‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy

“Claire is a younger version, Cat will come out in bursts… They come into play at different points in my life, depending on what I need, what I want. I’m certainly more Kate at this point. She’s trying to find something secure.”

 

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As Edinburgh rain unexpectedly falls, as it so likes to do, Catherine Duquette tells me which of her four ‘alter-egos’ from her one-woman show she feels most like at this point. This is characteristic of Duquette’s straight-forward honesty, something which is in turn characteristic of her show.Though calling it a ‘show’ may be misleading. In fact, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is crafted by each audience that sees it as they respond to the questions and actions of Kate, Claire, Cat and Kris, the four participants all skilfully embodied by Duquette, as they search for whatever it is they want in their love life, though they all seemed to working with very different ideas of ‘love.’ “Every show is different!” says Duquette. Indeed, watching the show I thought and later said to Duquette, audience participation seems to mild a word for it, it seemed more like “audience creation.” She enthusiastically agreed saying that it came about when, in a mild dislike of solo shows, she began “using the audience as players”. As a video game writer, like Kris one of the characters, she’s intrigued by “interactivity” as she wants the audience to have “a different kind of experience” from the normal one way interaction in shows.

 

As an audience member, I certainly did. As Duquette became four different people, I saw the people around me answer deeply personal questions, sometimes about their hopes and dreams, sometimes about their sex life. I somehow found myself confessing a reluctant belief in “the one” to the sweet, bright-eyed, earnest Claire. This may sound intense but I couldn’t stop laughing, and I definitely wasn’t alone. Laughter, partly due to the freshness of the audience participation and partly because of just how on the nose these characters, and slight caricatures, were.

 

“I noticed a pattern of personas that were trying to sell themselves as something and trying to attract a certain type of person,” Duquette explains. This observation is familiar to anyone who has dated, online or off. A presentation of a certain image has always been a feature since dating was called ‘courting’. Yet as Duquette points out “And we all try to sell ourselves as something unique and special but our needs are not that unique…”  Underneath all the laughter, this is the astuteness to ‘#INSTALOVE’: the recognition that the things we say we want are not as special as we think they are. Equally, there is an astute comment on this market element of the ‘dating market’ where people seek, and advertise on dating sites or apps, for something precise, someone with particularly desirable features.

 

For me, the sense of ‘maybe we’re all the same’ is in the experience of the show itself as person after person answered Duquette’s probing questions. Duquette sincerely hopes the show will help people look at themselves, not critically but with a heartfelt intention to help people grow. Both funny and well-meaning, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy.

Darcy Rollins

Ella Langley on how ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’

Girls Will Be Girls, the sell-out Oxford show written by talented student Ella Langley, headed to the Edinburgh Fringe last month. Sian Bayley caught up with her to find out more about the show, and the challenges of bringing a student show to the Fringe.

Ella confesses that she was first inspired to write something like ‘Girls will be Girls’ while watching the ‘The History Boys’ on TV the day she received her Oxford offer, and re-watched when suffering from writer’s block, firmly establishing a connection with Alan Bennett’s modern masterpiece. She makes it clear, however, that ‘single sex schools are inherently and pervasively different for boys and girls’, and that the plays differ accordingly. She also explains that she deliberately ‘set out to undermine the importance that schools place on Oxbridge from the beginning of the play’ by not showing the girls applying. ‘The audience are given no handle on why it matters so much. So the process feels much more alien and harder to get invested in’. Admiring how Alan Bennet ‘gave these teenage boys a level of respect and their lives a sense of significance’, Ella ‘craved’ to write something that would give the same to teenage girls.

 

Luke Scott

Luke Scott

 

She wanted to change the stereotypical problems of teenage girls centring on ‘skin care and clothes and crushes’ to ‘the more universal pressures of coming of age, striving to find a social position, facing the state of your mental health and feeling pressure to succeed in your sphere’, in this case academic. In Ella’s world, female characters are not defined by their relationships with men, and whilst the play centres on a specific social group of reasonably privileged women, it seeks to be relatable to all audience members. As Ella explains, ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ doesn’t shy away from exploring topics such as mental health, sexism, and racism, and Ella is careful to emphasise the difficulty of ensuring these issues are explored both sensitively and bravely. She admits she was scared to approach some topics, but was determined as a writer to engage with these issues and ‘move outside of the scope of your own privilege to amplify the voices and stories of others’.

Indeed, this social aspect of the play fed into the Oxford run’s accompanying ‘Dear Me’ project, devised by Daisy Porter, which gave the play a life beyond the stage. Asking audience members to write a personal message to their teenage selves after the performance created a wonderful sense of celebration and accomplishment, as audiences looked back on their formative years, and how they had come since then. This extra-textual moment of reflection was important to Ella’s conception of the play, and was extended during the Edinburgh run, as the production headed to The Mile to talk to passers-by, and engage with an even wider audience.

A key point about ‘Girls will be Girls’ is its accessibility, made evident by the innovative marketing techniques used in the Oxford run. From creating fictional Snapchat stories, to Charlotte Pang’s beautiful cartoon drawings of the girls, the marketing for the play always strove to be fresh and exciting – something that is not always apparent in student drama. As Ella explains, ‘with so many student shows the market is massively saturated so it’s the job of marketing to engage people who aren’t actively looking to go and see theatre for whatever reason. At the moment, I find a lot of marketing for student shows seems unaware that they’re only really directing their content at other self-proclaimed thespians, and might consequently be alienating a large portion of people who aren’t already super pumped about theatre – but of course have the potential to be’.

Ella attended the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time last summer, and watched almost exclusively new writing that is often ignored by festival goers. Describing the energy at the Fringe as a ‘really visceral experience’, where ‘actors and directors, writers and technicians, fearlessly open themselves up to audience after audience’, Ella admires the ‘off-the-cuff and trial-and-error’ atmosphere of the free and amateur Fringe. She confesses that whilst she is ‘probably going to be eaten alive by the reviewers there’, it is also ‘a weirdly exciting’ prospect – ‘a place to grow and learn as a writer and practitioner and person in the world’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ is Ella’s first full play, and it is no coincidence it is the right length for a Fringe show with basic set and tech requirements. She describes the hardest part of bringing her show to the Fringe as ‘applying to venues totally alone with a script that I didn’t feel like I had adequate approval for. Writing is a lonely business and there is no authority in the world that can assure you what you’ve produced is good enough for a theatre or a bookstand – you have to back yourself or give up. In a weird way applying for the Fringe felt like a moment where I was stepping away from the world of the characters. I had to face up to the fact that no one would hand me back my script with full marks or loads of ticks and tell me I’d done a good enough job. I just had to grow up and realise that a bad play would be better than no play at all. You can only learn from doing, and realistically it wouldn’t be either perfect or abysmal, just somewhere in-between.’

 

Sian Bayley


Freud, Artificial Intelligence and horror in ‘Sandman’

After a friend told Adie Mueller about ETA Hoffman’s 1816 short story “The Sandman”, first published in 1816, she became intrigued by the idea of turning it into a piece of theatre. Mueller, a German drama professor with two children, dearly wanted to act again, and wondered if Hoffman’s tale of a young man who becomes bewitched to the point of suicide by a female automaton could be revived for the modern era. So she reached out to her friend, playwright and teacher Mike Carter, and asked him if he could create a theatrical text out of the story. The play, “Sandman”, that they have created is a painful and moving piece, but intended primarily as a horror story, as both Carter and Mueller emphasise when I meet with them to ask about the play and its creation.

 

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Carter, already interested in the Gothic and how horror can be used on stage, was instantly drawn to the story. “Freud wrote an essay on the uncanny”, he tells me, “and cited Hoffman’s story as the epitome of that concept. Adie and I both enjoyed the challenge of creating a disturbing and uncanny experience for the audience and people who see it tell us how freaked out they are by it!”

Mueller and Carter worked together, improvising scenes in the studio which Carter would then write, over a period of several months. The play they produced is tense and magnetic, and certainly leaves the audience as shaken and “freaked out” as Carter could wish. For him, he says, Hoffman’s tale had parallels with our voyeuristic way of viewing each other today, via the internet and webcams. In his play, Hoffman’s automaton is replaced by a terrifyingly lifelike sex robot – such as have now been created – and the play makes us explore the emotion behind this male need for the comfort of an artificial companion.

The play has been performed already at the London Horror Festival. While it does not contain extreme violence or gore, the horror of the story lies more in the sense of unease that pervades the piece, as Carter tells me: “Hoffmann’s story defies rational explanation – and that’s part of what creeps you out when you read it and leaves you feeling disturbed at the end – it just doesn’t add up. Once you can explain something, it’s no longer scary. And that’s the experience we give the audience: they must play a part in piecing together the narrative and try to make sense of what they’re watching, but they will leave with some unanswered questions.”

 

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The play certainly requires concentration on the part of the audience – Mueller plays a number of characters who address us directly, and the time frame is not always linear. But, as Carter explains to me, as the audience fit the story together like a jigsaw, this adds to the intensity and mystery of the experience.

I ask Mueller why this story captivated her imagination so quickly. “It’s always difficult to say why you feel interested in something,” she tells me. “It’s a bit like explaining why you’ve fallen in love with someone. Usually, you just do. If I rationalise it, the story is incredibly evocative. It talks about quite universal themes, such as the child’s dread of the dark, the eyes, whether we are able to see reality or whether our view of reality is distorted by our fears and desires, whether there are some dark forces that have power over us or not.”

When I ask Mueller how important the Sandman story is now, she credits its relevance to the rise of Artificial Intelligence: “The questions ‘What is reality?’ is particularly pertinent in the digital age. A lot of our thinking and actions are influenced by the algorithms that feed us information online. Private companies target and influence individuals through social media in election campaigns without them even knowing. So we are under the influence of forces we don’t understand; and our personal data is used in ways we don’t understand. I’m less clued into artificial intelligence, but Mike recently found a documentary about the rise of the sex robot. An American company will launch the first sex robot this autumn! So the idea of creating an automaton to provide companionship for men is no longer science fiction.”

Science fiction or reality looming ever closer, Carter and Mueller’s show is a haunting and enchanting venture into both the future and past, using a powerful story whose mysterious fascination certainly remains undiminished.

‘Sandman’ runs at the ZOO theatre 140 Pleasance at 4:20pm from 17th-28th August

 

Emily Lawford


Men with Coconuts: “We need to take care of each other and the audience, not just take the piss!”

Despite being a little worse for wear the morning after my last night at the Fringe, I am in a good mood. This is because I am finally meeting ‘Men with Coconuts’, the brilliant improv group who entertained me so much last week in their show at La Belle Angèle.

 

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I meet Steve Worsley handing out flyers on the mile and he introduces me to the other members as we head off for coffee. I ask them if, in their 5th year, they are still enjoying performing at the Fringe. Charlie Hindley replies, ‘Extraordinary isn’t it! We do have such fun, having started with really small crowds five years ago. We actually were reviewed in our first year, which gave us a lot of stuff to work on’. Mindful that my review of last week is not so much constructive as adulatory, I move on swiftly, and ask them, why improv and not scripted comedy? Will Naameh, whose freestyle rap performances at the Fringe are another feather to his bow, responds fastest: ‘I think we’re very lazy!’. Sam Irving takes a more serious tone. ‘It’s just about the fun and spontaneity. Having fun with all your friends on stage, a lot more freedom to enjoy yourself and not stress about hitting all the cues and all the marks…’ Steve builds on this: ‘It’s just a sort of organic creative process; it’s really nice having things happen naturally’. There are, of course, unique challenges to improvised shows. Charlie tells me, ‘When you’re practising a sketch show, there’s always a danger that you could do something that’s amazing in rehearsal, when improvised. Trying to do that again is an extraordinary craft and it’s not something that always comes off’.

I wonder at what they consider the most successful parts of their shows. ‘Sometimes the best moments for us are the accidents’, says Steve. ‘One time Will was very tired in an improvised Bond, and accidentally said Miss Monkeypenny instead of Moneypenny’. ‘I had to take Monkeypenny on a mission with me!’ Will remembers fondly. ‘It was Monkeypenny who saved the fate of the UK’.

It’s becoming clear that being a successful improv troupe relies on the trust between its members. Sam explains, ‘There’s a great pleasure in messing with each other, asking people to explain things in scientific detail… If you or someone else is guesting in a show, you’re not as comfortable doing the same level of fuckery!’. I think that this might be down to competitiveness between the actors on stage. Nothing of the sort, according to Will. ‘The only times it appears that way is when we make each other do stuff on stage, like asking someone to tell me their family’s motto in Latin’. ‘Or like when Will forced me to describe the specific scientific process of nuclear weaponry’, complains Steve humorously. Sam adds, ‘again, it’s all about trust. It looks like I’m just messing with them but actually I’m giving them a chance to look good!’.

I’m told that the name Men with Coconuts was born when they had the idea of doing improvisation combined with radio style sound effects, and though that format came and went, the name stuck. I wonder, therefore, if their comedy has developed along with their style. ‘In the last eighteen months or so Trump has obviously come up a lot’, says Charlie. ‘You can see culturally where people are at, and respond to this’. Steve adds, ‘You can play things like this a little differently. We’re not against being naughty but can change the meaning of what the audience request a bit’. I note that lots of shows I’ve seen at the Fringe rely on explicit, in-your-face jokes to force a laugh. ‘Shock humour’s an easy way out’, agrees Sam. ‘We do swear, make dirty jokes, but that’s not the basis for the show. The show has a good narrative, a good storyline, is lots of fun – the dirty stuff can come after that’.

It’s interesting to see that as well as farce, the team don’t want to shy away from more high-brow acting. Steve tells me about an American improvisor who told them in a workshop, ‘Play to the top of your intelligence’, and this seems an important piece of advice for all of them. Charlie explains, ‘we see a lot of improv where the improvisers do everything they can to move away from something emotionally interesting or moving, because it might not be funny or they might not be comfortable. We want to go to an emotional zenith if it’s going in that direction: it’s interesting and fulfilling. ‘There are going to be peaks and troughs, moments of reflection; equally there will be exceptionally fast-paced scenes which drive the action forward. We need to take care of each other and the audience, not just take the piss!’.

I remember a moment in the show I watched where the team acted out the marriage of a couple in the audience who had met each other in the Air Force. Will tells me, ‘you need to interact with characters on the emotional level, and not just disparage them’. All of this deep reflection makes me wonder how on earth they practise for each show, everything being improvised – they even manage to rhyme in the musical sketch! ‘You should see the notebooks in Will’s room’, Charlie says. ‘Of rhymes I should say!’, jokes Will, to general mirth.

It’s clear, though, that practice and experience is vital. Charlie tells me that Steve and he used to do a lot of musical theatre, and have become familiar with how musicals operate. Interestingly, they all emphasise the importance of learning from improvisation experts, and list some of the workshops they’ve gone to in order to carry on improving their act. ‘Improvisers are so honest and authentic, giving advice; there are no trade secrets’.

They then chat about the Free Fringe, and how its ethos of allowing anyone to perform a show is why they like to take part in it. They contribute a lot of their donations to the Free Fringe, which is nice to hear, and spend other donation money on developing as a group. ‘So where do you see yourselves going from here?’, I ask. ‘We’re actually going to perform a political party’, jokes Charlie, and I feel slightly embarrassed for having asked. ‘More of the same really’, Sam adds helpfully. They want to expand their horizons, have aspirations of taking their show to Australia and New Zealand, and are clearly very excited by their project, having great fun together. ‘I think that it’s the most important thing, to enjoy yourselves’, says Sam. ‘I’d rather do a decent show where everyone on stage is comfortable and happy than anything where someone might not be happy afterwards’.

They’re all an impressive bunch, so I finish by seeing if they themselves have any advice for aspiring improv groups. ‘Regular practice with the same group’, says Sam. ‘Never stop learning, doing new things, and having new teachers’. They all agree that continuously learning is the most important thing to building a successful troupe. Charlie concludes, ‘Even the biggest show groups in the country still go to workshops’. I thank them all and take my leave, very privileged to have met such a nice group, and eager to see more of them in action.

 

Charles Stone


The Oxford Alternotives: From Pitch Battle to the Fringe

The Oxford Alternotives are making their eighth return to the Fringe, fresh out of competing on BBC’s Pitch Battle. Oxford’s oldest student acapella group, formed in 1993, have already begun performing their new repertoire to sell-out audiences in Edinburgh. Their set is “incredibly alternative, as the name suggests”, co-president Rosie Richards tells us, with a mix of Michael Jackson, Muse and Ed Sheeran in their show.

 

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In the lead up to Pitch Battle, the group put in over fifty hours’ worth of rehearsals to perform their renditions of Led Zeppelin, Rihanna and Celine Dion. Although they did not make it through to the live finals, Rosie tells us that the intensive rehearsals for the competition mean that their new “arrangements are more complex”. Band member Oscar Darwin arranges many of the pieces that the group perform, but Rosie tells us that the rehearsals are a largely collaborative process. Overseen by Hugh Cross (Musical Director), everyone contributes to create the set.

I asked what an audience can expect if they came to see the show. Rosie tells us “there’s something for everyone, with a mix of slow songs, upbeat numbers and choreography.” However, what makes the Alternotives different is their chemistry on stage. On Pitch Battle, Rosie described the group as “basically like a family”, but Rosie admits that having the fifteen band members living in a ten-person flat has really brought out the typical family dynamic of getting on each other’s nerves, but still loving each other. We discussed how this translates onto the stage.

Rosie: “We’re all genuinely such good friends so we just have so much fun performing together. Also, there is no fourth wall in our show. We constantly want to interact and engage with our audience so they feel a part of the fun with us.”

 

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After the intense build up to Pitch Battle, Rosie tells us how they prepared to take on the Fringe. Following the competition, the band members all focused on their exams and studies, exhausted from the competition. However, before the Fringe they had a four-day rigorous boot-camp, singing twelve hours a day. They ensured that every band member has their moment to shine in the set list, with solos throughout the show that were voted upon by the group. This family of singers make sure they share the chance for each member to show off their individual talent.

I asked Rosie one final question: how did you achieve all those flawless confetti headshots of the band members? “A lot of confetti, and a lot of attempts. Everyone was meant to express their personality through their pose, but some people were very fussy about what their headshot looked like! However, they all turned out fab in the end.”

With such extensive rehearsal prior to the Fringe, the group are ready to smash their final days of shows. For rigorously perfected vocal harmonies, fun interaction with the audience and a variety of musical styles, the Oxford Alternotives promise to deliver a revitalising hour of acapella.

‘The Oxford Alternotives’ are performing every day until the 19th August, 1pm at C Venues 34 (Chambers Street)

 

Laura Wilsmore


Charlie V. Martin on the creative process, solo pressure and how the Fringe has changed

Louis Harnett O’Meara speaks to Edinburgh local Charlie V. Martin ahead of his debut show ‘Dante’s History of the Banished.’

Can you tell us a little bit about your show, ‘Dante’s History of the Banished’? 

The show is a one-woman character comedy hosted by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who introduces the audience to three more famous characters of exile: Napoleon, King Lear, and Eve. There’s a fair mix of scripted and improvised material throughout the show, with some character sketches including more improv whilst others are quite tightly written. For instance, Napoleon’s character relies entirely on his responses to the audience, but King Lear is scripted. This said, there are still lots of chaotic elements in the segment, and room for audience interactions – plenty of room for things to go wrong! While the show has a dark and very timely theme, I try to make sure that its never taken too seriously, and I try to make my characters big and loveable so they can bring it to life in their own silly ways.

 

You’ve been up to the Fringe a few times before to a positive reception with the improv group Blind Mirth, but this is your solo debut. Are you nervous?

I’ve been performing my characters in solo shows down in London for a few months now, so I’ve become more comfortable with it. My first few performances were a bit scary but I suppose it’s like anything, you just have to keep at it. It does require a lot more stamina than group work. When all the focus is just on you you need to give them a lot of energy back. And when there are any difficulties it can only come down to you, so you need to be able to pick yourself up if anything happens. With the improvised side there are always going to be unpredictable aspects but I’ve had plenty of practice by now.

 

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I noticed that you’ve done some puppet work before. Will any puppets be making a feature in this performance?

They will! I’m using puppets of varying levels of sophistication to act out a ten-minute version of King Lear. It should be a lot of fun! Cordelia is a Muppet-style creation, and the most complex. Gloucester and Cornwall also feature, although they’re less than complex, although they usually get a bigger laugh; their puppets are a little more ‘abstract’. I find that puppets help connect an audience with their inner child; they can help them laugh, or help them feel emotions they might find difficult to address with real people. You can throw them about a bit too which always gets a laugh; as Jim Henson once said, ‘always disrespect your puppets!’ Or something along those lines…

 

A ten-minute King Lear? Tell me more.

Haha, yes it’s a bit of a challenge! It probably has the most preparation needed to organise it. There are loads of props and different features and things happening all at once. Although it’s the most heavily scripted of the different parts that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier – quite the opposite. Fitting it all in is the challenge! I was influenced by the neofuturists when I was putting the segment together. Their goal is to achieve honest performance above all else; you need to make yourself vulnerable to the audience by setting yourself impossible tasks and demonstrating your own limits and weaknesses as a performer. I like the audience to see the failings of the show, and know that they are still enjoying it.

 

You’ve done a range of work in writing and performing, from live performances to scripts for BBC Scotland How do you manage the creative process?

I’ve been writing and improvising comedy for over eight years now, so using both scripts and improvisation in my production works well for me. I will sometimes write a bunch of jokes or themes that can act as a loose framework to improvise around in front of an audience. This works really well to generate new material; an audience might respond particularly well to something spur of the moment, or else I’ll remember something that I thought I might be able to work into my next show or my next script. It feels like a natural process for me to go through. Painful as it is, sometimes I find recording the shows and watching them back helps me to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything that goes on! I’ve been developing Dante’s History for about two years now, performing on the circuit as a character at a time to try and get a feel for each one. It’s pretty much been lather, rinse, repeat until I’m getting what I want from my performance, and it’s a process that doesn’t ever really stop.

 

You say you’ve been performing your characters around the London circuit for a while now. How does the Fringe’s audience tend to differ from the usual crowd?

The exciting thing about performing at the Fringe is that there’s a different crowd every day. At university or in London you’ll tend to be performing for the same sort of crowds each time, and the audience will recognise you and learn how to respond to you. At the Fringe you have to gain the audience’s trust again with every performance, and this is a skill that can be too easy to forget. The fresh crowds stop you from becoming complacent with your performances, and hold you to account or reward you differently every night. They keep you on your toes! Besides this, it’s a great way to meet people from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot from chatting to them after the show and discussing how comedy or theatre or improv compares to where they’re from.

 

The Edinburgh Fringe is celebrating its seventieth birthday this year. As an Edinburgh local, have you seen the Fringe change over the years?

I do worry that the fringe is becoming a bit too commercial. It’s certainly slipping away from its origins; it was meant to be for small acts, outcasts, literally called ‘The Uninvited’.[1] I’ve been saving and planning for years for my solo debut – and I’m from Edinburgh! So of course performers get put off or feel under a lot of pressure once they get here to be a big success. Audiences and performers alike often seem unwilling to step outside of the big venues, and it’s been known for a while that there are a lot of people who only come to see the big names. The Fringe spirit is still alive and well, but I think we need to be careful to not let go of all the smaller and free-ticketed venues. My message for anyone coming to the Edinburgh Fringe is, by all means see your favourites, but don’t be afraid to try something new.


[1] http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/theatre/the-uninvited-eight-who-started-the-edinburgh-festival-fringe-1-4500422

 

Louis Harnett O’Meara


[1] http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/theatre/the-uninvited-eight-who-started-the-edinburgh-festival-fringe-1-4500422


Behind the scenes of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’

Chloe Moloney spoke to Charlotte Stephenson, producer of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ with Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club (CUADC).

Ben Maier’s ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is the story of a burgeoning friendship between two young Londoners, Jude and Leon, told within the frame of a fictional game show about mental illness, ‘This Is Your Mind’. They undergo a series of games and challenges, which become increasingly surreal as the show progresses – and as its hosts, Fizz and Terry, reveal themselves to be far less benevolent than they first appeared. The game show reveals more and more about Jude and Leon; about their families, their friendship, and their experiences with illness. This comic drama is fast-paced, combining physical and musical comedy with poignant, reflective moments that challenge stereotypes and create new ways of understanding the struggles of our social lives and inner minds.

Stephenson informed us of what exactly the role of a producer entails and how it differs from other theatrical positions. A director for example deals directly with the cast, rehearsal sessions and brings the play from script to performance. A producer on the other hand acts as a ‘practical figure’ – including making sure that people are keeping to their assigned budgets, organising rehearsal schedules for the cast at the start of the production process and communicating with the theatre first-hand. The producer tends to be the only person in contact with the venue, dealing with crucial aspects of the production ranging from equipment to insurance. However, Stephenson’s role does not end there. With publicity being a vital element of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, promoting ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is equally important. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or handing out flyers on the Royal Mile, the unique Fringe experience allows for a perfect amount of coverage for the CUADC production.

Stephenson was inspired to tackle the producing role primarily by an event for new students at the University of Cambridge. Having previously produced a pantomime in sixth form, Stephenson explored her first Cambridge producing role at the ADC theatre. Just around the corner from her college, Stephenson noticed the abundance of students at the venue. Having fallen in love with the buzzing environment, she found herself suiting the producing role nicely. With excellent time management and organisational skills, it seemed that Stephenson fit the role like a glove. Despite claiming that she is not naturally much of an extrovert, she takes pleasure in the trust that both cast and crew have in the producer.

The difference between producing a show in Cambridge and one in Edinburgh is startling. This is Stephenson’s first time at the Fringe, let alone first time producing a production at this acclaimed festival. Nonetheless, the variation and diversity in the productions available at the Fringe is extraordinary. She remarks the larger potential audience of theatre-goers here at the Fringe and, compared to only a week running time in Cambridge, the CUADC’s two-and-a-half-week run is certainly a stretch.

Adapting to the new publicity process has been a pleasant challenge, in realising that there is a special way of marketing a production in Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is a jam-packed, fast-paced road where your pitch is condensed into one quick line to grab someone’s attention. Stephenson gives the spectators two sides of the coin of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’, stating how the production ‘explores mental health but in a game show’.

Stephenson happily gives advice to aspiring student producers, heralding that you should simply ‘go for it, [and] don’t be afraid to send in that first application or go for an interview. It’s a wonderful position.’ This Cambridge producer likes to regularly see the crew, conducts weekly meetings as she finds that face-to-face contact with the team facilitates the production process. Stephenson parts the interview with one last gem of advice: ‘There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, [you’ve] got to be organised and hit the right deadlines – make your show the best it can be.’

‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is on 2nd-19th August, Gilded Balloon Teviot


Angels in Erotica: ‘God can be a right primadonna’

Angels in Erotica – a fresh new student written and run piece in which God is gay and there is a new female messiah. ‘But those were an afterthought’ their writer, Freddie Drewer, tells us. ‘First and foremost this a comedy.’

 

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The play is written and performed by Durham University’s Phoenix Theatre Company. The Company represents Grey College, which has the phoenix as its mascot after the college burnt down in 1959. Equally the theatre company rose from the ashes of what was originally called the Fountains Theatre Company.

We have a dynamic trio representing the play – Freddie Dewer (writer), Hamish Inglis (director) and Kitty Briggs (producer), who decided last year to try their hand at something original. As Kitty tells us, this has been an entirely new challenge, advertising and pitching to a much wider field, yet the team are ready to embrace the challenge of the expansion and continuation of the piece. I was given an insight into what can be expected from their provocative, modern and unusual sounding production.

Writer Freddie tells us ‘I think that by poking fun at the silly, the important naturally reveals itself.’ As such the play is more than just irreverent comedy – it attempts to revive ideas about religion for a more modern audience to see how religion, sexuality and the naked human body can be interpreted on stage in the 21st century. When asked what her inspiration was Freddie explains ‘I have a degree in theology and was named after a heroine from one of my mum’s ‘bodice-rippers.’ ‘I was born to write this.’ We also discuss the challenges of putting themes of sexuality and gender on the stage:

Hamish: (on sexuality) The all mighty creator can be in love with whoever he wants to be in love with, so it opens up so much more scope for ‘the all loving God’!

Freddie: (on feminism) I think the world is still sorely missing good female characters that aren’t sex objects, but also aren’t perfect ice-cold geniuses. I’ve tried to write a female character that’s a bit silly, saucy and flawed, and therefore hopefully more relatable.

The crew highlight how important it was to find a line between clever comedy and pantomime drama. The actors must really understand the characters that they play, as the style of comedy can switch dramatically between scenes, depending on their content. ‘God, playing himself’ Hamish says ‘can be a right primadonna’. It is also important that the characters and crew can work together closely with this material, which Kitty explains was straight forward, as ‘they all had to try seduce me in the auditions so we now know each other very well.’

I asked one final question: if you were to have an afterparty after the final show, what would the night be like?

Kitty: I am mummy of the group. I would make sure everyone was accounted for after a 2.5 hour panic that Cupid has gone missing, look after God who’ll be throwing up behind a skip, and make bear meat butties for Edwardio in the morning. We’ll then realise we left Moody Blues at the gay bar and we’ll never see him again.

It sounds like quite the night. Angels in Erotica opens 14th August – if you are looking for some controversy, some nudity, and some comedy to top it off, then it sounds like this could be worth a watch.

 

Claire Richardson


Mozart meets the Kardashians – it can only be Leoe&Hyde

It’s the five-star production that has been winning over audiences nationwide at this summer’s fringe festivals, but how did duo Leoe&Hyde create ‘The Marriage of Kim K’? Sian Bayley speaks to librettist Leo Mercer, to find out more about this modern and ambitious rewrite of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’.

Credit: Daniel Kim

Credit: Daniel Kim

Leo Mercer (leoemercer), is famous on the Oxford scene as a librettist, writing the text to various student genre-bending operas such as ‘The Prophetess’ (2015), and ‘Queueue: A Coffee Shop Musical’ (2016). It is his mash up of Kim Kardashian and Mozart, however, that has caught the most attention, and has been touring the UK this summer, culminating in its run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leo admits he loves ‘coming up with titles that immediately get your mind whirling, and then seeing what happens next’, and explains that he was inspired to write ‘Kim K’, ‘having just read a book of experimental poetry called ‘Kim Kardashian’s Marriage’, seen someone in a cool indie cafe arranging ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, and had a discussion with a music academic about what a 21st opera libretto could be like.’

It is the sort of bizarre set of circumstances that characterise Leo’s unique style of work.

Indeed, Leo is keen to emphasise he is ‘definitely not going for weird – just unique’, when questioned about his response to ‘Kim K’ appearing on Time Out Magazine’s ‘Top 10 Weirdest Shows at The Fringe’. He is inspired by the idea that ‘one generation’s weird is the next generation’s normal’, and is a devout follower of Peter Thiel’s insistence that big creations build on beliefs that you have, but no one else shares. Leo is the epitome of a forward-thinking artist, actively looking to create new things, and playing with already established categories to create something a bit different. He takes a particular interest in genre fluidity by ‘beginning with his personal experience’ then trying to ‘hone that into something shareable’, articulating the parts of himself that he doesn’t feel other people are articulating for him. Remarking that ‘once upon a time, you’d have a pretty consistent range of experiences over the course of a day’, whereas today ‘we deal with centuries and universes, tragedy and humour, over the course of an hour’, he is curious about watching the twists and turns of popular culture, that can be found in any episode of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians.’ Somewhat surprisingly Leo confesses he’s not ‘massively invested in pop culture’, but instead cares about ‘understanding people and connecting with reality.’ For him ‘the Kardashians are vaguely interesting; but it’s the people who watch the Kardashians, and the way millions of lives are intertwining with theirs’ that interests him more.

He applies this kind of ‘Gogglebox lense’ to the play by using real-life couple Stephen and Amelia as the central duo, fighting over whether to watch another episode of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ or ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. Placing Stephen and Amelia next to Kim and Kris and Mozart’s Count and Countess, Leo explores a variety of relationships, making the Kardashians seem closer to Mozart than they ever have before.

Leo explains, ‘the idea is to create the most experimental work I can, in the most popular way I can’, equally balancing substance and communication. ‘Ultimately, I’d love to be involved in high quality, futuristic works that are emphatically meant for the public, not a specialist audience.’ It is for this reason Leo is working with Classical Evolution on developing and sharing GenreFluid at this year’s fringe festival, producing an open-mic for classical musicians to be creative and ‘genrefluid’ with their work, breaking down boundaries and creating something fun and engaging.

Leo notes, however, the difficulty of working out where to start when you have limited resources, and the issues with scaling student productions to the levels required for national tours. Staging such an ambitious piece as ‘The Marriage of Kim K’ is a mammoth task, and I’m told that Leo and Stephen are continuing to rework the play after the summer to smooth out any bumps encountered during this summer’s run.

Yet, despite its scale and difficulty, it is clear that Leoe&Hyde have produced a real gem for this summer’s fringe. To write and perform a witty Kardashian musical and glorious Mozart opera at the same time is a truly outstanding feat, for which the duo should be congratulated on.

‘The Marriage of Kim K’ is performing at the Fringe from August 2nd – 28th


The writers of COLUMNS talk loss, honesty and magic

Claire Leibovich interviews Alex Hartley and Laura Day about the play they wrote together, COLUMNS.

 

Credit: Lucie Termignon

Credit: Lucie Termignon

 

So, what is COLUMNS about?

 

LAURA COLUMNS is a play about the loss of people and things in our lives, and about our changing relationships with our parents. The two main characters have particularly fraught relationships with their parents: Joe’s have inexplicably vanished; Sophie has cut ties with her dad and her mum has literally run away to Russia.

ALEX Every character in the play has lost something and, perhaps without realising it, is looking for something. It all takes place in a funny sort of world with its own slightly different rules. Coincidences mount, everything becomes strangely interconnected. You begin to wonder if magic isn’t creeping in at the edges.

 

Why did you choose to write about the topic of parent-child relationships?

 

ALEX We wanted to write and perform a play that lots of people could relate to, that would feel familiar somehow. We’re aware that everyone has a different experience of family and parents, but with COLUMNS we’re opening our arms and asking audiences to take whatever they can from our story.

LAURA Open arms is definitely key! Our aim has always been to be honest with the audience, I think. We want them to see that what they’re watching is the result of trial and error, a lot of puzzling. We’re going to show our working, I guess – demystify the process.

 

What has the writing and devising process been like?

 

ALEX: We’ve been going back and forth with ideas since December, working out the world of the story and getting to know the main characters. It was quite slow at the start though because we were living in different countries, so all the work had to happen over Skype. It wasn’t that fun…

LAURA No… It wasn’t until around May that Alex started writing bits of scene and prose. These were useful in our early rehearsals as a springboard for developing the characters and the moments in the play. It can be exciting to improvise around a snippet of dialogue.

ALEX The script for COLUMNS has pretty much come out of those early rehearsals – we learnt a lot about the characters from just messing around! We still play a lot of games in rehearsals, using props and music. We also record our conversations and rehearsals so we don’t lose track of the process. They might come in useful later on.

 

Credit: Lucie Termignon

Credit: Lucie Termignon

 

What do you want the audience to get out of the play?

 

ALEX It’s at 10.55am so hopefully it’ll put them in a good mood for the rest of the day! Seriously though, it would be great if people left thinking afresh about the people in their own lives and those they encounter. We want them to feel like they’ve been on a kind of journey with us and our characters.

 

You’re running ‘Relaxed Performances’, what does that entail?

 

LAURA Yes, we’re doing them on the two Thursdays of our run! The main goal of Relaxed Performances is to provide a more comfortable and welcoming environment for people with autism, a learning disability or a sensory or communication disorder. The theatre can be an over-stimulating and unfriendly environment for many people.

ALEX The people we’ve contacted within the accessible theatre community have been incredibly encouraging and generous with their advice and support. It’s been quite moving actually.

LAURA When we told Paul Wady of Guerilla Aspies that we felt nervous about our Relaxed Performances, he said the most reassuring thing: ‘You won’t get it right for everyone. You’ll definitely fail someone in the audience. But the important thing is you’re trying.

 

COLUMNS will be at theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) from 14th -19th  and 21st – 26th August.