Interview: Circa's hula hoop artist Jessica Connell talks making Peepshow and common misconceptions about acrobatics
Edinburgh Fringe interview: Writer Kat Woods on frustration with theatre elitism and breaking working class stereotypes

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.

We need to try the sleight of hand, the misdirection, the psychological suggestion… Preparing for these sections involves getting (very VERY patient) friends together as we try out routines and effects, ensuring that they know their role in the show (whether that’s to say something, or just express amazement in their own way). 

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

Showing things like this to friends and family is sometimes the hardest part of the preparation process as they know us so well that it’s hard to fool them. The glass-half-full take on this, however, is that when we do fool them, it’s deliciously rewarding. The Extinction Event finishes with something (we think) quite punchy, and the fact that Simon’s sister (who’s seen more tricks than any sibling should reasonably be expected to) was astounded by it… well, that was a good day.

Describe each play in a sentence?

The Vanishing Man is the story of the greatest magic trick ever performed, as two friends invite an audience to help them answer whether it was possible and what it might take to believe in it.
The Extinction Event is the story of a magic’s most infamous (and fatal) effect: the bullet catch, as we discuss what immoveable powers might be needed to halt the unstoppable force of the future.

And why are they a must see?

Well, first and foremost… you’ve never seen anything like them. We’ve been working on The Vanishing Man for nearly four years now, and the techniques we’ve developed for including the audience in our story-telling are (as far as we can tell) unique.

We don’t just see you, we invite you into the story and your willingness to play along allows us to explore ideas of shared belief, complicity and obedience.

We’ve built on these devices for The Extinction Event so, seen in isolation or together, you are taken on an active journey the likes of which you’ve not experienced before.

Then there’s the subject matter: whether you want to lose yourself in the past with The Vanishing Man and its themes of Edwardian magic, Victorian settings and religious debate, or you want to explore the future in The Extinction Event by joining conversations about Artificial Intelligence, mind-control and pre-destination, we’ve got something for you.

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

We write about big concepts, but the nature of our on-stage relationship means we’re able to explain and explore them clearly and attach them to more emotionally stories.

Plus, we are (on a good day) funny and (to quote Lyn Gardner in The Guardian) “unexpectedly moving…”)

And then there’s magic! Outside of his West End directing career, Simon is a two-time close-up magician of the year and Magical Consultant for the National Theatre, the Donmar and the Old Vic.

Both our shows feature card work, coin magic, mentalism and other related curios, but all framed as part of a larger arching narrative. We’re quite proud of the magic, and love doing it.

Then there are the reviews… 

What’s the best bit of advice you’d give or have been given for surviving the Fringe?

Don’t do two shows. Especially not with a one-month-old in tow.

When you aren’t performing what are you most looking forward to seeing?

A bed and/or a pint.

The Vanishing Man is at the Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance 2) 1-27 August (excluding 6th and 13th) at 14.10 and is 60 minutes.

The Extinction Event is at the Pleasance Courtyard (Above) 1-27 August (excluding 6th and 13th) at 15.40 and is 60 minutes.

Curious about other plays at this year's Fringe?

Director Madelaine Moore on bloody unlikeable female characters in The Thelmas Edinburgh play Ladykiller.

TV's Su Pollard talks about making her Fringe debut in a piece written for her.

Actor Angus Doughty-Castle talks about untold gangster stories in Incognito Theatre's Tobacco Road.