Aug 3, 5-14, 16-28
When David was 15, he loved punk, house parties and poetry. Most of all, he loved Kate. They loved each other so much it hurt. Kate has an eating disorder. But David knows he can make her better. On The Run return, following the five-star sell-out success of their debut, So It Goes, with a show about love, hopeless devotion and growing up.
An experience I had when I was a teenager. When I was fifteen, I had a girlfriend who had an eating disorder. I was the only person that knew, which made me feel responsible for her and I though it was my job to ‘save’ her. When this didn’t happen, it left me with a lot of shame, anger and regret.
The more work we’ve done on the show, the more I’ve had to investigate myself now, as an adult. It’s now a show that’s just as much about me now as me back then.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The show began as a collaboration with Hannah Moss, who is the other half of my company On The Run. It was always intended to be a solo performance and Hannah was in the role of director for the first twelve months of development, much of which was completed with support from Camden People’s Theatre.
We then got some ACE funding for more structured development work and brought our Designer Emma Tompkins on board officially, although she’d been connected to the project unofficially from day one, as we’d worked with her before and felt she was an important part of our set up. We also worked with an eating disorders expert, Dr Charlotte Rhind, and a live musician, Lilly Neubauer.
After a work in progress performance in September 2015, at Shoreditch Town Hall, we changed things up a bit. Hannah was going to be abroad for twelve months, so we recruited Christopher Harrisson to take over as Director. Chris and I trained together at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. We let go of the live music element and brought on board Jon McLeod to do sound design – I’d worked with Jon on one previous show and he has loads of experience working with devising companies. We also brought our Producer Tom Searle from Show And Tell onto the project – we were already working with him on touring work for our last show So It Goes and wanted to continue the relationship into this new project. To complete the line up, we recruited Alex Fernandes, a Lighting Designer I’d worked with before – who also has a great background working with exciting experimental companies – as well as our go-to Stage Manager Lucy Adams.
How did you become interested in making performance?
School plays. The fact that my school had barely any drama to offer was maybe a good thing. There was no drama department and no teachers seemed interested, so I bullied my way into being allowed to direct plays myself. I think this was a good introduction to how tough it is to get a project off the ground, when you’re the one leading, as well as giving me hands-on experience of putting a show together. I’m sure the shows weren’t particularly good but it was a great chance to play around and do it ourselves.
As a student, I did a lot of theatre but also comedy, mainly stand-up, and I think what I do now is a hybrid of those two interests. As a writer-performer, I identify a lot with comedians but I’m also happy that I can be funny if I want to be but lots of other things besides. I also started going to the Edinburgh Fringe at that age, which is where I saw a lot of exciting work that inspired me to train at the Jacques Lecoq School.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Every process is different. But we massively underestimated how different this would be. Hannah and I had made one show before and this was the difficult second album – difficult because we were still inexperienced but now we were putting pressure on ourselves to make something as good as the last one!
We hadn’t anticipated how much would change when the autobiographical element was coming from me not her and how different it would be to have Hannah directing; whereas on our last show, I was in it but directing most of it too.
This process has involved much more thinking, writing and research. Our last show, So It Goes, was entirely devised in the room.
This show required much more interrogation of the ‘big picture’ (ie. what’s it really about and what are we trying to say?) before the smaller pieces would fit together. In So It Goes, we just made loads of smaller pieces first and then put them in an order.
Tell Me Anything is much more psychologically complex and comes with a lot of political and ethical baggage, which So It Goes didn’t have. The characterisation in So It Goes is very archetypal: mother, father, daughter. In Tell Me Anything it’s much more specific and knotty.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
With any autobiographical work, the main aim is that the audience are able to relate my life to theirs in some way. I would like Tell Me Anything to provoke questions about how we behave in relationships, which I think is fascinating and complex and a bit crazy. Most of all, I want to start a conversation about masculinity.
That all sounds a bit cerebral. I think it’s just as important that the audience feel that pang of love and heartache and rage.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
It’s a lot to do with my relationship to them and my attempts to charm them, which are sometimes genuine and at other times, slightly manipulative. One of the features of the show is that I am an unreliable narrator, so there are moments where ‘David the writer’ is hoping you can see through what ‘David the character’ is trying to make you believe. I hope that makes the audience less passive because they shouldn’t be taking everything at face value and will have to interrogate what’s being said to them.
I think they might also dislike me for quite a lot of the story, so there’s something about alienating the audience and then trying to win them back – without making it into a popularity contest.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
The contemporary trend I identify with most is confessional writing in literary ‘fiction’. I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is another very frank account of the crazy things love will make you do. Kraus’s book Aliens and Anorexia was a huge influence on this show; partly because it deals with eating disorders but mainly because my reading of it is that she knows that she is an unreliable narrator.
The Vegetarian, a novel by Han Kang which won the Man Booker International Prize this year, was another big influence. It’s about anorexia but also about patriarchy, food and culture. The fact that the female protagonist, flawed though she is, is not portrayed as a victim, was an important lesson for me.
It’s maybe relevant that I can think of more literary influences that theatrical ones. There’s something introspective about novels which is perhaps more pertinent to Tell Me Anything than most plays or performance. Perhaps that’s why we arrived a such a text-based, story-telling style.
More broadly, I would place my work in a tradition of devising that, in my case, comes from the Jacques Lecoq School. Our last show, So It Goes, had a very Lecoq feel to it. But I don’t think Lecoq equipped Chris or I to deal with material that was this psychologically or politically complex. Chris and I are really drawing on our university backgrounds when we talk about that side of things, and we’ve had to develop a theatrical style to cope with that, which is very much more text-based that anything we learned at Lecoq.