Interview: Hannah McClean, Ladykiller

The Thelmas are an all-female theatre company founded by Madelaine Moore in response to a growing need for the support and development of new female writers. Most recently seen in London with the Offie-nominated Coconut, the company will next be making their Edinburgh debut with Ladykiller by Madeline Gould, which opens at The Pleasance on 1st August.

Ladykiller is set in a hotel room, in the aftermath of a murder,” explains actor Hannah McClean. “When we meet HER, a hotel maid, she’s covered in blood and distressed – but it’s not what it looks like; she can explain… 

“It’s clear who committed the crime, so the play is more of a Whydunit, than a Whodunit. It’s a very dark comedy with a few twists and turns along the way, which will leave you second guessing our protagonist.”

Ladykiller by Madeleine Gould
Photo credit: Greg Veit Photography

Madeline Gould wrote the play to explore women’s capacity for violence and criminality, after noticing a lack of complexity in the portrayal of female killers. “I’ve never read a script which focuses on female criminality and psychopathy,” says Hannah. “Characters like this are more often than not, written for men. I have read all too many scripts or watched shows where the female characters are portrayed as less complex than their male counterparts. Women are just as capable of the good, the bad and the ugly and this script explores that beautifully.  

“My character is intelligent, charismatic and at times brutally honest, yet you never know where you stand with her. She is not someone you can root for, but she makes it hard for you not to. I can quite honestly say, I’ve never had the opportunity to play anyone quite like HER, nor have I read a script with a character like HER in it. We feel that our show depicts a female character in a way that hasn’t been seen before – truly, she breaks the mould. She is dark, she is dangerous and she is covered in blood.

“When I read the original script, when it debuted as a 15-minute piece in 2015, I was blown away by the writing, its twists and turns and its unapologetically dark humour. It’s now even bigger and better – and also really funny btw – and I’m absolutely thrilled I still get to don my blood soaked apron. At a time when we as a society are examining our gender roles more so than any other, the show taps into this conversation in a most unexpected way. I hope it gets people talking and debating …and laughing.”

Hannah McClean headshot
Photo credit: Chris Mann Portraits

As well as The Thelmas’ Edinburgh debut, Ladykiller also marks Hannah’s first time performing at the Fringe: “I have always wanted to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe and for a long time I have wanted to perform in a one woman show; so to get the opportunity to tick both those boxes at once is so incredibly exciting. And terrifying! But mostly exciting,” she says. “I begged Maddie Gould to write the full length show after performing the original short in 2015, so now I just need to concentrate on making sure it was worth her while (please God!).”

When she’s not murdering people in hotel rooms, Hannah will be busy checking out some of the other shows heading to the Fringe this year. “So far, the shows that have caught my eye are – F**k You Pay Me at The Assembly Room – I saw this at The Vaults this year and loved it, so I can’t wait to see how it’s developed; The Half at The Pleasance (might have to catch that on my day off) looks great; and East Belfast Boy by Prime Cut Productions (have to support the home grown stuff and also, they’re great), to name a few. The exciting thing is discovering new stuff though, so I’ll be soaking up as much as I can.”

Ladykiller is at The Pleasance from 1st to 27th August (not 13th or 14th) at 1pm. To find out more, watch the trailer – or to support the show, visit the crowdfunding page.

Interview: Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe and Edward De Gaetano, Vessel

In the wake of the recent vote in Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment, Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe’s play Vessel explores female empowerment at a very particular moment in history, and asks what happens once that freedom to choose has been won. Following successful preview performances at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London, the two-hander moves to Edinburgh’s Underbelly from 2nd August.

Vessel by Laura Wyatt O'Keeffe
Photo credit: Emma Micallef

Vessel is a show about women’s bodies, choice and love. Maia, a receptionist, and David, a journalist, embark on this journey that sees them navigating through a lot of their own personal difficulties to serve a greater purpose,” explains Edward De Gaetano, who plays David. “It’s set in pre-referendum Ireland when abortion is still illegal, and tells the story of Maia, a woman whose tweet about her unwanted pregnancy goes viral and she becomes the focus of public attention during the Repeal the 8th campaign. We see these characters awkwardly trying to get to know each other in the process, which at times can be quite endearing and/or funny!

It’s a topical story that focuses on the individuals having to make important choices; the aftermath of the referendum that begins to explore a new meaning of choice for women. It celebrates women in many ways as it’s a female writer/performer creating theatre about women for women.”

Laura – a Brighton Fringe Award nominated performer, writer, facilitator, researcher, collaborator and activist – was inspired to write the play by recent events and by the evolving perception of women, not only in Ireland but across the world. “Prior to the recent referendum and until legislation is passed, each day nine Irish women will have boarded a plane to the UK, spent up to €1000 and been considered a criminal in the pursuit of a safe abortion,” she says. “I grew up in an Ireland where we did not talk about abortion, we did not talk about choice. Abortion was something that was talked about in hushed tones behind closed doors and it was always something that the person would regret.

“But something started to change around 2010 – people started talking, marching, campaigning. With the recent referendum there is no better time to tell these stories. Whether it’s the #metoo campaign or #Repealthe8th, we are finally having open and honest conversations about how society views women and the consequences. I wanted to tell this story for all these women and to continue to create platforms for having more of these conversations.

“So much of the theatre I see about women acknowledges and details female struggle and that’s it. Vessel is about exploring what happens after that struggle, what happens to the female character when she has freedom, when she has choice, when she is empowered? As a theatre maker I’m excited by the possibility of female focused narratives, not the retelling of female suffering. For women to keep moving forward socially and artistically we’ve got to start telling and listening to stories of female empowerment.”

Both Laura and Edward are now looking forward to taking the show to Edinburgh and sharing it with new audiences: “Being one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world, we’re excited to perform to such a diverse and international audience,” says Edward. “It’s a place where some of the best artists come to perform, challenge ideas and take a chance at new ideas. The energy and the work is immense and to be a part of that with such a topical play it’s extremely exciting. The Underbelly have been incredible to work with and we simply cannot wait to perform in such a great space being part of such a varied and brilliant programme! 

“As with all festivals you really never know who you are going to meet or bump into; actors and performers have had their careers changed to the better after Edinburgh, so it’s really a place where opportunity meets chance.”

It’s also an opportunity to check out and be inspired by other work – and they already have plenty lined up: “Oh yes, there are loads! To start off with the specific shows we cannot wait to see are Fishamble’s Maz and Bricks by Eva O’Connor; Bottom by Will Hudson; Hightide’s Busking It by Danusia Samal; Frieda Loves Ya at Underbelly; everything at Paines Plough Roundabout; anything by Big in Belgium and Canada Hub; Woman of the Year by Anna Nicholson and In Their Footsteps by Ashley Adelman and Kelly Teaford. We both love comedy, well who doesn’t, so we will definitely be checking out some stand-up comedy gigs and whatever else comes our way – we can’t wait to be inspired by what we see!”

Vessel is at Underbelly Bristo Square from 2nd-27th August at 1.05pm.

Interview: The Lampoons, House on Haunted Hill

If you think that four “professional idiots” (their words, not mine), a haunted house, lots of ping pong balls and a jar of pickles sounds like a recipe for chaos… well, you’d be right, actually.

Meet The Lampoons – also known as Tina Baston, Adam Elliott, Josh Harvey and Oliver Malam – who’ve spent the last two years sharing their own unique brand of B-movie mayhem with London audiences. Now they’re preparing to unleash the madness on Edinburgh for the very first time with House on Haunted Hill, a hilarious and utterly bonkers remake of the 1959 horror starring Vincent Price.

“We’ve only gone and brought you a debut!” says Josh. “We have lots of friends in London from our Halloween shows each year, but this will be a newborn baby idiot for us to all deliver. It could well be the most ridiculously bizarre late-night show on the fringe – a thumpingly hilarious non-stop comedy-horror the likes of which have never been seen.

Everything you see in that very sweaty hour is completely devised from Rob White and William Castle’s original black and white 1959 screenplay. Then imagine we threw that classic screenplay into a large blender with some Mighty Boosh, Monty Python, Garth Marenghi and a heavy seasoning of surreal clowning!

House on Haunted Hill is The Lampoons’ second full-length show, following the success in 2016 of their debut – another B-movie remake, Attack of the Giant Leeches, at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. Adam explains, “We’d been friends for a long time, and big admirers of each other’s work, but had been looking for the right project to come along. At the outset of The Lampoons we really didn’t know what we were going to end up with, but we knew we wanted to explore something beyond the more commonplace comedy styles. Turns out we like the irreverent and the ridiculous!

“As for the horror spoofs: well for one, you have to love the titles! Attack of the Giant Leeches, House on Haunted Hill, who doesn’t want to see those! But also, the simple plots of that genre really allow us to pull the stories and characters every which ridiculous way whilst still maintaining some semblance of story structure. Really, we make the most faithful unfaithful adaptations you’ll ever see.”

Faithful they may be, but The Lampoons’ shows could never be accused of being predictable – a lot can, and does, happen in those 60 minutes, from dodgy fake moustaches to the weirdest ballet recital you’ll ever see. “It’s always most fun to be at the start,” says Ollie. “Coming up with the ridiculous ideas list then going through the process of learning how to implement them. One day maybe we will see Josh as a grandfather clock.”

Now they’re looking forward to bringing the show to Edinburgh, where it’ll run from 1st to 26th August at the Pleasance Dome. “I think I’m most excited about being at the centre of a wonderful casserole of creativity,” says Tina. “I think seeing other shows and meeting other creatives every day will give us so much inspiration and motivation to make people chuckle every night. Also, I’ve heard Edinburgh has great beer…”

They’re also hoping to check out a few other shows while they’re in town: “3 Years, 1 Week and a Lemon Drizzle, Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories and Stevenson Experience – they’re twins AND comedians!”

And with plenty of classics still out there waiting to be reimagined, what does the future hold for The Lampoons? “After this debut fringe festival we will likely want to reach more regional areas with our clowns,” says Josh. “And also to continue re-imagining a wonderfully awful B-movie every Halloween in London.”

Catch the final London preview of House on Haunted Hill at Tara Theatre on 26th July. The show then runs in Edinburgh from 1st-26th August (11pm) at the Pleasance Dome.

Interview: Charlotte Fox, Ouroboros

Ever felt like you’re not quite good enough? You’re not alone. In her debut solo show Ouroboros (named after an ancient symbol that depicts a snake eating its own tail, in an eternal cycle of renewal), writer and performer Charlotte Fox tackles society’s obsession with ego, superficiality, social media, narcissism and body image, and explores their effects on Charlotte, an actress in the entertainment industry.

“I was inspired to write Ouroboros by frustration with the lack of acting work,” explains Charlotte. “I was writing in response to what was happening around me, in my life and career experience. I struggled to reconcile with other people’s conflicting viewpoints. It felt like a constant battle, struggling against myself and having to obey an industry and society’s vision of ‘beauty’ and ‘perfection’ in order to fit in and seek acceptance.”

Charlotte Fox, Ouroboros

Following a run earlier this year at the Rosemary Branch, Charlotte is preparing to take the show to Edinburgh next month, where she hopes audiences will embrace its message and get involved. “It’s an explosive display on stage,” she says. “Ouroboros is like fireworks – a show that doesn’t come down, with highly physical and absurdist comedy elements, that discusses relevant and timely issues without being didactic. It has the ability to mix observational scenarios and parody them in a way that makes you laugh and cry before sending you away. It also combines music, dance, clowning, physical theatre, bouffon and a bit of mime!! One genre!? Naahh – chose ’em all!

“I’m looking forward to performing to a different audience everyday in Edinburgh. They all bring something different. You can sense it as soon as you step out. What one person might find disturbing can have another howling with laughter. It’s brilliant! I like sensing that, there’s interaction in this show and it’s fun as an actor discovering how you can play to the audience. Or how they are playing for you. I hope they’ll feel excited and moved by the whole experience, and have a willingness to re-examine their own lifestyle experiences, recall moments of similarity and most importantly laugh and perhaps squirm on the edge of their seats!”

The show, which is written, performed and directed by Charlotte, has been in development for the past year. “It’s been an incredible journey,” she says. “I wasn’t really too sure what to expect at the start – it was difficult, but I knew I was tapping into something important, I had an urge to keep exploring. I always knew the style of work I liked and had a vision of what I wanted to create. So collaborations with other like-minded theatre makers were made and Ouroboros started to flourish. I had a revelation when I realised not everyone will share your artistic vision. You have to be so strong and protect yourself against people who can try and contaminate your work… It was a big lesson for me.”

Performing the 60-minute solo show, in which Charlotte portrays “a conveyer belt of hyper-functional characters”, brings with it a number of physical and emotional challenges. “It’s a huge physical demand as a performer,” she says. “It’s also very close to the bone, which brings both a challenge and reward. I know that this show has left an impact on people in a similar situation. It’s sparked discussion. It’s also allowed me to find self-acceptance as an actor, allowing my own creativity and artistry to flourish regardless of what anyone says. You can decide to say yes to yourself.”

Catch the final London preview of Ouroboros at Camden People’s Theatre on 25th July, or at Edinburgh’s Cowgate, 2nd-14th August at 1.10pm.

Interview: Juan Echenique, Red Button

“It’s out of this world!” says actor and writer Juan Echenique. “I’ve seen nothing close to what we are doing. We have so many elements, working together in harmony: drama, social commentary, live music, physical comedy, dark humour, sharp wit, science fiction, cloned kittens, pansexual au pairs, radio dramas, and… well… the red button that destroys the world. It’s a 60-minute adrenaline ride, where there’s little time to breathe or blink. Daring, out there, and incredibly energetic.”

He’s talking about Horatio Theatre’s play Red Button, a science fiction comedy about love and the end of the world: “It’s about a young couple, who are mostly bored with their lives. They decide to apply to a charity programme, thinking they will be given the task of taking care of adorable kittens and puppies, but instead they receive the red button that destroys the world. All of this is framed within a futuristic world, where TV and films are forbidden, and the only radio station blasts news, commercials, and propaganda everywhere, and at every minute.

“It’s a story about love and rebellion, about people who make the strangest decisions based on the ones they love, and their desire to be free. Love involves compromise, as well as struggle, sacrifice, altruism and egotism. It could be argued that the red button – that terrifying object that would end it all – represents parenthood, as it can be seen as the end of childhood. The fun fact here is that the play was originally written as a gift; born out of love, all about love, full of dark humour. The peak of cheesiness for the lactose intolerant.”

Juan co-founded Horatio Theatre with director and producer Fumi Gomez, with whom he’s worked since 2009. Their goal is to produce new writing and original storytelling, with a particular focus on using the language of science fiction to discuss social issues.  “Science fiction has often been regarded as a genre made for film and literature,” he says. “The preeminence of movies where special effects are the real protagonists gives us a somehow misleading picture of what this genre can achieve. However, when talking about science fiction, you are talking about imaginary worlds, about a future that could be, and about how history is doomed to repeat itself. Talking about the world around us from the perspective of an imaginary future, gives us the chance of tackling social issues that would be incredibly dry and off putting if discussed in a different way. In other words, science fiction allows us to make some sharp social commentary, while still making unique and entertaining shows.”

Red Button, which opens on 14th August at Edinburgh’s theSpace on North Bridge, has been going through various stages of development since 2014: “The play was originally written as a three hander; two leads and another actor playing several roles. It evolved into a much more complex and layered story, for a cast of seven, when it was ‘scratched’ at the Cockpit Theatre. Its next incarnation was last year in a much more compact and concise format: six actors, 90 minutes. It was performed at the Lion and Unicorn as part of the Camden Fringe.

“The version we are taking to Edinburgh is a huge leap forward from that point. The cast has been reduced to four, and it’s only 60 minutes now. It is a nice compromise between the original script and all the new material, keeping the best and getting rid of all the superfluous passages.”

Juan and the team are excited to share this new version of the show with Edinburgh audiences: “Being a part of the Fringe is a fantastic reward in itself. We really want to share what we are doing with as many people as possible. So far, all audiences have been amazed, and we believe we have something worth showing.

“On top of that, we really want to enjoy the whole festival vibe. So many incredibly talented artists, gathered in the same city for a month… so many amazing shows to watch, and fascinating people to meet… It’s the true fantasy of any self respecting theatre maker. The show SCI-FI? by Sleeping Trees sounds like something we are going to enjoy a lot. It’s very hard to choose. There are so many things going on at the same time… We are just over the moon with anticipation!”

And as for the future? “Red Button is moving forward and up. After the Fringe we’ll move towards doing a full run in London and, potentially, touring. As the cast and the story is quite international, we are already trying to find ways of showcasing it overseas. Performing Red Button in international festivals would be a dream come true.”

Red Button is at theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) from 14th-19th August.