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: Michael Kossew, Tellit Festival

This Sunday sees the launch of Tellit, the UK’s first ever festival of true-life storytelling. It’s the brainchild of Michael Kossew, and will feature a week of shows across London including spoken word, theatre, comedy and movement, workshops and open mic events.

“I love listening to people’s stories and being transported into their lives for an hour or even a few minutes, and wanted to share my favourites with as many people as possible,” explains Michael. “There are loads of storytelling festivals but, in this country, no festival had ever focused solely on true-life storytelling and I wanted to change that.

“Then I had to make a decision about whether to focus on truth or storytelling. I chose truth as it allows artists more freedom to create performances in whatever style they feel comfortable performing and can allow the festival to grow in so many interesting ways. 

“Once I started telling people my vision, I ended up putting a great team together to help me curate the festival. Kate Walton, a storyteller I’d met at my storytelling nights, Jacob Wagen, an old friend and theatre producer and Tim, an audience member who loves stories. We started working together and this festival has grown to what it is through our collective visions.”

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Michael runs true storytelling events around London and at festivals, and wanted to combine his two passions into something greater. “Sharing stories goes back thousands of years. It’s not something I’ve created. But it’s something that, in this world driven by shorter and shorter forms of communication and concentration spans, is being lost and I want to help bring it back.

“We’re all natural born storytellers and we have an innate ability to tell amazing stories to each other. We all have at least one story from our own life that we love telling our friends. It could be one that you’ve told a million times because it always makes people laugh or cry or reminisce about lost youth or loved ones and, being this captivating, makes you an artist. We are all artists and telling stories is one of the easiest ways to unlock this creativity inside you because you already have the tools, the material, the experience of life to be able to tell your own stories.”

The packed programme includes Tellit Poeticallya night of autobiographical poetical storytelling; a clowning double bill from Holli Dillon and Charmaine Wombwell; and a lyrical rapping style of storytelling in Paul Cree’s Bedsit Show. The Survivors Collective are creating an empowering night of poetry speaking as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and Hikayenta, a group of Syrian refugees, create poetry and music from their own stories.

“We’ve made sure that all our shows are of an incredibly high standard for this year, but I would say that The Quest is a major highlight,” says Michael. “I would love to, one day, gather together in one room the greatest storytellers from around the world and hear tales from their own lives –  giving a wonderful insight into the lives of people on this planet. This year The Quest gathers together storytellers from major true-life storytelling clubs around the country for the final event of Tellit. It’s going to be a great celebration of stories at Hoxton Hall, one of the most beautiful venues of the festival, on the 22nd October.

“The ultimate aim of The Quest is to find stories from around the UK and eventually the world, bring those storytellers together to celebrate the stories that we tell. We want to inspire people to share their stories, whether they’re grand adventures or a beautiful slice of their lives. We’re not aiming to find the ‘best’, because all stories are beautiful in their own way, but we want to find a snapshot of a place and time reflected in the stories we tell each other and we’d love for people to think of their life events in terms of a story, to frame it, to own it and to tell it.”

Michael wants people to feel inspired to share their own stories and experiences. “We’d love for them to realise that they do have a story to tell, and I hope audiences will leave feeling enriched by the stories they’ve been told as well as their own memories that the stories re-ignited. Maybe some will start their own storytelling night, or club or circle and come and join The Quest next year. 

“I think people will take away many lessons from the stories they’ve heard as well. Stories are great teachers and they will stay in your mind long after the festival is over, and I hope they continue to be passed on from teller to listener to teller.”

And what about people who feel they have a story, but are worried nobody will be interested in hearing it? “I’ve found this to be the single biggest thing that holds people back from sharing their stories. My advice would be to listen to other people’s stories and see what draws you in. You’ll often find it’s the little things, like the way someone folds their clothes, or makes a cup of tea or relates to a parent and it’s these shared experiences that are often the most captivating. The story that you think isn’t interesting will trigger more memories and thoughts in your listener than you could ever imagine, and they will truly be interested in what you have to say. The trick to making people listen, is belief and presence. You have to believe that what you’re saying is interesting and, rather than simply remembering what happened, you have to re-live the experience as you’re telling it. 

“Finally – I would say just get on stage and share it. It gets easier every time and the audiences or listeners you tell your story to are so supportive, free of judgement and want to hear a great story. You’ll feed off this, relax, thoroughly enjoy it and will be desperate to do it again.”

Check out the programme for Tellit (16th-22nd October) at tellitfestival.com.