Interview: Georgie Morrell, A Poke in the Eye

Georgie Morrell is a writer, blogger and stand-up comedian. Next week she’s bringing her show A Poke in the Eye to Brighton following a successful run in Edinburgh and a transfer to London’s Soho Theatre. “The show is about one woman, one eye and her (sort of) blind life,” Georgie explains. “Being disabled is her excuse to do exactly what she wants, say what she wants and live her one eyed life as she wants.”

That one woman is Georgie herself, who wrote the show to share her experience of living with a visual impairment. “It’s scary to share my personal story, but that’s also part of the thrill!” she says. “You don’t know how an audience might react and it’s fun to play with that. However, I keep certain parts of personal life back, I make sure there are things just I know. It makes it less scary when I know something they don’t… I have a secret. To keep the balance because it is such a personal show I don’t discuss my private life, like relationships, love life etc. Got to keep some things private.”

Georgie’s been delighted with the public’s response to the show, which also received a 4-star review from LondonTheatre1. “It’s been terrific! All sorts of kind, funny and slightly mad feedback. A lot of people who come across my work that are visually impaired get in touch and often are grateful someone’s candidly talking about disability. This means the world to me to hear and makes all the hard work more than worthwhile!”

The aim of the show, Georgie explains, is to make people laugh, but also to come away with a greater knowledge of disability. “I want those in the audience who’ve not experienced disability, physical or sensory impairments to learn it doesn’t mean you are at a loss or vulnerable or should be pitied. I want them to see the individual not just a disability.”

And for those who are adapting to life with a disability, she has another message: “Just because you’re disabled does not mean you are any less of a person. Some people, but also systems in place for those of us with a disability, have a way of making us feel vulnerable and as if we are  missing something. Not at all! We experience the world in a remarkable way that must be shared, acknowledged and appreciated.

“Never be ashamed of your disability. Just because you are disabled does not mean you can’t be yourself and live your life as you want.”

It’s certainly not stopping Georgie, who has plenty going on. “I’m a blogger for topical website The New Establishment and am taking my new show, The Morrell High Ground, to Underbelly at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m also an advocate for RNIB and International Glaucoma Association.”

As well as performing, Georgie has a couple of other goals in mind for her time in Brighton. “Going to the seaside and Sea World! And if I had to pick one show besides my own, I’d recommend Gemma Arrowsmith: Earthling at The Warren. It’s a character sketch show about the future of mankind.

“I love my show being in Brighton because it’s such a liberal, fun and mischievous town. My show is all these things but also with a gut punch. I think it will fit into Brighton’s way of thinking beautifully!”

Catch A Poke in the Eye at The Warren Studio 3 from 24th-26th May.

Interview: Caroline Byrne, Blocked

Playwright Caroline Byrne returns to the Brighton Fringe this month with her new play, Blocked, which uses comedy to challenge society’s unspoken rules against talking about infertility. “A famous stand-up’s successful routine – sending up love, marriage and babies – falls apart as she melts down. It’s fast paced and delivered as a stand up routine throughout.”

Caroline explains that Blocked was inspired by her own experience of failed fertility treatment: “There’s a taboo around discussing infertility that society imposes on you and you get crap advice from people. I wanted to explore this and use dark humour to engage the audience, so that’s why I made the character a comedian.”

The show’s performed by Laura Curnick, and reunites Caroline with acclaimed director Scott Le Crass, following a previous collaboration at the Brighton Fringe 2015. “Scott directed my play In A Better Place, which was set in a hotel room, in the rock n roll themed Hotel Pelirocco,” she explains. “He is extremely creative and also very tactful and calm, so I was relieved when he agreed to direct Blocked because traditionally writers aren’t allowed in rehearsal – so you have to trust your director completely or you’d go mad. Scott has been nominated for many awards, and recently had a West End Transfer with Sid, a fabulous show.”

Blocked promises something of a mixed experience for Brighton audiences: “I want them to laugh out loud at the stand up, and then slap them in the face with the final dramatic act,” says Caroline. “You should come and see it because it’s a provocative standup routine within a piece of theatre. Two genres for the price of one!”

As the Brighton Fringe gets underway for another year, Caroline has plenty to look forward to. “I can’t wait to watch Laura Curnick perform the show for the first time!” she says. “But I’ll also be catching up with other theatre buddies and seeing their shows. In particular I’m looking forward to Nick Myles’ Trouble with Men, three great shorts. Also Goddess by Serena Haywood and Purged starring Orla Sanders.”

After Brighton, Caroline has several exciting projects lined up with her company Pure Fluke Theatre. “We write daring, comic roles for women over 35,” she explains. “I’ve just finished a new sitcom about working in fringe, with my co-writer Rachel Goth. The material writes itself. I’m also planning to tour my farce How To Make Money From Art in Ireland.”

Catch Blocked at Duke Box from 18th-24th May.

Interview: Nick Myles, Trouble With Men

This week sees the launch of the Brighton Fringe 2017, with a programme featuring over 970 events at 155 venues across four weeks. One of these is Trouble With Men, a trio of short plays by writer and director Nick Myles, exploring different aspects of modern male homosexuality.

Details is a provocative drama about a date that goes horribly wrong, born out of a relationship I had with a transsexual man, which opened my eyes to the variety of issues such relationships can raise,” explains Nick. “Brighton-Damascus is a love story: can Adam and Ahmed turn their online romance into real world happiness? This play was written after I read an article about the plight of LGBT people in the Middle East and the barbaric treatment they can be subjected to. It really distressed and angered me, but ironically the play I wrote in response is a very tender love story.

“And Three Men and Some Baggage is a fast-paced comedy about stereotypes and unrequited love. It’s an excuse to get the casts of the other two plays together and have a lot of fun exploring friendship and attraction and the masks we wear when we’re afraid to be ourselves.

“I hope the plays are original and explore subjects that don’t get much attention. The gay community, specifically, can be very superficial and cliquey, and it would be good for us to confront our prejudices and try to be more inclusive. For instance, even with the rising profile of transgender people there’s still an assumption that a course of hormones and a bit of surgery are all it takes to correct gender misalignment, but it’s not that simple – some trans people don’t even aspire to complete physical transformation. Going to bed with a man who has no penis makes you realise the range of different and unreported experiences there are out there.”

The three plays are performed by William McGeough, Freddie Wintrip and Reece Mahdi. “I’ve been working with William for nearly four years now,” says Nick. “He’s a tremendously versatile actor – so far he’s played ten characters for me, including two women, a murderer and a torture victim. Freddie and Reece are both fairly recent drama school graduates, but you’d never know it from watching them. They have absolutely gorgeous chemistry in Brighton-Damascus, and it was a joy to see them rise to the challenge of playing two completely different characters in Baggage.”

In addition to shining a light on previously unexplored topics, Trouble With Men has an underlying message – and challenge – for its audience. “The last line of the show is ‘What can I do?’, and I’d like audiences to leave Trouble with Men pondering that question,” says Nick. “Not just in the context of the final play, but of the show overall. I’m a fiercely compassionate writer, and I aspire to make work that challenges preconceptions, provokes debate and potentially leaves the world a better place, pretentious as that sounds. The jokes are just gravy, really.”

With less than three weeks to go, the team are excited about bringing the show to Brighton. What are they most looking forward to? “Hopefully large, enthusiastic audiences!” says Nick. “But as an Edinburgh veteran I know the competition for bums-on-seats at festivals is intense. I’ll be doing everything I can to make the show a success, but I hope to have time to relax and enjoy Brighton, which is one of my favourite towns at any time of year. I’ll be seeing shows, eating ice-cream, propping up bars, and quite possibly taking a dip in the sea.”

One of the shows Nick’s particularly looking forward to is Blocked by Caroline Byrne, at Sweet Dukebox from 18th-24th May. “It’s a one-woman show directed by the excellent Scott Le Crass about a stand-up comedian who comes to grief because of her struggle with infertility. I played a very small part in the show’s development, and I can’t wait to see the final result – it’s a terrific and very heart-felt script.”

Trouble with Men is at Warren Studio 2 on 17th-19th May, and at the King’s Head Theatre from 15th-19th August.

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.