Interview: Iain Gibbons, The Performance

Iain Gibbons is a London-based actor, most recently seen as a stressed out junior doctor in Resuscitate Theatre’s Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre. But he’ll be taking on a rather more light-hearted role in his new solo show, The Performance, which previews at the Wandsworth Fringe on 10th and 11th May before heading to Brighton for its premiere.

The Performance is a sometimes sketch, sometimes clown, sometimes farcical comedy show about three men’s attempts to make the best of a bad situation,” explains Iain. “The performance must go ahead, no matter how silly things get.

“Originally, the idea came from a Charlie Chaplin quote that says, ‘Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot’. Also, after watching some of the later Jacques Tati films, where often you would see one eccentric figure in the giant canvas of the shot, I began to wonder what ‘giant canvas’ I could set a comic figure against. As I spend a lot of my time in theatre auditoriums, I decided to create a short experimental piece in 2012 where the audience sat on the stage and looked up at a lone figure eating his lunch in a sea of red seats. The idea was funny to me and remained in the back of my mind until I decided to develop it further late last year.”

Though The Performance is not his first one-man show, after working as part of a close-knit team on devising and performing Rounds, Iain admits to mixed feelings about performing solo again. “It’s absolutely terrifying. The key element of creating theatre for me, particularly comedy, is responding to an audience. You can only know if a show works when you’re physically there performing it with people. A lot of the work I’ve done for this show has been alone in a room trying to work out how to physically get from one place to another – but I have a supportive group of people I can draw reaction and ideas from, which has been invaluable in ensuring the practicalities remain fun to perform.”

As a performer, Iain takes a lot of his inspiration from classic comedy: “I watched sketches from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, Rowan Atkinson, Fry and Laurie, Monty Python and Tommy Cooper, amongst others. I think you can see a lot of these influences in the mix of the show. They were particularly essential for working out the structure of the sketches and guiding my approach to the timing. Timing will also be affected by the audience present on the night.

“I studied with master clown Philippe Gaulier, who emphasises the child-like playfulness of the moment, while listening and responding to the audience present. His master insults will be ringing in the back of my head as I discover how this show really works at the two festivals I’m attending this summer. You may also recognise influence from early Stoppard, Ionesco and Pirandello. These are all hugely successful idols to work from, which I feel is important when you’re trying to create something successfully wonderful yourself.”

In The Performance, Iain plays “the most annoying audience member you could ever wish to sit next to”. As an actor, he’s seen his fair share of bad theatre etiquette – but what bugs him the most? “From noisy eating to stage invaders, I’ve seen quite a bit of distracting activity in the theatre stalls,” he says. “However, what most irritates me are those ‘seasoned’ audience members who believe that they have a right to disrespect the audience and theatre staff. The theatre is a shared space, so we should *ahem* share the space…”

So what would his number one piece of advice be to an inexperienced theatregoer? “Have fun. Enjoy the experience of being with people presenting ideas live in front of you – or indeed in any direction. Anything could happen, so be open to the possibilities.

The Performance is like most other theatre shows, in that there will be a performer, an audience and an usher on the door. The only twist is that I’ll be playing all three. If you recognise the theatre setting, you’ll connect with the world I’m creating instantly; if you’re new to theatre, I hope I can show you how much fun we can have in a space that still appears daunting to outsiders. Come and see why I find people sharing a theatre setting fascinating to watch. But most of all, come to have fun!”

Catch The Performance at The Cat’s Back, Wandsworth on 10th and 11th May, and at The Warren: Studio 3, Brighton on 25th-27th May.

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