Tuesday, 30 June 2015

West End Dramaturgy: Paul Ricketts @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Paul Ricketts: This production started the night after the events detailed in the show happened and I started telling somebody else the story. These events took place back in 1992 so that's many years of telling friends and acquaintances the story in pubs, bars and other social situations. 

Of course every time I retold the story I was editing, restructuring and perfecting the narrative and honing the performance. Then five years ago I told the story to an audience for the first time at a Storytelling night in Limehouse, London. It got a tremendous response and I began to contemplate making the story the centre piece of an Edinburgh Fringe show.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?In terms of comedy in the UK, the Edinburgh Fringe is the premier 'trade show' for comics. If you explain to non-comics why comics spend £1000s to go Edinburgh with very little chance of making a profit, they tend to think you're crazy. 

It is crazy, but it's like an end of year comic's exam. You show the industry and the public what you've learnt and you get marked in reviews. Career wise Edinburgh is important in other ways, in that having to produce new material for shows is crucial in keeping you moving forward and just surviving the three plus weeks makes you improve as a performer.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
With this production I want the audience to be invested in the narrative and their experience of it. Obviously there's other levels to the show apart from the narrative and the humour. The show's also about London and attitudes to the city, plus it's a storytelling show about storytelling which starts when I first approach people with a flyer hours before the showtime and re-enact the main conceit of the story. So I expect the audience to laugh, be mildly shocked and to be slightly thrown by considering what's true and what's false and hopefully wondering if it matters.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?

I think it's highly relevant as demonstrated in how the show developed. Firstly the story developed over many years by it's retelling in social situations. It then changed again when I began to tell it on storytelling shows. I started to bring in other elements that didn't actually happen on the night in question. 

I realised that storytelling didn't have to totally accurate, it's a story, not a police statement. Many elements from different things that have happened to me at different times can be put together to make a story. It’s like an entertaining truth alloy. 

Also with this show I have to be careful I don’t end up being sued, so I’ve changed names to protect the guilty, but I’ve left Tony Blair’s name in! 

Further changes were made when the hour show developed. There were other ideas and things I wanted to say about London that I could incorporate into the show. 

Structurally, I obeyed some conventions used in Edinburgh shows - such as making sure that there was a moment of poignancy around the 30 minute mark. After several previews I had to re-structure how the additional material was melding around the story learning from audience feedback and by watching another contemporary comedian's shows. 

Finally after talking to a friend after my last preview I finally realised what the show was really about and worked out ideas on how to make getting people to see my show be part of the overall story and experience.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I describe what I'm doing in my show as Comedy Storytelling, which means there's a combination of influences on what I'm doing. I'm a stand-up comic so there's the influence of that tradition, but having said that some of my favourite comics like Richard Pryor or many of my favourite Edinburgh stand-up performers are incredibly anecdotal like Brendon Burns, Wil Hodgson and Paul Sinha - they all have a strong storytelling element. 

But I was always attracted to the idea of storytelling as a performance art, especially after watching Spalding Gray’s Swimming To Cambodia in the late 1980’s. The most obvious difference between stand-up and storytelling is that the latter is much less 'gag' driven. For me it’s more literal as I always sit down to do ‘story-telling’. I sometimes even explain to the audience that by sitting-down I’m giving them a graphic visual representation of how much less gag driven my story-telling will be – I’m literally two feet less interested in chasing laughs. I think that’s needed as I also want them and myself to concentrate on every bizarre twist or poignant turn in the story. 

And there's also a theatrical 'spectacle' approach (lighting changes, projections, subtle sound cues etc) to the show which I'm sure is inspired watching by Spalding Gray. But I leave it up to others to decide if I'm within any sort of tradition.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
So far I’ve done autobiographical, identity, political and straight stand-up shows. I like the idea of doing something different each time I do an hour show. I've also like using different processes in developing these shows. From the research I had to do for identity and political shows or the writing and further development of existing routines for stand-up shows. 

Apart from each show starting with an idea there's been a different approach used to develop the ideas. Some have come together at the last minute and others have been planned over a year, while this last one over five years. 

However I do collaborate with others by discussing choices with other performers, technicians, friends and audiences. One consistent approach is the belief that all of these shows will never reach a finalised state and that change can happen during any performance.

The show is a celebration of London - with it's mix of opportunity and unaffordable housing - and it works because it is extraordinary material and entirely true.
Paul says:
“Last year in Edinburgh, every day I had a fantastic time recreating the events of show, using the same little white lie while inviting prospective audience members to join me at the show. I wanted them to surrender to the potential pleasures of the random experience and mirror their attendance of my show with the events that happened in Soho.”
Paul’s previous Edinburgh Fringe shows have been highly rated. In 2009, 'Cutter’s Choice’, a political and personal look at black hairstyles, didn’t get a single Edinburgh Fringe review but went on to tour London schools as well as being performed at The Hen & Chickens Theatre, Theatro Technis, Tristan Bates Theatre in London, Leicester and Brighton Fringe Festivals - winning the FRINGE GURU EDITOR'S CHOICE AWARD 2010. His next Edinburgh show 'Kiss The Badge, Fly The Flag!' dealt with football and English identity, received the 'Must See' award from THE STAGE, five stars from REMOTEGOAT.CO.UK and four stars from THREE WEEKS. This show was performed at Cambridge University's 'Festival of Ideas' and a revised version did a short run at the Leicester Square Theatre. In 2012, ‘Ironic Infinity’, a straight stand-up show was also very well received, gaining 4 stars from Chortle and Broadway Baby.

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