Interview: Louise Reay, Hard Mode

For anyone who’s ever wondered what it’s like to live under an authoritarian regime, Louise Reay’s new immersive comedy show Hard Mode offers a unique opportunity to find out. Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei in which he described his experiences of oppression, innovative satire Hard Mode will explore censorship and surveillance in Edinburgh this summer.

“If you go and see a show or a football match in China, they have members of the police or the army in between the stage/pitch and the audience,” explains Louise, who studied Modern and Classical Chinese at SOAS before embarking on a career as a documentary maker for the BBC and Channel 4. “For example when I went to Beijing Pop Festival, they were in between the crowd and performers like Ian Brown from the Stone Roses. Really odd-sounding, isn’t it? If you go and see a football match in China, when a team scores a goal and the footie fans stand up to cheer, the army watching the audience suppresses the crowd. My show features a cast of masked police standing watching the audience at all times to try to recreate this experience.”

This unsettling presence means Louise is frequently as surprised as her audience by how the show unfolds. “I genuinely never know what will happen each time I do this show,” she says. “Sometimes people find it really funny when a policeman takes them away, sometimes they do not. I cannot control the police in my show and am also at their mercy. I’ve tried to build a show based on the feeling of a glass smashing in a room – suddenly everyone is alert and anything could happen. It’s different every time, and can never be repeated. Come and be part of a genuine experiment, the boundaries are moving every day.

“Ultimately, I think comedy is based on surprise; we expect to laugh at a comedy show but we never know when exactly the laughter will come. I think for hour-long shows some people manage to elevate comedy from a craft into an art, and I personally think they do this by bearing their souls somehow, or giving as much of themselves as possible. Probably, all of the best art is soulful somehow – haven’t you seen Sister Act II? Clichés aside, it’s not without good reason that some of the best shows are based upon ‘dead dads’.”

While the show’s billed for anyone over 16, its creator has a particular ideal demographic in mind: “My show is particularly targeting handsome men between the ages of 29 and 36 with a spare Eurostar ticket to Paris up for grabs. Also people interested in politics, current affairs, the general state of the world… that seems to be more people than ever in the current climate, doesn’t it? And those looking for experimental comedy shows, of course.”

Louise is no stranger to the Fringe, having won critical acclaim and award nominations for her previous two shows, It’s Only Words and Que Sera, 些拉. This year, she’s most looking forward to performing at Edinburgh’s world famous comedy club, The Stand. “They have so many interesting and political shows there, I’m really hoping the audiences there will go for my show too. I’ll have to desperately exit flyer my heroes’ shows there like Oliver Twist meets Delboy.

“As for other Fringe highlights, there’s a very brilliant physical comedy show by Nathan Lang coming this year called The Stuntman, you really have to check it out!”

Catch Louise Reay: Hard Mode at The Stand Comedy Club, Stand 4 (venue 12), 3rd-27th (not 14th) August at 5.55pm.

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