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July 2018

Edinburgh Fringe interview: Writer Kat Woods on frustration with theatre elitism and breaking working class stereotypes

Award-winning writer/director Kat Woods returns to the Edinburgh Fringe with Killymuck, here she talks about breaking working-class stereotypes - and why you should always perform like its press night. 

What inspired you to write Killymuck?

Kat woods photo
Kat Woods

Killymuck is a piece of theatre inspired by my own council estate, benefit upbringing. I have become increasingly frustrated with the elitism that exists within the realm of theatre and the constant portrayal of the benefit class stereotype which is perpetuated in the media. This constant negative ideology that becomes almost biblical rhetoric needs to be rewritten. 

Why is it important this story is told?

If we don't start to tell stories from all classes and all minorities then we are not representing society as a whole. How do we open up the doors of the theatre to the underclasses or the working classes if they are not reflected in the narratives that are being told?

You won an award for a previous fringe piece - Belfast Boy - does that make it easier or harder coming back?

I've actually had two pieces on since Belfast Boy - Wasted and Mule. I found it incredibly difficult coming back after having a success.

My follow-up play was Wasted, a piece about consent. That was in 2015 and I think we may have been a year or two too early with it. It has had more success now and is returning to America this year. 

I wasn't really mentally prepared for how tough I would find it. The scrutiny can be so overwhelming and it’s very easy to slip mentally when reading reviews and comments on the piece of work that you have worked so hard on. 

 

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: 'We don’t go to the theatre to watch sane people talking about normal things' - Simon Evans and David Aula

Not content with performing one play at the Edinburgh Fringe director/performers Simon Evans and David Aula are performing two - back to back. The two plays - The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event - are described as a 'marriage of poignant theatre and spellbinding close-up magic'.

Two plays back to back, are you mad?

The Vanishing Man (Simon Evans and David Aula) - courtesy of Michael Wharley_3
The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event (Simon Evans and David Aula). Photo: Michael Wharley

Probably, but we don’t go to the theatre to watch sane people talking about normal things. We’re actually very lucky: both these shows are very audience-centred. We don’t like to throw “audience involvement” around much, as it tends to induce feelings of horror and fear of embarrassment, but we do ask a thing or two of the very kind people who’ve chosen to see us (and not just “Pick a card”). 

The audience is our uncredited third character, and that means the show takes on an energy and momentum that you just don’t get from more there’s-a-fourth-wall pieces. The energy is infectious, so we tend to come out the other end more elated than fatigued.

That said, David is also the recipient of a brand new baby boy. It’s possible that the added pressure of looking after a one-month-old might be the straw breaking our camel’s back. Also, Simon tends to get very sleepy around 3 pm and that’s far from ideal in a 2.10pm-4.40pm slot.

Honestly (and I’m aware these words may come back to haunt me) it’s two 60 minute shows separated by a generous 30-minute interval, so we’ve got it better than a lot of other actors currently treading the boards. I’m optimistic. What I mean is, you certainly won’t see two tired performers up there.

How are you preparing?

That’s a good question when you consider that there are two separate elements in the shows we’re presenting. The more standard elements (dialogue/staging/storytelling) are handled in a fairly standard way.

Both of us are established theatre directors (Simon currently has Killer Joe on in the West End with a Donmar show coming up, and David’s production of The Cement Garden recently headlined the Vault Festival) so we enjoy the process of building the show up physically.

We’ve spent a lot of time in each other’s company as we've written the script, re-written it, shown it, learned from it, re-written it, tried it again, cut it, cut more of it, re-written it, learned it, worked out where to stand while we say it.

On the other hand, our plays are also magic shows of a kind. There are individual tricks and a more arching idea that an entire show can be an effect in-and-of-itself if handled right.

Magic is entirely audience led; you can see a play that refuses to acknowledge an audience and still think “That was a good play”, but a magic trick which fails to amaze/delight/confound an audience, is a dead thing.

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Interview: Circa's hula hoop artist Jessica Connell talks making Peepshow and common misconceptions about acrobatics

Jessica Connell is a hula hoop artist performing in Circa's Peepshow at the Underbelly. She talks about creating the show, training schedules and popular misconceptions about acrobatics.

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Jessica Connell performs in Circa's Peepshow

What was the inspiration behind Circa’s Peepshow?

The inspiration behind the show is about seeing and being seen. We were inspired by the idea of how people see one another. The action we take, how we dress, what we say all influence how we are seen by others. 

Why should people come and see it?

Peepshow is a raw, risky, honest show that I am still excited to have helped create and be performing. We are seven acrobats on stage. We work together as an ensemble and we all have something to share with the audience. There is humour, great skills, great music including an original composition and we have worked hard to explore new acts and styles to express our art-form.
 
The lighting is also exciting. There are moments in the show where I am performing acrobatics in different styles of lighting I have never performed acrobatics or hula hoops in before. It creates great challenges and opportunities for us in our show.

How do you put a show together?

The Ensemble with our Director Yaron Lifschitz and associate director Libby McDonald work to explore concepts and themes. Sometimes our director comes in with a track or an idea and we explore that idea physically.

There is a lot of experimentation and a show can change a lot from day one. Some ideas change beyond recognition, others grow and some don’t make it in the show at all.

It is also a very free environment to work in. We have lots of discussions and are free to bring ideas into the room.  

What is the hardest bit?

Everyone will find different aspects of the show hard depending on their role. I perform hula hoops with the ensemble; they lift me, twist me and throw hoops to me.

Performing my skills like this is new and an exciting and challenging act we have created for Peepshow. 

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Actor Angus Castle-Doughty on untold gangster stories in Tobacco Road

Incognito Theatre Company, winners of the Les Enfant Terribles' 2018 Greenwich Partnership Award are back at the Edinburgh Fringe with a new piece Tobacco Road. Actor Angus Castle-Doughty talks about subverting the gangster genre with untold stories and gives his top tips for first-time Fringe attendees.

Angus Doughty - courtesy of Jacob Sacks-Jones
Angus Castle-Doughty. Photo by Jacob Sacks-Jones

What can the audience expect from Tobacco Road?

With Tobacco Road, we have worked really hard to make to make an exhilarating, cinematic experience for the audience. Storytelling is at the heart of our philosophy as a company and Tobacco Road follows the rise and fall of five young men and women in the gritty underworld of post-WW1 London.

We have tried to create a living, breathing world on stage that brings London in the 1920s to life and together with stunning physical sequences and an exciting story the audience will hopefully be left catching their breath.

Why should this story be told?

On the surface, Tobacco Road is a gangster story. However, we are also really interested in subverting audience expectation and exploring the stories that are otherwise left untold; we look at the epic strength and brutality of London’s Victorian Lady gangs and how they survived in such a male-dominated world.

We look at the effect the Great War had on the young men that were forced to come home and piece together their lives that had been otherwise shattered, before trying to carry on as normal. We look at the intensity of pressure that post-war masculinity placed on both young men and women alike in London.

Every physical sequence we do in Tobacco Road is to serve these stories and we are really excited to tell them.

 

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3 short theatre reviews: The 'meh', the bored and the interval exit

Regular theatre-going is a bit like surfing, sometimes you catch the wave and it carries you exhilarated into shore, sometimes you wipe out only to surface bedraggled and nonplussed. The past week or so has definitely been the latter.

The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre - the 'meh'

Lehman trilogy sign national theatreSimon Russell Beale, Adam Godfrey and the lovely Ben Miles play all the roles - male and female - in the story of the Lehman Brothers.

The brothers arrive in America in the 1850s and we follow them from rags to riches as their family business evolves from cotton retail to investment banking over three generations.

The collapse of Lehmans bank in 2008 - by this stage no longer a family business - is well-trodden ground and as such is virtually a footnote in this play which might be part of the problem because it looms on the horizon throughout.

Grand performances from SRB et al including some amusing gender swaps which are done with a change of demeanour and expression rather than costume, wig and makeup.

The stage revolves with a series of glass-walled offices, a video backdrop adds context and later is used to give the impression of the set rising.

But despite the performances - with live piano accompaniment - and the slick staging I couldn't help asking whether this story genuinely deserved such a grand production - and a lengthy play.

Yes there is an interesting evolution of attitudes towards commerce and making money and contrast between the brothers but is it a unique story, are there others more worthy of telling?

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Director Madelaine Moore on bloody unlikeable female characters in play Ladykiller

Director Madelaine Moore talks about Ladykiller, its charmingly murderous female lead, preparing for the Fringe and what she's looking forward to seeing. And writer Madeline Gould pops in to talk about creating murderous characters.

Madelaine MooreWhy is Ladykiller a must see at this year's Edinburgh Fringe?

Ladykiller really is unlike any character you have seen on stage before. She is unlikeable. She says and does all the things you might fantasise about doing when someone wrongs you, but wouldn't dare... mainly because they would mostly be illegal.

She's a character who toes the line between victim and perpetrator with such saucy alacrity.

She manages to charm the pants off you while covered in blood up to her elbows, and with a dead body at her feet.

At previews as well as loud guffaws we've had a woman mime a tiny fist pump while quietly hissing "YESSSS!" and another who would not (could not) look at Hannah (McClean who plays 'Her') throughout the show.

My favourite audience quote so far has been, "so dark it was like a beautiful black hole."

With that darkness, we wanted to push the boundaries, because for us it was really about answering the question, how much is too much? It's going to be very interesting to see how audiences answer that! 

Writer Madeline Gould is described as having a knowledge of serial killers, women in crime and all things generally gruesome which is 'second to none’ - dare we ask how come?

So Maddie, and me to a certain extent, both have a fascination with people who kill; serial killers in particular.

I used to have a collection of books about serial killers that lived next to my bed until I realised it might look a bit weird to anyone who made it in that far, so I got rid of them. But Maddie is a voracious reader, podcast fan and researcher so she's really gone in. 

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Review: End of the Pier, Park Theatre - not the sum of all its parts

Danny Robins new play End of the Pier is at times very funny, it touches on some important issues but I'm not sure it fully does them justice and here's why.

Les Dennis & Blake Harrison (l-r) in End of the Pier at Park Theatre. Photo by Simon Annand 0216
Les Dennis & Blake Harrison (l-r) in End of the Pier at Park Theatre. Photo by Simon Annand

First a bit about the play. It's set in Blackpool where former 80s comic and household name Bobby (Les Dennis) gets by on pantomimes and summer seasons having fallen spectacularly from grace.

His son Mike (Blake Harrison) is a successful comedian and about to record a second TV series. His fiancé Jenna (Tala Gouveia) is high up in the BBC and expecting their first child.

Mike turns up on father's doorstep looking for help after an incident at his stag do threatens his career.

The play explores changing attitudes to comedy, what is cruel and discriminatory and what is a joke.

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Su Pollard on her fringe debut and what she wants to see while she's there

Su Pollard will be making her Edinburgh Fringe debut starring in Harpy, a play written especially for her by Fringe-first winner Philip Meeks.

Su_Pollard-hary-edinburgh-fringeIn this preview interview, she talks about playing Birdie, a woman ostracised by her neighbours because of her hoarding, embarking on her first fringe and what she wants to see when she isn't performing.

How does it feel to have a play specially commissioned for you?
 
When I first met the playwright Philip Meeks about three years ago he said he was going to write something for me.  

I don’t think either of us thought much more about it until Suzanna Rosenthal suggested it because we knew each other.  

I’ve often been asked to go to Edinburgh but I’ve either been busy with other shows or the right play hasn’t been sent my way.  

What’s fantastic about this is I’ve been there from the start and Philip’s told me about every stage of his thinking and the writing process.  I feel as if I’ve really helped to create the role.

What was it about Birdie that made you want to play her?
 
Because she’s a woman of my age with a story to tell and believe me when you hit your sixties the great parts become few and far between.  

As soon as Philip said her story was about her hoarding the whole concept of hoarding seemed to be everywhere. In the papers, on the telly, I had friends admitting to suffering from it.

I realised it’s a phenomenon that people are fascinated by and it’s a dilemma people are facing increasingly because of the times we’re living in.  

So Birdie's story is very real and relevant and touches many people.

Her story also touches on the idea of mental health and how we all probably suffer from it. But what makes society decide who’s mad and who’s not these days when all our values and ideas seem to be getting eroded away on a daily basis.
 

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A Monster Calls, Old Vic - the hardest review I've written

If the interaction between Conor and the Monster is wrong it could damage the integrity of the story, diminish its impact.

Reviews can be hard to write for many reasons. Sometimes you might struggle to find the right words or worry about not doing justice to something you thought was really good.

0ld-vic-a-monster-calls

But this review of A Monster Calls at the Old Vic is the hardest review I've had to write because the subject matter of the play touches on raw nerves.

*Potential plot spoiler alert*

When the book by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd came out a close friend, knowing I'm a fan of Ness's writing, advised against reading it for a while because my Mum had very recently died.

It wasn't sudden, my Mum was ill and we knew she was going to die. It was the same with my Dad a few years earlier.  Saying goodbye on those occasions is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

In many ways, I was lucky losing my parents when I'd already had a good chunk of my life with them, unlike Conor, the protagonist of A Monster Calls, who is 13-years-old and dealing with a seriously sick mother.

Emotional triggers

But there is still a lot in his story that triggers painful emotional memories.

When I did finally read the book two years later it reduced me to a sobbing wreck. I saw it as a sign of a great adaptation when the film had a similar effect.

Some might say I'm a glutton for punishment going to see the film (and now the stage adaptation) but I see it as cathartic. It is cathartic.

A successful adaptation?

Still, I was nervous about how successful the stage adaptation would be.

The story is a modern fable blending fantasy and reality and has a walking, talking tree as a central character.

If the interaction between Conor and the Monster is wrong it could damage the integrity of the story, diminish its impact.

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Review: East End vernacular meets Shakespeare to create a revealing lyricism in Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre

Its rich lyricism is matched by an angry energy but also a sense of love, loyalty and camaraderie.

Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady in Flesh and Bone  credit of Owen Baker
Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady in Flesh and Bone. Photo: Owen Baker

Flesh and Bone is an everyday tale of 'oi oi savaloy' East End working classes but told with a revealing Shakespearean lyricism.

It opens with 'What a piece of work is a man' but then uncouples from Hamlet's speech to talk about power, greed, love, hate, lust and fear.

Clever writing

Words like 'maketh' and 'coinage' mix with 'rock and roll' giving it the feel of something that is both familiar, contemporary and yet of another time. This is the cleverness of Elliot Warren's writing. 

Warren delivers the speech as Terrence, one of those lads we'll discover who reacts with his fists a little bit too quickly. He is a wide boy and the antithesis of the sage, considered poetry he speaks or is he?

 

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