Interview: Jemma Burgess, Beautiful Little Fools

“We want audiences to leave the performances asking questions. To be even more curious. To spark debate. To think about their own beliefs and other people’s beliefs and ask why…”

Jemma Burgess, the founder of Optic Theatre, makes her playwriting debut at the Cockpit Theatre next month with Beautiful Little Fools, a piece inspired by recent political events. “Beautiful Little Fools is an all-female, new writing piece exploring how media can manipulate the human mind,” she explains. “With Trump, The Iron Lady, Mrs Strong and Stable, The Bush and more. We see if three girls can be brainwashed to adhere to the government’s demands. In today’s turbulent times, this couldn’t be more relevant.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Jemma outlines her inspirations for the show, the recent UK general election and the rise of Donald Trump top the list. “But also documentaries and programmes such as Hypernormalisation by Adam Curtis,” she adds. “The Handmaid’s Tale. Big Brother. Black Mirror. Books: The Great Gatsby and 1984. Social experiments: Pavlov’s Dog. MK ULTRA and The Stanford Prison Experiment. Lastly, just listening and observing people that I know. Their views on the world and why they believe what they believe.”

Jemma set up the company with a clear goal in mind: “Optic Theatre was founded to give more opportunity to women within the Industry, without writing a play specifically for women or revising a play and gender swapping the roles,” she explains. “At the end of the day, we are all human; raw, messy, caring, beautiful humans. I want to make theatre that is both challenging and exhilarating to perform. Stories that come from our guts and our impulses.”

True to that vision, Beautiful Little Fools is presented by an all-female team. “Our director Anna Marshall recently graduated from the Ecole
Internationale de Theatre de Jacques Lecoq in Paris, and also has a BA Hons from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Puppetry. With a vast and outstanding CV, we are so chuffed to have her directing Beautiful Little Fools,” says Jemma, who trained at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, and will also perform as SUBJECT A in the production. “Sophia Hannides, who plays SUBJECT D, trained alongside me and went on to sign with Cole Kitchen after graduating; she’s recently appeared in Doctors. 

“After graduating from Guildford School of Acting, Izzy Goldby-Briggs, who plays SUBJECT C, moved to London and is hoping to set up a writing group for actors, mainly looking into short films that could be used for show reel material. And lastly is Jessica Collins, who plays SUBJECT B. Jessica has trained at the BRIT school since she was fourteen and has gone on to perform in programmes such as the BBC’s Silent Witness and Doctors.”

Beautiful Little Fools doesn’t only mark Jemma’s debut as a writer – it’s also her company’s first time at the Camden Fringe. “We’re all looking forward to pretty much everything,” she says. “It’s an exciting process and we are constantly learning. It’s a fantastic festival and we hope that it can open opportunities for future development of the play.

“Ours is a show for anyone interested in all-female work and female equality. Physical theatre lovers. Anyone who’s curious about how the world is run. From students to your grandma, if you have an opinion on the ‘system’, then come and see our show.”

See Beautiful Little Fools at the Cockpit Theatre on 7th and 8th August.

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