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.

Review: The Quentin Dentin Show at Tristan Bates Theatre

It’s the golden rule of capitalism: to convince a customer that your product will make them happy, you have to first make them realise how very unhappy they are without it. Science fiction musical The Quentin Dentin Show by Henry Carpenter takes this concept to infinity and beyond; now directed by Adam Lenson, the show introduces us to bored (and boring) couple Nat and Keith, who become the unwitting subjects of the universe’s most bonkers marketing scheme when they find a mysterious golden microphone in their living room. At the helm is Quentin Dentin – or at least the synth currently in possession of that name – whose only job is to sign them up to The Programme and make them both happy forever (although what that actually means is removing their souls, but you know, same difference). Naturally, Quentin isn’t doing this for nothing; he’s in line for an upgrade if he can seal the deal, so is willing to do just about anything to sign his subjects up.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

In case you were wondering, this is all absolutely as bizarre as it sounds. Luke Lane steals the show with a gloriously over-the-top portrayal of TV host/preacher/mentor Quentin, backed by his two robotic “friends”, creatively named Friend 1 and Friend 2 (Freya Tilly and Lottie-Daisy Francis). Behind their beaming smiles, cheery singalongs and energetic choreography, there’s a decidedly sinister undertone about this trio as they skilfully manipulate Keith and Nat into signing their lives – and more – away.

Shauna Riley and Max Panks do a good job with necessarily flimsy characters, whose bemusement quickly gives way to acceptance of their own unhappiness and rejection of the dreams they thought they had. It’s a bit hard to believe Nat and Keith would so readily succumb to a strange man who appeared out of their radio, and nor do we ever find out why they’ve been chosen as Quentin’s latest subjects – but by this point we’re so far through the looking glass anyway that it’s best to just go with it.

That said, there is still a nugget of harsh truth about humanity’s constant search for happiness to be found amidst the manic grins, talking microphones and inflatable fish (don’t ask) – and the show’s unexpectedly bleak ending leaves us to wonder rather despondently if finding the meaning of life through artificial means really is the best future we have to look forward to.

Though there are only a couple of songs that are particularly catchy – among them a Hey Jude-esque final chorus that I still can’t get out of my head – all the musical numbers are enthusiastically performed by band and singers, with sharp, synchronised choreography from Caldonia Walton. In fact, movement in general throughout the show is crisp, polished and perfectly timed, down to the simplest turn of a head at just the right moment.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

The production does suffer from a few sound issues; with the band on stage throughout, there are a couple of numbers where it’s hard to make out all of the lyrics, and there’s also an odd disconnect between the intimacy of Nat and Keith’s living room and the fact that they’re talking to each other in it through radio mikes. The show would perhaps work better in a slightly larger space – it certainly has the larger than life personality required to fill a bigger stage.

The show’s been described as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the new millennium”, and the influence of Richard O’Brien’s show is obvious (ordinary couple stumble into the path of a charismatic but unhinged stranger, who makes them question everything they thought they knew about themselves). Whether Quentin will ever reach the same levels of cult fandom I couldn’t say, but there’s no denying the show makes for an entertaining – and slightly bewildering – evening out.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉