Hug the Bunny: Two Earl Grey Teas with Phoebe Wood

By Melissa Tutesigensi

I met with Phoebe Wood, writer and co-director of ‘Hug the Bunny’, at Edinburgh’s Half 8 Café. ‘Hug the Bunny’ was one of my favourite shows at this year’s Fringe and so I was keen to learn more about the genesis and development of the play. Although Phoebe was in the middle of the run with a few more shows to go, she agreed to let me pick her brain. We sat down to two Earl Grey Teas and chatted about drama school, leadership and experiences on the mile. Here is a selection of what came of our conversation.

 

Where it all began…

 

Norwich based Pits N Clits Theatre was formed very recently as Phoebe Wood, Damie Lemomu , Betsy Robertson, Sophie Abramovici, Sarah Pumphrey and Rachel Stone decided to create a feminist theatre company following their time at the University of East Anglia. Phoebe explained that, at the core, the company is a group of friends connected by their love and passion for driving compelling and entertaining feminist narratives forward. Each bring their own skills together to form the collective. Phoebe is always keen to stress the input of her team and to highlight that there is a real mix and variance of skills. Phoebe herself wrote the script but worked with fellow co-director Rachel Stone to help bring it alive. You only have to watch the play to see that there is a wealth of talent in the production company, that this a group of capable young women who understand the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional nature of theatre.

 

Explaining the title, Hug the Bunny…

 

I asked Phoebe about the origin of the name of the play as it didn’t seem too obvious to me. Concerned that I had completely missed a major symbol or metaphor, I was itching to know why the play is called ‘Hug the Bunny’. According to Phoebe, to ‘hug the bunny’ means to masturbate with a vibrator– an apt choice for the play given that female masturbation is an important part of the history on the study of hysteria. The popular school of thought of previous centuries held that women, being the fairer sex, were prone to fits of hysteria, a demonstration of their uniquely female facilities. Female masturbation was used to treat the symptoms of hysteria which up until the mid 20th century was categorised as a disease. Female masturbation is important to the play and fundamental in showing historical examples of the mans-plaining of the female sexual experience.

 

Twist, turns, trials and tribulations lead to triumph…

 

One of the revelations that surprised me the most about ‘Hug the Bunny’s’ journey to the Fringe is that it was never really meant to happen. Phoebe described how the original play she had written to take to the Fringe had to be replaced. She wrote ‘Hug the Bunny’ in a month, had to subsequently re-organise arrangements with the venues and marketing all the while raising the money to fund the project. Once the play was written and they were looking like they would meet the fundraising goal, she was still left with minor amendments such as finalising the title of the play. Things had to be scaled down and altered as they adjusted to their practical and financial restrictions. As pervasive as these obstacles were however, so was the company’s determination. It was their resilience and attitude of taking things in their stride that got them to the Fringe in the end. As I watched ‘Hug the Bunny’, I was blown away by its accuracy and honesty. The effortlessness of the play could easily fool you into thinking that it was a simple and predetermined process from idea to performance, but instead it was a product of a beautiful creative mess.

 

It’s not all fun and games on the mile…

 

Having cleared the logistical and creative hurdles of getting to the Fringe, they then faced the next challenge of attracting people to the show. They had already made waves in drawing an audience online through their use of social media ‘Crowdfunder’ but Edinburgh was a different platform altogether. The mile is a frenzy, awash with marketing of extreme levels with the aim of attracting people’s attention. They stood in the sea of actors, dancers and comedians, facing the struggle of drawing in the crowds. Phoebe is honest about the difficulty of being faced with this and explains that they had to employ their adjustment tactics to change their approach when they realised that their initial ideas for advertising weren’t striking the right chord with passers-by. It’s not an easy thing to approach people with thorny subjects like feminism and hysteria, explains Phoebe. She understands that its not to everyone’s taste. She’s aware of the fact that people have different opinions and reactions to theatre having been in the situation of being the only one in a group disliking a show. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to take that in as a writer.

 

There is life beyond the fringe…

 

We ended our conversation on the subject of future plans. She told me that her immediate plans for the future were to survive and enjoy the rest of her time in Edinburgh. Post-Fringe, it’s safe to say that Pits N Clits Theatre more than just survived, they thrived managing to pick up more five star reviews and a mention in Dazed Magazine piece ‘Eight plays we wish we’d seen as teenagers’ . The Fringe is a relentless experience for any first-time act but I hope Pits N Clits Theatre took away a sense of achievement as they packed up and prepared to leave the city. Whatever they have in store, I bet this won’t be the last we’ve heard from them.