More stories

  • in

    Interview: When Willows Turn to Wilton’s

    Piers Torday on adadpting Wind In The Willows

    This winter the wonderful Wilton’s Music Hall is hosting a family production of The Wind in the Willows – wait! No, it’s actually The Wind in the Willows WILTON’S! So maybe a slightly different revival of Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel? We thought we’d better have a chat with award-winning writer Piers Torday to find out what we might expect from his adaptation.

    Piers, you’ve got a bit of a history with Wilton’s: The Box of Delights was a big hit recently, and now you’re back with another classic story. What is it about the place that appeals to you?

     It’s the oldest working music hall in Britain, and you can tell the moment you step through the door. Theatre history is literally coming out of the walls, and the place casts this incredible spell over audiences. The distressed walls and stone floors make them feel like they are watching a show in the past – even if it’s super contemporary, which is a gift for staging classic and period pieces like Box or Willows.

    The hall is always a character in your show, whether you like it or not. It’s a challenge, but give me that any time over a black box…

    Many adults know The Wind in the Willows from their childhood, but is it a story that is still fun for today’s young audiences?

    I think so. The heart of the story is about friendship, with this quartet of buddies who are the archetypes of so many friendship groups – Mole, the fussy introvert, Rat, the outgoing new friend who is also eager for change, grumpy Badger and of course, the irrepressible, self-obsessed Toad whom they love, despite his faults.

    But at the same time, we have brought the story up to date. We’ve relocated it to modern London, mixed up the genders a bit, and dropped all the jolly good Edwardian chaps in waistcoats stuff. (I loved that as a kid, but it was a long time ago, and it’s been adapted in that way so many times.)

    These are real animals who live today, with human characteristics and back stories that I think a contemporary, young, diverse London audience will recognise and enjoy watching.

    Your novel The Last Wild was published in 14 different countries, so obviously offered a globally resonant story. Are there themes in The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s that will similarly interest a wide family audience?

    We can’t escape it. The tragedy is that the animals in Wind in the Willows are under threat, from water voles (Ratty) to various breeds of toads which are going extinct. Not to mention the horrific pollution in our rivers we have seen this year. This is a Christmas show, and we want to entertain people and take them out of their lives, so there will be no doom and gloom but – it’s not a spoiler to say that UK wildlife, countryside and waterways are under threat in our story just as much as they are in reality.

    I’m most proud of the fact though that the actual production will be following the Theatre Green Book and will be super sustainable. We are trying to recycle and reuse and use as little new stuff as we possibly can.

    There’s an exciting team of cast and creatives on board for this show (I’m looking forward to seeing Corey Montague-Sholay as Mole!), including some actors who’ve done Shakespearean work in the past – no dumbing down for the younger attendees then?

    It’s a completely phenomenal cast and creative team, with some very impressive credits. I feel like Christmas has come early!

    Making good work for young people, and Christmas shows that whole families – from little children to their grandparents, can all enjoy together, is a serious business in my opinion. I would never condescend to or patronise young audiences, we want to serve them the very best theatre we can make, that is as ambitious and entertaining for all as it is accessible, inclusive and age-appropriate.

    And I’m very impressed to see the amazing Samuel Wyer has designed the puppets! I take it these puppets are quite different from those he created for The Ocean at the End of the Lane?

    We are so lucky to have Sam! He’s a genius and created amazing puppets for our production of Box of Delights, so I’m really glad he’s come back for this. I think it’s safe to say that these puppets might be a tad less scary than the monsters he made for Ocean, but they are no less spectacular or ingenious. Come and see!

    Can you tell us a bit about the music and songs in the show? Have you turned your dexterous hand to songwriting too?

    I have, and it’s been a joyful new challenge. Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of working with composer Chris Warner who is so generous and has held my hand on this one… we’re really excited about what we’ve come up with.

    It’s not a full-blown musical, but more a play with songs – the original book is actually studded with songs throughout and we wanted to honour that creative choice of the author, Kenneth Grahame. He may even have written a few of the lyrics we’re using himself too…

    Thanks very much to Piers for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us.

    The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s is playing at Wilton’s Music Hall from Thursday 24 November until Saturday 31 December. If you want to get yourself down to the riverbank you can find out more details and how to book here. More

  • in

    Interview: We Want To Know Much More

    Voloz Collective’s Olivia Zerphy on The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much

    Earlier this year, Voloz Collective brought The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much to Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre. We called it ‘a brilliant whirlwind of story and movement‘, giving it a full 5 stars. After a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe, Voloz are coming back to London for a short run as part of Pleasance’s Best of Edinburgh season. It seemed like a good time to catch up with Co-Artistic Director and Performer Olivia Zerphy to find out a bit more.

    Photo credit Jake Wadley

    Congratulations on the success of The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much at Ed Fringe. You’re coming back to London as part of the Pleasance Best of Ed Fringe. Tell us about the show and what audiences can expect?

    Thank you! The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much is a fast-paced, comedic, cinematic, acrobatic whodunnit. It follows the story of Roger Clement, a copywriter in 1960’s New York. One day, following a series of seemingly unrelated minor delays, Roger is just a few minutes late to work, arriving just in time to witness the explosion that kills his friends and colleagues. This event draws him into a web involving cold war conspiracy theories, false identities, hilarious mis-steps, and an ever present mysterious figure in a red hat. Audiences should expect plot twists, live music, back flips, and lots of laughs in this high-octane, roller coaster of a show.

    Voloz Collective is an international company, where are you talking to us from today? While many more people have been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic, we can only imagine how creating physical theatre from different locations presents its own set of challenges?

    I (Olivia) am currently in Vermont, USA. Paul is just outside of Paris, and Emily and Sam are both in London. You are absolutely right – creating physical theatre from different locations presents its own set of challenges. In this case, unequivocally insurmountable ones. After a few hilarious and entirely unsuccessful attempts at zoom rehearsals, we discovered that since our style is so dependent on the relationship between our four bodies in space, there is absolutely no way to create without having, well, our four bodies in one space.

    There are certain things we can accomplish remotely, and we do our best to frontload production, marketing and administrative work so that when we are together in the same country we can focus on creating our shows.

    Photo credit Jake Wadley
    In Voloz Collective, very differently from traditional theatre companies, you share all of the roles directing, acting, producing etc. How do you make this work?

    While the four of us have different backgrounds, and certain categorizations of actor / director, social media marketer etc… that we might fall into outside of our work with Voloz. Within the company, we strive to resist the hyper-specialisation that is increasingly expected in many professions. That doesn’t mean we sit down and collaboratively compose every email or discuss until we come to a consensus on every line of a budget spreadsheet, (we divy tasks up in weekly zoom production meetings) – but it does mean that each of us has a finger on the pulse of the company, and each of us feel ownership of and responsibility to what we’re creating.

    People often think that we must be extremely aligned in terms of taste and vision in order to create shows in this way, but that’s actually not the case. While we all have a shared language from our Lecoq training, we have very different theatrical universes, and there is a constant push and pull between the four of us. We always have different perspectives of what the work is or could be. While certainly not as efficient as having one director in charge of final creative decisions, we think this internal friction is productive – that it makes the work more alive, nuanced, and surprising.

    Your Ed Fringe run saw a sold out run and some really great reviews, you must be pretty pleased with how it went?

    This was our first time at the Fringe, and there were a lot of uncertainties regarding audience behaviour due to covid concerns. Bringing our show to the Fringe was a risk, and we are incredibly pleased with the payoffs. The main thing we took away from the past month was a deep respect and admiration for the sheer talent and resiliency of the global artistic community.

    Photo credit Sammy Mori

    Photo credit Jake Wadley

    Prior to Ed Fringe, you ran a successful crowdfunding campaign, where you even shared some figures with the worst case suggesting a loss of up to £14,000. We know that so many performers faced such financial challenges at Ed Fringe, how did it all go for you?

    Thank you for asking this. We are really passionate about being transparent regarding the financial realities of producing as a young theatre company. We were extremely fortunate in many ways. We were able to raise £4,156 in our crowdfunding campaign, received £1,000 from the Carol Tambour Incentive Award, £1,000 from the LET/Greenwich Partnership Award, and received £400 from the Pleasance Debut Fund. In addition to this unbelievable support, we sold out every performance in our 75 seat venue. Our time at the Fringe was as successful as it possibly could have been. Even so, we will barely break even.

    Many companies – through absolutely no fault of their own – did not have access to this kind of financial support, and didn’t see ticket sales reflect the immense quality of their work. They will be operating at an enormous loss post-Fringe. Even more unsettling is the fact that the massive financial risk coupled with the need for sizable upfront funds made bringing work to the Fringe simply not possible for many companies. Voloz was very fortunate to be in a position that allowed us to take a financial risk. We were able to dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to raising funds in the lead-up to the Fringe- this is not the case for many, many companies, which is in no way reflective of the quality of their work, and entirely reflective of the far reaching influence of luck, privilege and circumstance.

    Like all inequities, this disproportionately affects artists of colour, artists that identify as D/deaf or disabled, artists who identify as working class, and artists identifying as a member of any group historically underrepresented in the theatre industry.

    This year, there were some fantastic initiatives working to address this problem, but there needs to be more. While the Fringe is just one aspect of a larger industry, it is a place that unites artists, audiences, critics, programmers, and producers from around the world. Being shut out of the opportunity to have work seen by these industry professionals has consequences that reach far beyond the month of August.

    What did you see at EdFringe yourselves?

    We saw so many stunning shows. A few of our favourites were See You from Hung Dance, Famous Puppet Death Scenes from Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Project Dictator from Rhum and Clay and Hungry from Paines Plough.

    What’s next for Voloz Collective? Is there more life for The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much or do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

    After our run at the Pleasance this October, we will begin creation of our next piece, which will premiere in April of 2023. In May of 2023, we have a month-long run of The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much in Paris, where we will perform it in French! Because of interest generated during our time at the fringe, we are also in the process of scheduling another mini-tour of The Man Who for next spring.

    You describe the Man Who as ‘Wes Anderson meets Hitchcock meets Spaghetti Western’ – as a final fun bonus question and without giving it too much thought, give us your top five movies

    Sorry To Bother You, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Parasite, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Baby Driver

    Photo credit Ruth Sinead O’Brien

    Huge thanks to Olivia for taking time to talk with us. The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much plays at The Pleasance from 4 to 7 October. Further information and bookings click here More

  • in

    Interview: Singing All The Way To The Apocalypse

    Writer/ director Dave Bain on new musical Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse

    We’re always on the lookout for something different, and the one thing you can almost guarantee with fringe theatre is that something different is always one email away! Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse caught our eye just from the title along. But then we read the blurb of how Sam has “initiated a nuclear missile countdown with his bottom” and well, you can imagine from that line alone we seriously needed to find out more.

    So, we sat down with the writer and director Dave Bain to find out how a IT startup company could cause such mayhem!

    What on earth inspired you to write a musical where the start premise is imminent global destruction?

    We like to have an immersive element to our productions.  I thought it would be fun to set up a scenario where audience members are treated like sales delegates arriving at a defence conference, and the actors would be the IT staff for that event. 

    Once I arrived at that premise, the idea of the technical team accidently triggering the launch sequence for a missile launch seemed an exciting way to launch the story (excusing the pun).

    The story then moves into Sam’s head as he imagines it is all a TV series and he is the showrunner – does this allow you to really play about with the characters in very different ways than if it was all grounded in reality?

    Definitely. We can be more playful with the scenario, in a way that you couldn’t if the action played out in the “real world”.  Sam (the lead) forces the other characters to play out “roles” he has created for them in his mind. But these roles reflect his view of their personalities. As we get deeper into the story (and thereby his subconscious), his colleagues start to push back on him – their real personalities (and issues) emerge.

    It’s a musical, is this your forte? Do you write the music as well as the script?

    I’ve written songs and performed in bands since my teens.  I’ve always loved musicals, but when I was younger I felt too scared to write one.  GAME OVER (2017), was the first show where I brought my music to the creative table. I was a bit taken back by the reactions to that show; people really connected with the material, but also loved the music. This gave me the confidence to push forward with my song writing in Dissociated (2019), and now this show.  I’m very proud of the songs in “Apocalypse”, they feel fully formed and integrated into the narrative.

    And how much more difficult is it to write a script that also has to have some rhyming couplets included?

    There is a song that closes the first act called “Join Us Instead”.  It’s is heavily narrative based, and each verse has two sections. Unfortunately, this meant the song took forever to write. There was a three week period when I wanted to metaphorically throw this song into a deep gorge and never see it again.  However, I got there in the end!

    A lot of contemporary musical songs are written with melodic wiggle room, but I’m very precise with the timing on my lyrics: they need to sit exactly on the melody. It one of the benefits of writing both the words and the music. 

    Support me from the coundtrack of Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse

    The full soundtrack for the show is available via Soundcloud here

    When we interviewed the cast and choreographer (check out the podcast here), they talked about each character having their own musical style, can you expand on this?

    Sam, the show’s lead, imagines himself as a bit of creative.  He loves old school musicals, so that’s his style. Stats, the tech lead, is into electronic music. Aesha, the sales & marketing person, likes things a bit funky. Finally, T-Base, the DPD delivery man, likes to bring the drama – so his music is overly melodramatic and dark.

    Rehearsals started early September, does the script go through many changes during the rehearsal process or are you quite strict and stick to the final draft you’ve brought to the rehearsal room?

    One of the strengths of being the writer/director is that I can change the script during rehearsal.  When you get into the room with a bunch of people, you can quickly tell if what’s on the page is working or not.  As a director I serve the story, so if I need to cut or re-write my own lines I will.

    The downside of this approach is that it can be stressful for actors.  With GAME OVER we changed about 15% of the script during rehearsal. Dissociated (2019) was on another level – there were four rewrites of the script during the first week of the run, with about 30% changes. 

    I didn’t want anyone to have to go through that again, including me! With Apocalypse, I ran a development workshop in January to iron out any big problems. That said, I’ve done a 15% rewrite from where we were at the start of September.

    The one thing that never changes during rehearsal are the songs. Because I can record them myself, I can manage their maturation cleanly.

    As silly as the play sounds, it does also explore some serious topics of domestic violence and conversion therapy. Are these subjects you’re worked on before, and how do you balance the serious with the silly.

    I don’t think you can unpack this kind of material without creating a narrative environment that the audience has bought into. With all our shows, we ease people into the character’s world first. One of the best ways to create audience engagement is to use humour. Some comics use humour to attack others, but it can also be used to laugh at ourselves, and acknowledge our vulnerabilities.

    The cast are LGBTQ, was this important to have given you touch upon conversion therapy?

    The short answer is absolutely.  I also believe in the importance of being an Ally. Straight women have a much better track record on this than men.

    On a deeper level, I came into writing this show after doing a research MA on masculinity. It left me feeling that traditional “straight” masculinity is limited and highly restrictive in terms of finding our own expression of self.

    The musical is having a four week run, which is a long run for fringe, how nervous are you about selling those tickets? And is the fact Waterloo East Theatre have given you a four-week run a good endorsement of their trust in you and your work?

    I’ve taken nervous to a whole new level with this run, but I’m eternally grateful to Waterloo East Theatre, and its amazing director, Gerald Armin for giving us this opportunity.

    And finally, why should we all be making our way to this lovely railway arch venue in October to catch Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse?

    If you’ve got to end of this interview and you still don’t have enough reasons.  Here’s three more in shorthand:

    i) Fifteen original – catchy – songsii) Lots of jokes, followed by some exciting drama and suspenseiii) Audio and live appearances by living legend, Marcus Bentley, playing the Voice of God from Big Brother.

    Our thanks to Dave for taking time out for rehearsals to chat to us. Last Sales of the Apocalypse plays at Waterloo East Theatre from 4 to 30 October. Further information and bookings here. More

  • in

    Interview: What Should We Wear for The King of Nothing?

    Ben Glasstone on Monstro Theatre’s The King of Nothing

    This autumn, Monstro Theatre present The King of Nothing at the Little Angel Theatre. Promising musical madness and puppets aplenty, this is a reimagined version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes; a popular story, often staged – but perhaps not like this. We donned our finest outfit to chat with Artistic Director Ben Glasstone to find out why this production is somewhat different from all the rest.

    Ben, there have been a billion trillion versions of The Emperor’s New Clothes over the years, but I suspect that Monstro’s will be somewhat distinctive. It’s a puppet musical version of the classic story to start with, so not a stuffy morality tale as we might sometimes see it?

    It’s a long way from stuffy! Yes, it’s full of rollicking songs, clowning and lovably daft puppets, so that helps. But also, any ‘morality tale’ that’s survived as long as this one is bound to have a lot more to it than a simple lesson-to-be-preached. As I discovered years ago when adapting various Aesop’s fables to make Monstro’s first co-production The Mouse Queen, what might seem to be a story with a moral often turns out to be a lot more complex and ambiguous than that…

    Our version of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale explores the way the story seems to have two, quite opposed, protagonists: there is the King, who is vain and neglectful of his subjects and has a journey to go on, as he is literally exposed and must somehow brazen it out and (we hope) take his responsibilities more seriously; then there are the Swindlers, who, on the face of it are total scoundrels – but then don’t we all love a scoundrel…? We have made the whole show into a kind of game with the audience where the two Swindlers are constantly making us question what is true and who is in charge of telling the story.  There’s also an upstart puppet mouse who, to the surprise of the main characters, takes it upon herself to be the narrator of the story.  

    What kind of puppets do you use in the show?

    As the story moves rapidly between characters and is told by two performers, the puppets need to be simple enough to be operated by a single puppeteer. To keep a variety and playfulness within that constraint, we have given different puppets different qualities in terms of their movement and construction, depending on their different characters and roles. So, for example, there is a Courtier with the title of Keeper of the Royal Trousers, whose main feature is her legs – it’s a type of glove puppet where the fingers are placed in the legs, which can then cross and uncross and flick around expressively. Another character has a muppet-like lip-synching style with a hand in the mouth, and makes use of a performer’s real hand as its hand – creating a very pleasing illusion.

    The great thing about puppetry is that it is so far from the literal, that you can mix scales and styles at will, and no-one is going to say “you’re breaking the rules”. Or if they are: bring it on, I say.

    How about the music and songs? Have you devised them yourselves?

    Song-writing is my bread-and-butter. As well as the Puppet Musicals I’ve written with Monstro, Little Angel, Polka etc I write actual human-sized musicals and I also do a lot of song-writing teaching. So I wrote the songs, because no-one else was going to.

    Tell us a bit about the performers. What skills do they bring to the stage?

    Gilbert Taylor and Karina Garnett are highly skilled puppeteers but are both also wonderful improvisers and clowns, which is exactly what this particular show needed. And, of course, they can sing. And play the ukulele. It does take a very particular sort of multi-skilled performer to be able to deliver a show like this.

    We reviewed director Steve Tiplady (who’s practically puppetry royalty!) at Little Angel earlier this year in his hilarious version of Pinocchio: can we expect to enjoy some of his bonkers audience engagement?

    Absolutely! I’ve been working with Steve on shows for nearly 20 years now and have been very much influenced by his sense of humour, inventive approaches and total lack of shame!

    Steve was very much in mind when I first had the idea for this show: I remember telling him: “imagine a puppet version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, with NO puppets! Instead, the swindler-performers keep telling the audience there are puppets and the audience believes them!”  I knew he would share my enthusiasm for this preposterous idea and it’s been a delight to go on this journey with him.  (Spoiler alert: there ARE actual puppets in the show, but we have gone to town on playing with this idea of the Performers-as-Swindlers-Fooling-the Audience….as you will see when you come to the show!)

    The King of Nothing is targeted at ages 5-11, but you’re known for productions with very universal appeal, enjoyable both for children and their adults as well: is this going to be a fun day out for the whole family?

    Is the Pope a Catholic? Is there dog poo on the streets of London? Of course it’s going to be a fun day out for the whole family! Monstro Theatre’s whole philosophy is about making shows that appeal regardless of age. Making shows that work for children requires a discipline in story-telling that a lot of grown-up shows could do well to learn. And once you know how to tell a story with humour and energy and keep the kids engaged, the world is your oyster: you can pack in all the wit and sophistication and thoughtfulness you want.

    Some of it will go over the kids’ heads, but the great thing to me is: we can’t really know what they will understand or not understand or question or think about in the future. We have all forgotten what it is to be a child and what thrills me is to put a piece of work in front of a young audience and let their wild imaginations transform it in ways we can never fathom. Sure there’s a 5-11 tag on the show, but to me theatre is social and to be enjoyed in the most inter-generational and multi-layered spirit.

    Thanks so much to Ben Glasstone for taking the time to chat with us. You can enjoy The King of Nothing at the Little Angel Theatre from 24 September until 20 November 2022.

    Further information and tickets can be found here. More

  • in

    Interview: Where Next For Wolf?

    Cameron Corcoran on taking Wolf to Camden Fringe 2022

    Normally here at ET Towers we tend to do interviews before a show starts its run. We like to have a chat with some of the people involved and we hope you like the results. But this time we have something a little different. We reviewed Wolf at Camden Fringe and by chance exchanged a couple of emails with author Cameron Corcoran afterwards. Out of this we thought it might be interesting to talk with him after Wolf had finished its short run for a slightly different perspective than usual.

    First, let’s talk Wolf, how would you describe it and what can audiences expect?

    Wolf is a play about domestic and sexual abuse; it considers the more realistic likelihood of these crimes: that they’re committed in the home and it is often the father and not some imagined stranger. I think audiences can expect to feel uncomfortable and also reflect on our ideas of abuse and how complicit people can be/feel for their actions, whether it be ignoring it or acting against it.

    Wolf has finished its short Camden Fringe run, how do you think it went? Did anything surprise you about the audience reception?

    Given that we only performed it twice, I think it’s fair to say we were all gutted we couldn’t do it at least one more time – you discover things in the room that weren’t present in rehearsals and things also come across differently to a live audience, so it would have been nice to have a few more performances. I think we forgot just how uncomfortable and awful the situation in the story is: we’ve sat with this information for a while and as soon as we finished the first performance we noticed a quiet in the audience, which informed us just how dark the story is.

    As well as writing Wolf, you play the character of Sam. Did you write Sam with the intent to also take on the role or did that come later in the process?

    For me, I’m starting an MA in acting at Rose Bruford College in October and I wanted to do a play before I start so I could get back into the swing of things. I did always envision playing Sam because I knew it was really outside of my comfort zone as a performer, so felt it was the best experience before October. I felt I could do the role competently enough not to sabotage the other actors too, so it was very early into writing I knew I’d be playing Sam.

    Wolf is at times quite heavy, with a lot of tension early on. Our review mentions it’s the only show where it was so tense the reviewer didn’t end up taking a single note. When you are on stage with the lights on and the audience around, were you aware of this?

    That’s very kind of you to say and very humbling too. Our director (Naomi Wirthner) and assistant director (Polly Waldron) worked very hard to trim the fat on the script, to keep the tension high and sustained. The original script was an hour long but after cuts it was just 32 minutes. They’re both experts in creating tension so I can’t really take the credit for that. Certainly, I felt I had written a few lines, small little bits of humour that received a muted response from the audience. Maybe they weren’t funny, but it felt like the stakes in the scenes were far too serious for laughter. I felt that too, it all seemed very real and we could sense how engaged the audience were with what was happening in the scene.

    When you kindly invited us to see Wolf, you said you had invited some theatres along in the hope of finding a run for it. How is that process going, have you had any nibbles?

    I think with theatre nowadays it’s extremely difficult to get theatres to come and watch a play. I often get replies asking to provide them with a recorded version of the play, which doesn’t seem to add any further dialogue… It can be quite frustrating getting little feedback from theatres. I know there are lots of plays on and resources are limited, so it is a godsend to have Camden Fringe because otherwise it’s very difficult to get plays on, even for extremely limited runs. Nevertheless, we are toying with the idea of performing Wolf locally. I’ll have to let you know.

    Camden Fringe is over and we reviewed 38 productions: did you have a chance to see any other shows?

    Regrettably not this time! I think the cost of living is affecting everyone. We had liaised with a number of companies on social media; however, both sides were unable to attend each other’s plays. I think in these times the theatre industry does have to fight very hard to get an audience in. I’m not cynical, I’m sure things will get better – it just felt like a bit of a perfect storm to hinder access to watching theatre this summer.

    Finally, while I imagine your main focus is on Wolf at the moment, are you working on anything else? Might we see another piece of writing or acting from you or Off Main Stage in the near future?

    Notwithstanding a potential performance of Wolf locally, I’ve been under strict instructions to focus on the MA for the next 12 months. However, after a run of our play Mosquito at the Seven Dials Playhouse (a truly amazing venue), I have been writing a new play called Nook, which focuses on family relations, and I’d like to approach Seven Dials with the hope of putting the play on there. It does feel like my best work to date.

    Thanks to Cameron for taking the time to chat to us. We wish you the best of luck with the MA and with Wolf. We are also big fans of Seven Dials Playhouse and would love to see Nook make an appearance there down the line.

    You can keep up with Off Main Stage via their website and Twitter More

  • in

    Interview: Feeling Very Old With Degenerate

    This Is Not A Test on new show Degenerate

    Degenerate is a show about what happens when a 40 year old mother of two finds herself in the last chance saloon of midlife. Which is worrying considering some of us here at ET are past our 40s – suddenly we feel like we’re about to be put out to pasture. Or worse…

    But having got over our shock at discovering we’re clearly past our best, we still thought we should check in with This Is Not A Test to ask them more about the show that they describe as “a stand-up show that explores the bloody and surprising parallels between a Victorian vampire and a menopausal woman past her child bearing prime.”

    Let’s deal with the elephant in the room straight away. Are you really telling us over that 40 means we’re past our prime? How very dare you.

    Hahahaha! Controversy AND elephants straight out of the gate. Feels like a great start to us! 

    The best answer we can give is: age is just a number…right?

    Can we assume you are not spring chickens yourself then? Is some of this written from personal experience?

    Oh, how the tables have turned! You can definitely assume that at least half of us at Degenerate HQ are in that category. Write what you know they said…but make it a party.

    Ok, we’ll overlook the slight on our ages for now, what can you tell us about your 40 something in Degenerate? Why is she feeling like she is in that last chance saloon? What is she searching for in it?

    Oh man, we’ve really gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle with this one, haven’t we. Who knew age could be so divisive?! I guess we did… but should we just kiss and make up? Or would that be too forward?

    But seriously, good question – that’s exactly what the show is about. We’re exploring why midlife feels like a last chance saloon and why hitting 40, combined with looming perimenopause can make the eternal life of the vampire look pretty appealing. As for our heroine, she’s searching for immortality!

    We often mistakenly think of fringe theatre as full of early career creatives, do you feel this can create a barrier to older participants? 

    We’d have to say you’re not wrong! Look around you. Early career creatives do tend to be young. Youth is where you are supposed to take risks, ask difficult questions, but we think middle age is just as exciting a moment to take those chances and start those conversations.

    So, yes, we’re “older” early careerers. We’ve spent the last decade having babies, careers and making theatre and don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. But the truth is, it is hard to have a family life and a creative life in functioning parallel. How does she do it all?? She doesn’t. She has A LOT of help. The upside though is we have had to become amazing at balancing, multitasking and staging an epic party without having a hangover!

    And there is talk of Dracula, is this literal, are things going to get a little scary or is Dracula a metaphor for the monster at the door?

    Come and see…if you dare (insert maniacal laugh here). If we told you, we might have to shove a wooden stake through your heart. And we would NEVER want to do that. We like you too much already. So come for the party, stay for the surprises.

    You promise shows with stand-up comedy, audience participation and improvisation, are we going to experience all this in Degenerate?

    We do and you are! It’s gonna be a wild ride. As we like to say: we promise everything, and nothing, all at once.

    The show is clearly labelled as a WIP – is this its very first outing, are you frantically writing it up to the last minute then?

    This will be the very first outing with Degenerate. The seed of this show came from a previous show of ours and has developed from there. We should add that we would never consider any of our shows to be ‘finished’ products but that is what makes it so exciting. So, frantically writing? No. Ever evolving? Yeah, we’d say so.

    So is it more stand up than play?

    Good question. It’s hard to say. The best way to describe it is somewhere in the surreal venn diagram where standup, comedy and theatre meet.

    Will there be a mic stand on the stage? And if so, will it only be used for the stand-up sections? Ask us in private why we hate mic stands on stage in plays!

    We hear you.

    Bad news though, there may be a mic stand… 

    But seriously, don’t leave a girl hanging. You must spill the tea about the mic stands! 

    Now we’re all dying to know!!

    We’ll tell you when after the show, promise… Moving on, and to show we read all our press releases received, did one of you really overdub a European supermodel! Please, do tell us more.

    Um you guys ARE good. 

    Yes, it is true, Maria did overdub a European supermodel for a bra company. This was when she was living the glamorous life in New York. She showed up for a voice job, was taken to a room with a massive movie screen and shown a scantily clad lady prancing around in her pants. They said to Maria – Can you make it seem like your voice is coming out of that body… Ouch. Know your strengths, right…?

    And let’s wrap things up, tell us why we should all be heading on down to 2Northdown later in August to see Degenerate?

    That’s easy – because we’ll show you a *bloody* good time!  – see what we did there? In all seriousness though, who doesn’t want a little under an hour of escapist fun? Times are dark, but we like living in colour! Or Color. Depending on where you’re from.

    Our thanks to the team at This Is Not A Test for a very fun chat. Come see us later and we’ll fill you in about the mic stands.

    You can catch Degenerate at the following dates:

    22/ 23 August @ 7pm. 2Northdown – Camden Fringe 2022. 2 October @ 9pm. The Bread and Roses Theatre – Clapham Fringe17 NOvember @6pm. Etcetera Theatre – Black Box Festival

    Further information and bookings here. More

  • in

    Interview: Finally, A Touch of Class at ET

    Karen Hall on Delusions and Grandeur

    A cellist, improv trained comedian and seasoned performer are not a trio you would expect to see taking part at Camden Fringe… or maybe you would, who knows nowadays with Fringe Theatre? But either way, how about all three in one? That’s what you are going to get if you pop along to see Karen Hall‘s Delusions and Grandeur when it takes up its residency at Hen and Chickens Theatre from 17 – 21 August. Because Karen has worked as all those things and more as we found out when we caught up with her from the other side of the Atlantic as she was packing a bag ready to come join us in Camden.

    Are you really all those things; classically trained cellist, trained comedian and writer/performer?

    Yep. I’m trying to redefine what constitutes a triple threat in the theatre and settled on those three.

    And how on earth do you find the time to fit everything in, or is that why you’ve decided to make use of all three in one show?

    Combining them all is partly a selfish pursuit to have all my joys in one place. It’s a lot of late nights or early mornings in the practice chair keeping my chops up and, unfortunately, I do often have to choose between comedy and music when it comes to my evenings or weekends. It’s been lovely having them all together.

    What made you decide you wanted to step away from the pit and put on your own show?

    I’ve been working in Los Angeles now for close to sixteen years and always doing jobs for someone else. I’ve had some great jobs, too. I was the cellist on Glee for four seasons, I’ve been in the studio for Emmy-nominated scores, and I’ve collaborated with some incredibly talented people, (Like Geoff Emerick who engineered a little album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club over here.) But I knew it was time to start backing myself and my work. In the whole world there might be five cello-playing, musical-devising, Idiot-trained, clown cellists so I have to jump on the market now before it gets saturated.

    Are you bringing your cello with you?

    I am! They have their own seat on the flights and I’m hoping they are allowed one personal item when boarding or my luggage situation will need to be reconfigured…

    The show is entitled “Delusions and Grandeur”, which has something of a classical feel about it, what can you tell us about that title?

    I spent a long time thinking of titles before this one came to me. Everything prior felt too punny or clowny and didn’t honour the music and the craft I’ve dedicated my life, so far, to. This one came to me one day and then the show quickly solidified around it. Honouring the integrity of the music has been very important to me in creating the show. Throughout it I perform Suite Number One for Solo Violoncello by J.S. Bach and I never wanted to diminish the performance of it, although some classical musicians out there would possibly argue I have… 

    As for the show, it’s about your contemplations on perfectionism, expectations, and failure. Is it as autobiographical as it seems to suggest?

    It’s greatly autobiographical but I also talk about the daunting statistics most musicians or artists face: our high injury rates, our high mental health statistics, our struggles to have a career and balance it, and neurobiologically what happens in someone’s brain when they achieve mastery at a craft. I have to believe based on the numbers that I’m speaking the truth of the majority of musicians; I just no longer have issues in using my voice to lay it exposed and vulnerable along with some of my personal experiences. That’s my clown’s training; to fail, hope, fail again, and to allow others to witness all the feelings and struggles in the process.

    Are you still performing in orchestra’s or has the desire to be out front taken hold of you?

    My desire to be clowning and/or directly with my audience has taken over! But I do still play in symphonies, and I do still love them. If someone could get me on a Cirque job though, I’d swap them out for a bit.

    When we’ve seen orchestras perform, everyone does look very serious (although we suspect they are not really), were you ever told off by your conductor if you tried to bring some comedy into the pit?

    I’ve had shushes thrown in my direction and a few stand partners comment that I’m “really funny.” I do a pretty good job of sliding into serious work mode, although I’m also pretty serious in my cultivation and pursuit of nonsense.

    How are you finding Camden in comparison to where else you have performed in your career, we suspect a slightly different vibe?

    I arrive in Camden soon and I cannot wait! I once did a run-by of all the major London sites on a 24-hour layover but will be staying a full week in Camden this time around. I’m looking forward to being there during the Camden Fringe Festival and am excited to catch other shows, experience pub culture, and find out what it’s like to hustle under my own name.

    And give us one more reason, why should we be getting along to Hen and Chickens next week to catch your show?

    My charming American accent. 

    Our thanks to Karen for finding the time to chat. You can find more about her on her website here.

    Delusions and Grandeur plays at The Hen and Chickens Theatre between 17 and 21 August (no performance on 19). Tickets are just £10.50 (£8.50 concession). Further information and bookings here.

    And as we say with all Camden Fringe shows, why not look to double (or triple) up on them, there are plenty of shows on at the same and nearby venues. More

  • in

    Interview: (Brit)Pop’ing all the way to Berlin

    Writer Holly Whinney on new play Berlin

    Not only do we love theatre here at ET, but many of our team also love live music. So how could we not be interested in a show centred around a 90s Britpop band? Ok, the show is obviously much more than just that, but hey, it got our attention which is a good start.

    Holly Whinney’s Berlin brings together the remaining members of that Britpop band as they try to deal with the death of their lead singer. It’s a dark comedy exploring grief, toxic masculinity and betrayal. It plays at Etcetera Theatre as part of Camden Fringe between 23 – 27 August (more information here).

    We couldn’t resist wanting to know more, so we dug out our best 90s band t-shirt, put Oasis on the stereo (no streaming for us) and sat down with Holly to ask some questions.

    Berlin features an imaginary 90s Britpop band, what made you decide on that era and music? Were you a 90s groupie at all?

    Britpop was definitely a massive influence on me when I was younger. I have very fond memories of being in my dad’s van on the way to a B&Q with Cigarettes and Alcohol blasting so loud! I was only about 6 at the time but, the first time I heard the opening to that song (blatantly T-Rex) I knew that it was the coolest thing ever and I had to learn guitar and all I wanted to be was Noel Gallagher. My taste has changed more with age and I’m really starting to believe that the coolest person was  Jarvis Cocker and because of this I now have several tweed jackets and chunky glasses due to him.

    Did you have any real bands in mind as you were writing the play?

    The [untitled] band that is depicted was never massive during their heyday – they sold a lot of records of course but, they were never at the level of Oasis or Blur – when I described the band to the actors during an early rehearsal I said Pulp. If you were to pin the band down to a culture reference purely on popularity at the time it would be them.

    The idea of the play came after reading a passage from Peter Hook’s book Substance which looks into New Order and him navigating a post-Joy Division world. Within the book he writes two lists: ‘Ten things you should always do when you form a group’ and, ‘Ten things you should never do when you form a group.’ These two lists really formed the gem behind Berlin. They were both contrary to one another – one list said to work with your mates and the said never work with your mates as you won’t stay mates. I also reflected on the passage on Ian Curtis where Peter Hook mentions that the band ‘never talked about it [Ian’s suicide] in depth. Never analysed any of it.’ Instead, they made jokes and ‘pithy’ comments and ‘never confronted the grief’. This was where I started to write the play. It’s since developed and grown into something completely different and by no means am I trying to represent New Order.

    Can we expect a nice 90s soundtrack to go along with the play?

    Can’t afford the rights. So, instead a very good friend of mine, Tara, does the music for the show with her band, The Ramshackles – the opening guitar to Wasteland has some slight Champagne Supernova vibes which is spot on for us.

    I also thought it best to avoid any direct links to Britpop bands as I didn’t want spectators to be taken out of the experience by thinking what a ‘tune’ or walk out because they prefer Blur. Or, they are like my mum, and hate everything Britpop – bar Pulp of course.

    There doesn’t feel to be too many plays based around bands, and yet it would seem a rich tapestry to explore – do you feel there are reasons we don’t see more plays like this?

    I don’t have a clue why the premise of a band is not used a lot. I agree, I think you have so much to play with that it seems a waste. Maybe it is because of the element of music that would potentially need to be composed? But play concepts and settings and themes come in waves. With a post-covid and an inevitable recession, creatives will set their work in one location (as in one room) with fewer characters as it is more cost effective. So, maybe we will see more plays based in one location with only four characters becoming more mainstream over the next year or so and with that maybe more plays about bands.

    The band members reunite in a Berlin studio, what was the appeal of sending them all the way to Berlin then?

    Berlin is a really interesting place when considering the landscape of music and specifically the studio that influenced the production, Hansa Studios. It use to be a concert hall for the Nazis, not that that effects the story at all but, it complements the idea of the past and present being deeply intertwined within the fabric of Berlin. Berlin is this bohemian hub where artists, whether musical or writers such Christopher Isherwood, go to really focus on their work. I think the symbiosis of the past and present there really stimulates the brain and is such an alluring bait for a creative.

    A big example of this is Bowie. He famously left LA where he was living of red peppers, milk and cocaine and headed to West Berlin with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The idea was for him to step away from the drug scene of LA and cut entirely …so, he moved to the Heroin capital of the world in the 1970s. I always liked the irony that came with that. But, with him moving to Berlin you have others that follow such as Nick Cave who did the same in the 1980s. This is why I believe the characters and the band head to Berlin. To get their spark back or, at least this is what Nick thinks. Nick is the character that brings the band together – he just wants his mates to get along but doesn’t know how to make this happen – so, he decides to do a rehearsal in their old studio in Berlin. In my head Hansa Studio was THE recording studio for them. They followed their heroes to this mecha of a musical holy land. However, it was an artificial move at the time – they had to do this because that’s what Bowie did – or, it’s like The Beatles going to India. They feel obliged to go to a different country … but, it doesn’t change them or the course of history. It’s similar to someone deciding to up sticks and move to a different country – they believe the country they have left was the problem but after a few years they move elsewhere because they are unsatisfied – they are just running away from themselves and not addressing their own personal issues.

    So, the setting of Berlin is a combination of history being part of the fabric of the present city but, also an element of the pastiche of a creative running from their problems. This theme of running away from problems or diverting the real issue is a big theme within the production so, Berlin works very well as a setting for this theme to materialise on a symbolic level.

    The play looks at, amongst other things, toxic masculinity, do you feel the 90s Britpop and lad culture that went around it makes it perfect for those themes?

    Absolutely! I don’t at all think Liam Gallagher would be shouting this off the rooftops – he would just say they were in the late 20s – cigarettes and alcohol is what it’s about! And of course, Britpop was mainly fuelled by the media and then the Blair campaign. However, if you reflect on Britpop and a lot of cultures before this and after – Toxic Masculinity is a big theme within the subculture. The feuds of Blur and Oasis and the bullying of Robbie Williams and singing about getting drunk and high and starting fights with the press and one of the Gallaghers saying Sting is a wet wipe because he just cries in a corner are all examples of this. However, internally a lot of bands don’t get on – The Who famously didn’t get on at all. Liam Gallagher threw a plum or some form of fruit at Noel before a Paris gig and Noel walked out and quit. I think the idea of a ‘Rock ‘N Roll’ lifestyle is the demise of bands and what it means to be a quote-on-quote man.

    However, with the idea of ‘Lad Culture’ it comes with a far heavier weight than just some band members throwing various pieces of fruit at each other. You have sport, mainly football, with an idolisation of violence against opposing teams as demonstrated in films such as The Firm and Green Street. You have binge drinking, smoking like a chimney and quite an archaic interpretation of Manhood.

    With this play, they are all ‘Lads’ within their own right – but they have to grow out of this phase and deal with responsibility. One of them is going through a divorce and cannot come to terms with this – it is not until the final part of the play where we learn of this. This character is the last ‘Lad’ of the group – he is trying to hold onto the past and puts it on a pedestal of being drunk, smoking in the studio and rocking up on cocaine. But he can’t do that all the time – he has responsibility.

    You also look at grief and betrayal, what is it about these subjects that made you want to delve deeper into them?

    The subject matter of grief and betrayal seems to saturate the theatrical market however, on the other hand, there are far fewer productions which deal with it in a comedic light. Or, if they do, it can verge on the farcical. My objective with this production when it came to those themes was to be open with the reality of death and coping with this. The characters poke fun at each other and have a joke – they talk of Harry [the lead singer that committed suicide] as if he was just away on his holidays. They are very funny characters. I always found it strange going to wakes and no one really was crying but instead you had my Uncle Tappy and Malcom having a few beers and maybe a cigarette. They would check on the relatives but quite soon they would be joking about and chatting about music or talking about plans for the Farnham Beer Exhibition. However, by doing this they are not addressing the elephant in the room, and they are not grieving in a healthy and safe manner. This is where the frustration comes from and, out of that, anger and hate.

    Yet, this production does not only explore the idea of grief in the mortal sense. It also looks at the grief of a relationship, getting divorced – going from being a full time parent to barely seeing your child. It looks into the grief of not being able to do what you like as it destroys you – as demonstrated with Nick and his addiction to alcohol.

    It is a very open and brutal examination on grief and what it does to you. How grieving a person you are very close to can tear you up inside and make you angry. But, this play is exploring grief when the person commited suicide – you constantly reflect and get angry at yourself wondering if you could have done anything! Some people try and pin the blame on others, which is what Ben does, and this turns him into a dreadful human being.

    Have you put on a show at Camden Fringe before? And how important are festivals such as this for writers like yourself?

    This is my first time at the Camden Fringe – it’s really exciting! And yes, these sorts of festivals are so important for writers! And down to one pretty simple reason…economics. I’ve spent countless nights submitting my work to new writing venues and always receive the email “unfortunately we cannot take your work at the moment – we wish you all the best in your writing journey.” So, either you give up or realise thousands of people are applying to those venues thus, your chances are so slim! However, how many people would be like “you know what, screw it, this is good – it is going on and I will finance it myself.” That is why Camden Fringe is so good – it is just a buzz of loads and loads of creatives doing what they love and producing what they want with no check list and pressure from the top executives! It’s so liberating!

    It is a showcase of talent and really it’s only about the art! It doesn’t matter if your show is not profiting thousands (yes, that would be nice) but, that is not the objective. The objective is putting on a great play that says something about the world we live in – and showing it to people of Camden!

    Any other Camden Fringe recommendations you can put our way?

    Everything looks so good! I haven’t had time yet to go through the online brochure yet – but, everything looks brilliant from what I’ve seen posted on Instagram.

    And to wrap things up, give us a last pitch as to why we should all be heading into the moshpit at Etcetera Theatre to catch Berlin?

    It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry. It is a venue on top of a pub and on at 21:30 during the weekday and 17:30 weekends so a perfect way to finish off a night in Camden!

    Our thanks to Holly for a wonderful insight into her play. You can catch Berlin when it comes to Etcetera Theatre 23 – 27 August as part of Camden Fringe. Further information and bookings can be found here.

    Note that the show starts at 9.30 all nights except 27 August (5.30pm), so why not take advantage of seeing two shows in one evening? There are a host of shows playing at both the Etcetera Theatre and others nearby, check the Camden Fringe website for more information. More