Interview: Cath Mattos, Wandsworth Fringe 2017

Cath Mattos is producer of the Wandsworth Fringe, which launched last week in South West London and continues until 21st May. Now in its eighth year, and four years old as a standalone festival, the Wandsworth Fringe came out of the Wandsworth Arts Festival, which originally started in response to Black History Month. “The festival is a spotlight on creativity in Wandsworth, as well as being a testing ground for new work,” explains Cath. “We moved toward a Fringe model as there was so much grass roots support and the creative companies in the area wanted to be a part of the festival in May.

“I started working on the 2014 festival for exactly this reason, to bring more knowledge and experience of Fringe Festivals and to work with the Enable LC Arts Team and the WAF steering group to help carve a model that would work for the area and its cultural economy.”

As always, the festival offers a varied programme of events and entertainment. “There is so much on offer – we’ll be shaking up South West London with an eclectic programme of arts and culture that will thrill, move and inspire audiences from across the city,” promises Cath. “We have many talented local artists and producers but also performers who are bringing their talent from around the UK, Europe, North America and beyond to entertain and bring excitement to the streets and venues across the Borough.

“The festival is emphatically inclusive and welcomes participation from artists across all art forms – including outdoor arts, theatre, music, dance, comedy and everything in between. WAF provides the opportunity and support to try something new, take creative risks, test new ideas and reach new audiences.

“As a non-curated festival, the themes that have emerged reflect the world in 2017. Identity and difference plays a large part in the line up, as do environmental and current political concerns. There is a significant amount of work being presented by inclusive arts companies about disability issues, as well as work that explores gender and feminism.

“We also try and bring the arts to people, by literally leaving our own comfort zone and going into those hard to reach places. For example, during WAF you can see quite a few performances that focus on issues of mental health or disability, and certain shows will be supported by British sign language as a way to make the festival relevant and accessible to all.”

Unsurprisingly, preparations for the festival start early, and go on for most of the year: “We start the planning for the Fringe year during the evaluation of the previous festival in June,” explains Cath. “Then we start our first networking events in September and open an expression of interest phase, which we use to encourage as many interesting and unusual artists and producers as possible to come and find out about the festival and think about taking part.

“We advise artists and emerging producers on suitable venues and potential funding avenues. WAF has a dedicated grants funding scheme and we advise artists with their applications to this. It’s an open access festival, so anyone can register to take part as long as they have a venue sorted. Once all the artists are registered we then put a brochure together and the listings on our website, and start to sell tickets to the shows and promote the free events.

“We aim to make the festival as accessible as possible to both artists and audiences by having affordable options and many free events.”

So what are some of the many highlights to look forward to at the Wandsworth Fringe 2017? “Fragility Takeover The Arches at St. Mary’s Church under Putney Bridge and The Cat’s Back Pub in Wandsworth Town, and are hosting some cutting edge theatre and quirky Edinburgh previews,” suggests Cath.

“There’s also Super Hamlet 64: Parody DLC – armed with an ocarina, a ukulele and a thirst for revenge, Lecoq-trained Edward Day battles four decades of video game nostalgia, in an explosion of Shakespeare, live music, video projection and 16 bit mayhem. Odjo – King of the Ocean is a new show from The Comedy Cats, about a reporter who spent three months living at sea with an idiot fisherman named Odjo, witnessing bizarre martial arts practices, unruly animal impressions and unhealthy absurdities that reduced him to tears of laughter.

“Hidden Heathbrook is a weekend of outdoor arts in Heathbrook Park; we have leading large scale puppet makers Puppets With Guts, orchestrating the largest giant rampaging rhinoceros stampede in South London, and Hikapee’s brand new show Home weaves together slapstick comedy with breathtaking aerial acrobatics, to create a ‘house’ for you to explore. This weekend is one not to miss!

“And An Elemental Cycle of Life and Death in Four Acts is an intense and intimate experience encircling art, theatre, ritual and shamanic story weaving of the Fabulous and the Magickal, and of all that lies Betwixt and Between. The Transience create doorways to worlds which may or may not exist and are inviting you into an initiation where you are likely to lose or find yourself, for there is never any telling which. Sssh, secret locations!”

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.