Review: Getting Over Everest at Tristan Bates Theatre

Getting over a break-up is never easy. But when you’ve spent ten years – a third of your life – building a future with the man who’s just unceremoniously dumped you, recovery can feel like an impossible task. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the ex in Natasha Santos’ new play is called Rob Everest, and that main character Libby is struggling to get over him. She’s not eating; she’s been spotted crying into a stolen pair of Rob’s pants at work (when she’s not listening to Sinead O’Connor on repeat, that is); and she’s started recording her farts – just because she can.

Needless to say, Getting Over Everest is a comedy, in which Libby (Natasha Santos) confesses all the crazy things she’s doing to try and get over her ex. When we first meet her, she’s leaving him yet another voicemail – in this case, a heartfelt rendition of I Will Always Love You. Later, encouraged by her friend Steph (Grace Dunne), she goes clubbing and ends up having an ill-advised sexual encounter with a floppy-haired random (George Vafakis) whose name she never bothers to find out.

It’s all very funny, and the cast of three play the outrageous material for every well-deserved laugh, with Grace Dunne and George Vafakis providing strong support as a variety of comic characters alongside Natasha Santos’ wry, self-deprecating Libby. But there’s a lot more going on here than just a newly single woman going a bit mad for a while, and it’s in its quieter moments that the play really touches a nerve. We never meet Rob (although we hear his voicemail message a lot), and there’s a reason for that – though he might have sparked it, Libby’s panic is never about him but about what he represents. She’s hurt and heartbroken by his rejection, but more than that she’s terrified of what the future holds for an almost-30-year-old whose entire life has been defined for a decade by her relationship status.

And you don’t need to have recently come out of a long-term relationship to identify with that feeling – anyone who’s ever gone through a bereavement, or lost a job, or simply woken up one day and realised their life isn’t going the way they’d hoped will be able to recognise a little of themselves in what Libby’s going through. (Though it’s likely – I hope – that most of us haven’t yet resorted to recording our farts.) In reality, this play isn’t so much about a breakup as it is about the importance of being able to talk about our fears and emotions; it’s only when Libby finally opens up and shares how she’s feeling with a kindly stranger that she’s finally set on the road to recovery. As funny as the rest of the play is, I wish we could have seen a bit more of Libby’s emotional journey instead of just the first steps, even at the expense of some of the earlier comedy.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times unashamedly filthy and at others unexpectedly poignant, Getting Over Everest is an entertaining and relatable hour of theatre that touches on some very topical issues – and above all reminds us (repeatedly) that “it’s okay to not be okay”.

Getting Over Everest is at Tristan Bates Theatre until 11th August.

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Interview: Milly Thomas, Dust

Milly Thomas is a London-based actor and writer, whose solo show Dust is about to transfer to the West End, following critically acclaimed runs at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and London’s Soho Theatre. The solo show, directed by Sara Joyce, tackles the difficult topic of mental health from a unique viewpoint – that of a young woman who’s just committed suicide.

“This is Alice’s story,” explains Milly. “Alice has depression and decides to take her own life. However, what she isn’t counting on is remaining there, stuck. And in this stuck place she can see the effects of her decision on her family and friends and, ultimately, on her.

“It’s something I feel very passionately about, having had depression and anxiety myself for a while. I think it’s so easy to lose sight of what it means to be high functioning and the real impact of depression on our lives. I hope that it will get people not just to open up about their issues with mental health but also to do more and realise that suicide isn’t the answer. Mental health is spectrum. Suicide is binary: once you’ve died, you are no longer in that conversation and there is no room for hope. This play takes that concept and turns it on its head.”

Dust by Milly Thomas
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Dust has been greeted with widespread acclaim since its debut at last year’s Fringe, for which Milly won an Edinburgh Stage Award. “It’s been incredible,” she says. “I think the biggest surprise is it actually happening at all! And the fact that people have responded to it quite the way they have. I’m very overwhelmed by it and thrilled that it’s helping dent the stigma a bit. With the West End transfer, I think I’m most looking forward to the new audiences. Each time the show has been on the audience has evolved, and I’m so excited to meet the people I’ll be playing with.”

The 75-minute solo show sees Milly playing not only the central character of Alice, but all the people in her life as well. It’s a challenging task, but one she relishes: “Ooh, I love it. I love doing it. I miss it when I’m not doing it! It’s like being on the treadmill in a good way. What I love is that you can’t end game it. When it starts, Alice is in a place of complete denial and almost amusement. Almost giggly. You can’t think about where it’s going or what’s going to happen. It’s only halfway through that you suddenly realise how hard it is and by the end you’re totally out of breath.”

Milly began her career as an actor, and started writing when she graduated from drama school in 2014. Her first full-length play, A First World Problem, opened at Theatre503 in July of that year, followed in 2015 by Piggies and in 2016 by Clickbait, which played to sold-out audiences and an extended run. Last year, she took two shows to Edinburgh – Brutal Cessation and Dust. Her top tip to other aspiring writers is to write as much as possible: “As much and as often as you can. Throw nothing away. Absolutely nothing. Might be gold in five years. Be patient. This is a long game and your age and experience are only going to make your work richer.

“Talk to people. Talk to strangers. Writing is a relationship. Try to make it a loving and fair one where you are kind to each other. Talk to other writers. Talk to directors. Actors, producers, designers, stage managers – talk to people. Find out how it works outside your sphere. Keep interested and open and never be precious. There are different hills to die on and choose them carefully. You’ve only got limited hills! You can’t die on all of them!”

Book now for Dust at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 4th September to 13th October.

Interview: Liam Ashmead and Laura Shoebottom, Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an ‘S’ on Her Vest

Liam Ashmead and Laura Shoebottom are the co-founders of Thematic Theatre, a company they set up last year to specialise in new writing. Next week they’ll open their debut production, Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an ‘S’ on Her Vest, at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham. Written by Laura and directed by Liam, the play follows the effects of anxiety and workplace bullying on the central character, Jenna, and the toll it ultimately takes on her health.

Laura, who also plays Jenna, has previously had work performed at Theatre 503, The Churchill Theatre and The Tabard Theatre. Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an ‘S’ on Her Vest is her first full production, and was inspired by a conversation with her mum: “Around a particularly stressful exam period, she told me it was ok to ‘take the superwoman outfit off once in a while’ and look after myself rather than trying to be all things to all people. It’s always stayed with me and the message is the essence of the show really, that it’s impossible to be everything to everyone.”

As a new company making their debut, Laura and Liam are looking forward to sharing their show with audiences within their local area, and taking the opportunity to start a conversation about mental health. “We hope that audiences will empathise with Jenna, but mostly it’s about raising awareness for mental health. We’re so happy that we’re fundraising for Mind because it’s a charity that’s very close to both our hearts.

The two friends graduated last year from Italia Conti, where they decided to set up their own company – and Thematic Theatre was born. “We knew that we enjoyed working together as creatives and we were both passionate about creating new work for ourselves, so we thought a theatre company would be a great route to go down.

“We want to collaborate with as many people as we can and make contacts with others who share the same passion as us. We’ve both been involved in many scratch nights and new writing festivals and we believe they are great platforms for creatives. We want to offer these same opportunities to others and we aim to do this through our own new writing event ‘Box of Themes’, where we pick out a theme and then get writers/ directors and actors to create a short piece based around it.”

Both founders agree that starting their own company has been both exciting and challenging: “The biggest challenge has been trusting our work and making sure it’s sensitive to the subject matter. We’re very excited about it but as it’s our first time producing we naturally have moments of doubt. It’s also very expensive putting on a show so there’s always money to consider, and balancing rehearsals and promotion alongside our other jobs.

“Creatively, though, it’s been amazing. We both work well together and we’ve enjoyed the freedom and fun we’ve had in the rehearsal room – there’s equal control and it’s relaxed since we’re good friends. There’s always been that mutual trust and respect there so we’ve been able to be totally honest about whether something works or not from the get go; that’s something we’re both really thankful for.”

Following next week’s short run at the Bread and Roses, Laura and Liam are looking ahead to the show’s future. “We plan to take it to The Vaults and the Edinburgh fringe next year. We’re really happy with where the play is at the moment and we want to use this run in London to get an idea of how audiences react and develop it even more.”

Catch Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an ‘S’ on Her Vest at The Bread and Roses Theatre from 10th-14th July.

Review: Section 2 at The Bunker Theatre

Despite great strides in awareness over recent years, there’s still a huge amount we’ve yet to learn about mental illness. But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that it can strike anyone, at any time – even those who seem to have it all together.

Cam, the central character in Paper Creatures’ new play Section 2, is one of those people. At school he was the golden boy, the star of the rugby team; now he’s in the army, and has been in a steady relationship with his girlfriend for five years. Nothing particular seems to have happened, although there are unproven suspicions, but despite all this somehow he’s ended up being sectioned. That was 28 days ago, and today is the day that Cam – along with his girlfriend Kay, key worker Rachel, and friend Pete – will find out if he can go home. The play takes place on the ward in real time, and as the minutes tick away on Cam’s 28th day, we get an informative and moving glimpse into the workings of a system that’s rarely discussed, on stage or indeed anywhere.

Photo credit: Tim Hall Photography

Section 2 was written by Peter Imms in response to a personal experience he had when a school friend was sectioned, and then developed collaboratively with Paper Creatures in association with Mind, the mental health charity. As such, Nathan Coenen’s portrayal of Cam’s fragile mental state feels both sensitive and authentic: one moment he seems fine, the next he’s forgotten how to breathe; his meds make him forgetful, he seems frequently on the verge of tears, and when he hugs someone, he clings on to them like he’s drowning. The frustrating fact that we don’t know what caused his breakdown only enhances this realism, reminding us that where mental health is concerned, sometimes there simply aren’t neat, easy answers.

The play also examines Kay, Rachel and Pete’s different responses to what’s happened; in fact the balance of the script is such that this is just as much their story as it is Cam’s. Imms moves the characters around very naturally between two rooms, which allows us to witness one-on-one interactions between each pair, and get to know all the characters a little better. Alexandra Da Silva adopts an air of weary resignation as Kay arrives for yet another visit, but we soon realise that behind her tough exterior she’s struggling to keep a lid on her own fear and distress in order to protect the man she loves. She clashes frequently with Esmé Patey-Ford’s Rachel, mistaking her calm professionalism for a lack of empathy, and irritated that Rachel seems more able than she is to establish a meaningful connection with Cam.

This atmosphere of simmering tension is brought to a head by the intervention of Pete, a first time visitor who hasn’t seen Cam for five years. Played by Jon Tozzi, Pete is perhaps the most relatable of the characters: way out of his depth but with an obvious desire to understand, he still maintains a fragile hope that he can somehow find the magic button that will make everything better.

Photo credit: Tim Hall Photography

Section 2 is an important and timely piece of theatre, raising awareness of the far-reaching impact of mental illness, and sectioning in particular. More than that though, it’s a play about friendship and human relationships; though it’s undoubtedly difficult to watch at times, there’s something very uplifting about seeing so many loved ones lining up to support Cam on his road to recovery, each in their own individual way. Sensitively written and performed, this powerful play is well worth a visit.

Section 2 is at The Bunker Theatre as part of the Breaking Out season, on Tuesdays and Fridays until 7th July.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it…

Interview: Jon Tozzi, Section 2

Paper Creatures Theatre was founded by actors Nathan Coenen and Jon Tozzi on a mutual love of new writing, truthful storytelling and innovative theatre. Their mission is to tell simple, compelling and bold stories that hold up a mirror to the millennial generation.

“The media often portrays millennials as social media-fixated, self-involved and careless of the society in which we find ourselves,” explains Jon. “Paper Creatures is committed to making theatre that breaks away from that stereotype and digs deeper. Good theatre for us is about storytelling. We lead with the idea that the story should be the primary focus from which everything else springs. Our shows aim to provoke, engage and encourage discussion after having left the auditorium.”

And they’re hoping to do just that with their second show, Section 2, which explores the often sensitive subject of mental health, and in particular aims to shine a light on the topic of sectioning. “Mental health is thankfully an issue that is gaining a brighter spotlight and focus in recent years, especially with depression and anxiety,” says Jon. “However, not much is said about sectioning, a treatment that is increasingly required, particularly among those aged 18 – 35, not to mention those who work in the arts.

Section 2 is a part verbatim story about a young man named Cam, the golden-boy in high school, who is sectioned under the mental health act, but no one can figure out why. Taking place in real time on potentially the final day of his sectioning, we follow a glaringly insightful truth into the process, challenges and effects of sectioning, on the patient but also his key worker, girlfriend and best friend.

“Sectioning is a subject that is rarely talked about in theatre, and definitely not in such an honest and revealing way. When Peter Imms, the writer, approached us with the initial story, we felt it important to take the opportunity to shed some light on the subject and tackle its effects head on. The fact that this piece was inspired by a personal encounter of our playwright means the approach to the text is much more truthful and raw in comparison to many other mental health plays. Section 2 is told in real-time, allowing audience members to experience every joy, hope, silence and heartbreak right there along with the characters – as if they were in the room with them. The play oozes subtext and Pete’s writing style allows for lots of exploration for the director and actors to explore this in various ways through each performance.”

Photo credit: Monika Jastrzebska

The production began life in September 2017 as ten pages of script and a short verbatim piece from a personal experience Peter had with sectioning. “Since then, we’ve done what we do best: given Pete the time and creative support necessary to write the play Section 2 has become,” says Jon. “This included several read throughs with different actors and creatives listening in, an R&D week away in Wittering, and taking part in A Pleasance Scratch at the Pleasance Theatre to gain some useful feedback. We work extremely collaboratively and have given the piece the time and dedication it needs to be performance ready. The key for us was to approach this play and the subject matter with sensitivity and a clear understanding, so lots of research was undertaken and it has been invaluable; we hope that comes across after having watched the play.

“In today’s day and age, it’s important, particularly as millennials, that we continue to open our minds and expand our knowledge of a lot of key issues that affect many people in our society, such as mental health. What Section 2 will give you is a brave and truthful insight into the world of sectioning, at the same time as letting you come away with a hopeful outlook on how we as humans can help break the stigma attached to mental health and how we as a theatre community can help support this. What makes this piece so special is that we have had support from MIND, the mental health charity during the script development stages, so what we are bringing to The Bunker is a play that accurately depicts the inner workings of a mental health hospital and the emotional journey of those that are a part of it.

“We want our audiences to leave with a greater awareness and knowledge of sectioning and, with that, the ability and willingness to reach out to those in their lives who suffer from mental health conditions and become a part of their support network. Something as simple as an informed conversation can help sufferers immensely.

“Good theatre is about connection and we hope that there will be at least one moment in the piece which the audience is able to connect and empathise with. We also strongly encourage audiences to stick around after to discuss the play with us so we can begin the conversation regarding mental health.”

Following the success last year of their debut production, Flood, Paper Creatures are excited to be bringing their new project to The Bunker as part of the Breaking out season. “The Bunker has been attracting a young, vibrant and, most importantly, diverse crowd since their debut show which we saw back in 2016,” says Jon. “Just sitting in the space, there is a distinct buzz and community feel. Having the opportunity to share our stories with this kind of audience is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us. The performance space itself will lend itself perfectly to the production as the audience will be looking in on the action of the play, giving a fly on the wall type feel.

“To be in repertory theatre for a month with five other emerging new-writing theatre companies is also an absolute privilege for us here at Paper Creatures Theatre. The chance to meet and work alongside these different creatives, each with their unique approach to their craft, has taught us a lot and given us the opportunity to expand our audience. We hugely appreciate and champion The Bunker Theatre’s efforts to make this happen – more needs to be done to support new companies and this is one hell of a start.”

Get your tickets now for Section 2 at The Bunker Theatre, on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8.30pm from 11th June to 7th July.