Liam Rees on The Land That Never Was

Liam Rees is a director, theatre maker and accidental performer. He makes eclectic work in whatever form feels right ranging from new writing to stand-up and circus. He’s worked with the Traverse Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland, A Play, A Pie and A Pint, NTGent, Ontroerend Goed, and BRONKS. He’s been commissioned b HOME and was a Supported Artist on attachment with Vanishing Point. He makes work that centres the audience to look at where we come from, where we are, and where we’re going.

His latest work is The Land That Never Was, telling the surprisingly true story of Scottish conman Gregor MacGregor. He tells us more:

Q&A with Liam Rees

What can you tell us about The Land That Never Was?

It tells the story of Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish conman, who made up a country and sold it to a bunch of would-be colonialists. It’s utterly bonkers and most people assume that I’ve made it all up but this is the part of the story that’s 100%, totally true (I promise). But there’s another story going on. It’s the story of me, the audience, and all the tricks and tactics I use to manipulate you and feel a certain way as I’m telling the story. It’s a fun (and hopefully) funny headfuck about why we trust people and believe in impossible things.

When did you first become aware of the story of Gregor MacGregor?

During lockdown I suddenly had loads of free time to listen to a podcast called Behind the Bastards, which looks at terrible people throughout history that you’ve never heard of. Gregor’s story came up and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Was it really a scam or did he believe it was actually possible? If it were possible to start a new country from scratch then what would we want it to be like?

What has the development process been like so far?

The show doesn’t exist without an audience so it’s kind of impossible to rehearse on it’s own. I switch between being very cerebral and poring over minute details and then being totally in the moment interacting with audiences. It’s been a real back and forth with a lot of testing things out and frantically rewriting based on audience responses. Fortunately, I’ve been supported by companies like Vanishing Point, Summerhall, and the National Theatre of Scotland so it’s not been a totally solo process.

How do you think audiences will react to the show?

I love the variety of audience reactions. I’ve seen some heated post-show arguments about what one person thought or not, one person accused me of fabricating entire Wikipedia pages for the show. It really tests your bullshit detectors while also being funny, playful, and intimate.

What can we expect from The Land That Never Was beyond A Pinch of VAULT?

It’ll be back in London at Camden People’s Theatre from the 21st-22nd May!

The Land That Never Was is at The Spacement at The Glitch on 2 March