fun fact here is that the play was originally written as a gift; born out of love, all about love, full of dark humour. The peak of cheesiness for the lactose intolerant.”

Juan co-founded Horatio Theatre with director and producer Fumi Gomez, with whom he’s worked since 2009. Their goal is to produce new writing and original storytelling, with a particular focus on using the language of science fiction to discuss social issues.  “Science fiction has often been regarded as a genre made for film and literature,” he says. “The preeminence of movies where special effects are the real protagonists gives us a somehow misleading picture of what this genre can achieve. However, when talking about science fiction, you are talking about imaginary worlds, about a future that could be, and about how history is doomed to repeat itself. Talking about the world around us from the perspective of an imaginary future, gives us the chance of tackling social issues that would be incredibly dry and off putting if discussed in a different way. In other words, science fiction allows us to make some sharp social commentary, while still making unique and entertaining shows.”

Red Button, which opens on 14th August at Edinburgh’s theSpace on North Bridge, has been going through various stages of development since 2014: “The play was originally written as a three hander; two leads and another actor playing several roles. It evolved into a much more complex and layered story, for a cast of seven, when it was ‘scratched’ at the Cockpit Theatre. Its next incarnation was last year in a much more compact and concise format: six actors, 90 minutes. It was performed at the Lion and Unicorn as part of the Camden Fringe.

“The version we are taking to Edinburgh is a huge leap forward from that point. The cast has been reduced to four, and it’s only 60 minutes now. It is a nice compromise between the original script and all the new material, keeping the best and getting rid of all the superfluous passages.”

Juan and the team are excited to share this new version of the show with Edinburgh audiences: “Being a part of the Fringe is a fantastic reward in itself. We really want to share what we are doing with as many people as possible. So far, all audiences have been amazed, and we believe we have something worth showing.

“On top of that, we really want to enjoy the whole festival vibe. So many incredibly talented artists, gathered in the same city for a month… so many amazing shows to watch, and fascinating people to meet… It’s the true fantasy of any self respecting theatre maker. The show SCI-FI? by Sleeping Trees sounds like something we are going to enjoy a lot. It’s very hard to choose. There are so many things going on at the same time… We are just over the moon with anticipation!”

And as for the future? “Red Button is moving forward and up. After the Fringe we’ll move towards doing a full run in London and, potentially, touring. As the cast and the story is quite international, we are already trying to find ways of showcasing it overseas. Performing Red Button in international festivals would be a dream come true.”

Red Button is at theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) from 14th-19th August.

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