Interview: Sophia Del Pizzo, Assmonkey: In Conversation

“‘Science’, cats, Rick Astley and wank jokes,” is Sophia Del Pizzo’s concise and intriguing summary of her one-woman show, Assmonkey: In Conversation, which has its first full preview at the Rosemary Branch on 31st March.

Expanding a little, she continues, “The show is about anxiety and mental health, and what I and a lot of other people do to self help. I wanted to do this show to encourage people to talk about it more. I perform methods of coping strategies I’ve learnt over the years, which I think other people could hopefully use with their own problems. I wanted to pass on things I’ve learnt. Share the knowledge and confidence in speaking out.

“What I’d like audiences to take away is that we need to start talking more and to encourage people, especially men, to open up more. But also to take away the core message of the show, which has really helped me. Mysterious I know, but come and see the show. Smooth…”

But surely performing for an audience – especially solo – must be one of the most nerve-wracking things you can do. How does Sophia overcome her anxiety about going on stage? “I don’t,” she answers simply. “I really don’t; I’m terrified, as it’ll be its first full public showing. People might hate it, but at least I would have tried. Anxiety is fear and this is something I need to overcome. The good thing is I am able to use my nerves and fears, as some of the characters in the piece require it. I’ve never done anything like this before, but the nerves are all part of the show and I just have to allow that. For better or worse.”

Sophia had the idea for Assmonkey: In Conversation about a year ago. “I’ve been writing it for about six months and only this year started to preview it. I’ve never written a show before, so this preview will be the first time it’s been performed in full. Scary, but I guess everyone has to have their first show, right? I started by noting conversations I had in therapy and really looking at what I do to manage anxiety and how I’ve gone wrong in the past. I’ve thought of ways to bring character work and humour into it because I still want people to be entertained, even though it’s a difficult subject. I improvise a lot of the characters and write from there.”

Though she’s never performed the full show before, Sophia did preview an excerpt at last month’s HerStory festival at Theatre N16, and received some great feedback. “It’s been useful to realise different audiences get it and some don’t, which really has amped up the fear factor,” she explains. “My first preview at the HerStory festival was glorious. I was touched by the comments and people seemed to laugh a lot – I hope all shows are like that, it was great to know the tone of the show can work. I’m performing a snippet at the awesome Hatch night too, so I will be loaded with useful feedback. What is really nice is that people who’ve seen bits have thanked me for being so honest, which is reassuring because at times it can feel very self-indulgent making people sit down and listen to your story. Typical actor.”

Sophia’s a member of the Soho Theatre Writers Lab, a course that offers writers the chance to develop and refine their voice, with support, motivation and guidance from the course leaders and members of Soho Theatre’s Artistic Team. “Shout out to the Soho massive,” says Sophia. “I applied online with some short comedy sketches I’d written and I’m loving the course, I’d say it’s definitely been one of the reasons I’m doing this show. The support and encouragement from the staff and from peers is so inspiring, and it’s meant I’ve gone to see a lot more theatre and talked ideas with my peers, to a point where my confidence as a writer and performer has grown enough to prompt me to do this show. But it’s also changed how I look at forming a journey and a story. I have nothing but good things to say about Writers Lab and the resources to new writers. The Soho Theatre also do amazing talks and workshops that are open to everyone.”

For anyone who’s suffering with anxiety, Sophia has a little (spoiler-free) advice: “Without giving my show away, I’d say everything I explain, in roundabout ways relates back to meditation and asking for help. Charities like SANE have great resources and of course organisations like this have websites packed with information. But I think the most important thing is to make sure you surround yourself with supportive people if possible. Try therapy, if you haven’t. Also try looking at anxiety not as something bad, but maybe as something you just need to understand.”

Assmonkey: In Conversation previews at the Rosemary Branch Theatre on 31st March.

Review: Richard III at the Rosemary Branch

The last production I saw of Richard III was at the Globe a few years ago, which happened to coincide with a huge thunderstorm that raged for most of the play; every dramatic moment was punctuated by a crash of thunder, and when the evil Richard met his end, the rain immediately stopped and the sun came out. (I’m not making this up, by the way; it was spooky.)

No such assistance from nature inside the Rosemary Branch, where Godot’s Watch’s production of Richard III runs until the 29th – but when it comes to creating atmosphere, no help is needed. This modern take on the murderous rise to power of Richard, Duke of Gloucester is a taut, gripping thriller that looks amazing and breathes new life (not to mention sex appeal) into a 500-year-old story.

Photo credit: Caroline Galea
Photo credit: Caroline Galea

On an empty stage illuminated by coloured strip lights, the throne of England awaits… but to claim it, Richard must first dispose of both his brothers. This he manages with worrying ease, before turning his attention to his two young nephews. With the help of Buckingham, who’s won over by the false promise of wealth and titles, Richard finally becomes King – but how long can he hold on to the throne?

An excellent cast is led by Sam Coulson as the villainous Richard. No hunchbacks here – instead a blood-red birthmark stains one side of his face, foreshadowing the horrors ahead. This is a performance that walks the line between smoothly charming and violently unhinged; one minute he’s sweet-talking the grieving widow of one of his victims into marrying him, the next he’s roaring with crazed delight over the success of his evil schemes. And throughout, he takes the audience regularly into his confidence, making us complicit in his crimes as he bumps off victim after victim.

The inclusion of Elena Clements as Richard’s co-conspirator Buckingham brings a welcome shot of girl power to a play in which every other woman is forced into the role of victim, and I also really enjoyed the twist that turned Gloucester’s two killers into one conflicted soul; Michael Rivers brilliantly channels Gollum as he argues with himself over the rights and wrongs of proceeding with the murder.

Director Séan Aydon clearly isn’t afraid to take a few risks in modernising the story – the use of Siri to find a hitman willing to murder Richard’s nephews gets a lot of laughs, and there’s more than one reference to drug use in the royal court. Not historically accurate, maybe – but then as we’ve seen all too well in recent months, the storyline of a tyrant doing whatever it takes to claim power is one that works just as well in a modern context…


Another star of the show is the lighting design from Jack Channer, and sound from Daniel Harmer, which combine to create an atmosphere of drama and tension throughout. From Richard’s opening soliloquy, which plays out in semi-darkness like a scene from a black and white movie, to the harsh white flashes that accompany his victims’ deaths, it’s an ingeniously simple approach that shows you don’t always need fancy effects or a complicated set to make a powerful impact.

Godot’s Watch is a new company, and if this is what we get from their first production then it’s exciting news for theatre. Their Richard III is inventive, bold and utterly gripping (and don’t just take my word for it; my friend turned to me at the interval and said, “Why have I never seen this play before? It’s amazing!”) – I can’t wait to see more from them, and hopefully soon.

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… 😉

Review: Shakespeare As You (Might) Like It at Rosemary Branch

Wait, what just happened?

Honestly, I have no idea how to sum up what I just saw. Shakespeare As You (Might) Like It is a mish mash of party, cabaret and game show, with bits of serious drama thrown in for good measure. After enjoying free stoops of wine and sweet treats, unsuspecting audience members are called on to read lines, ring bells and pass parcels, and are occasionally hauled on stage to join the mayhem – all whilst wearing paper hats, found inside the party bags that are handed out at the door.

The fact that every single person willingly put their hat on, though, is a testament to the infectious enthusiasm and joy of both the show and its performers. Shook Up Shakespeare’s Roseanna Morris and Helen Watkinson are a natural double act, bouncing off each other (sometimes literally) as they engage in witty banter, play energetic party games, sing Shakespeare-inspired songs (written by Shane Rutherfoord-Jones) and reenact a few of the Bard’s best loved scenes.

Shakespeare as you (might) like it, Shook Up Shakespeare

It does all get a bit manic, and even slightly alarming, from time to time, and it’s never completely clear what’s planned and what’s just ad libbed on the spot – although I suspect it’s a mixture of the two. The two actors throw absolutely everything into their performance, backed by their ‘one-man, one-wo-man’ band, who often look as bemused as the rest of us.

The show is described as a ‘Quad Centenary Wake’ and is a light-hearted tribute to the great playwright, poet and party planner that was William Shakespeare. I’m not sure what he would have made of it, but hopefully he would have been entertained – and perhaps only mildly outraged by the criticism of his poetry (which we established, through extensive research, ‘doesn’t even rhyme!’). Despite a scene that seems to suggest otherwise, these ladies clearly know their Shakespeare plays, and it’s fun to try and spot all the references to his works casually dropped in throughout the show.

If you’re a diehard fan of ‘straight Shakespeare’, these guys may not be for you; they’re unconventional, unpredictable and often very, very silly, mixing scenes from different plays with wild abandon. Equally, if you dislike audience participation, you may not feel entirely comfortable – although in reality nobody’s asked to do anything too terrifying.

But if you enjoy a bit of randomness, you fancy some light entertainment with a Shakespearean flavour, or you just like the occasional stoop of wine and ‘much ado about muffin’ (I did enjoy that one, I must admit), then they may be right up your street. This particular show ended its run at the Rosemary Branch Theatre this evening, but keep an eye on Shook Up Shakespeare to see what’s coming up next.

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… 😉