Saturday, 28 July 2018

A Flop Dramaturgy: Ben Pettitt-Wade @ Edfringe 2018

Be upstanding for The Flop - taking a firm hold of history’s most incredible tale

The makers of Meet Fred team up with Spymonkey for a some serious clowning around.

Wales’ pioneering inclusive theatre company Hijinx Theatre return to Edinburgh following their award winning 2016 smash hit Meet Fred with The Flop. Developed with clown supremos Spymonkey, this historical romp tells the incredible true story of impotency trails in 17th Century France. Embracing the art of clowning, slapstick and breaking a farcical fourth wall The Flop blends Hijinx’s trademark playful humour with Spymonkey’s anarchic physicality.

Paris. 1650ish. Impotence is illegal. When the Marquis De Langey is accused of being less than upstanding, his wounded pride leads him towards a monumental and very public flop. But can a cast of total idiots save a show about a flop… from being one? Featuring a cast of six, (including Fringe First Winner Hannah McPake) The Flop is a hilarious slice of stupidity, with live music and unfeasibly big wigs.

What began your interest in the erectile dysfunction laws of the 17th century, and what inspired you to bring - for want of a better phrase - to bring an impotent member onto the stage?

We stumbled upon the story by chance during one of our R&D weeks. The working title for the project was “The Flop” with the tag line “A clown show about erectile dysfunction” . We were simply interested using Clown to explore sex, relationships and vulnerability around both these things in this show.
One of the cast had done a bit of research and stumbled upon a mine of information about the impotence trials in 17th Century France, when the church and the state tied themselves in knots over the need for everyone to be able to consummate their marriage. If you could not, for whatever reason, you could be bought to trial and forced to prove your virility at a public trial.

The first thing that immediately attracted us to it is that none of us had ever heard of this before, and the sheer outlandish nature of the stories. Also the individual case we focus on, that of the Marquis and Marquise de Langley has it all, love, pride, a fall from grace, failure, manipulative relatives and plenty of idiocy.

How much did the content of the story effect the process of making? I believe that clown is involved -perhaps it is the case that the medium is attracted to this kind of story?

The show has been created in association with Spymonkey, so Clown has been very much at the heart of the process. However, I think that often the process of making affects the content of the story, rather than the other way around. You always skew any story to the one you want to tell, and working through Clown takes you in a particular direction. For us it was important that in the story we saw two characters at its centre who do not conform to societal expectations, who were outsiders. I think this is a very Clown theme.

Edinburgh is a rather hectic time for performers: is there anything that your show can bring to the Fringe that will make it stand out in the chaos?

We are an inclusive company, therefore all our shows feature casts with and without learning disability. This sets us apart from the crowd, and makes our show a little more intriguing.

How many articles do you think will be written about your show that involve puns about willies?

Unfortunately we will have little control over this, but I suspect there will be many. On our part we were very aware that an hour of cock jokes was going to get boring very quickly, so actively tried to avoid it in making the show.

Clown is becoming very fashionable at the moment. Could you tell me a little about your history with it, and what makes you enjoy using it to make theatre?

I first started working with Clown and clowns around 10 years ago when I invited two Clown companies from Spain to make some street theatre with us at Hijinx for our Hijinx Unity Festival in Cardiff. The whole experience was completely joyous and my eyes were opened to a whole new approach to making work, to approach everything through play and finding the game.

Since then we have had an ongoing relationship with Spymonkey, our collaborators on this project.

One of the many things I love about it is you can break all the conventions of “traditional” theatre, I love the honesty in that. There is none of the stuffiness and bullshit about a fourth wall and you can acknowledge and embrace your mistakes, your flops at any moment. I also think it is a very accessible form for our artists with learning disability, some of whom are brilliant natural clowns.

The period that you are looking at is just before modernity hits with the enlightenment. What has your experience been with working with that era? Does it speak to contemporary culture?
I think so, certainly from what we’ve taken from the story. I think society still has its problems with difference or people that do things differently. There are still a lot of pressures to conform, whether familial or societal, they were just amplified to ridiculous heights in 17th Century France.

I get the impression that the play is a little 'meta' - is it important that you work with a knowledge of the way that theatre is made and exists, and does bringing that into the production add a dimension to the story here?

I think often the people telling the story can be as interesting as the story itself. However, I’m not sure I would describe this piece as ‘’meta’ in the same way our 2016 Edinburgh hit Meet Fred was, but we definitely play with some of the conventions of theatre. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m not very interested in a naturalistic style of performance, and I think that a lot of fun and interesting material can be garnered from acknowledging and playing with the construct of theatre. I think clown lends itself very well to this.

One of Britain’s leading inclusive theatre companies Hijinx are winners of Best Ensemble in the Wales Theatre Awards in 2016 for Meet Fred. With a cast featuring three learning disabled actors and three non-disabled actors The Flop is a Hijinx production, directed by Ben Pettitt-Wade (Meet Fred) and has been devised in associated with Spymonkey.

Speaking ahead of the run
Spymonkey's Toby Park said: 'What makes Hijinx different is that their casts always include actors who have learning disabilities. The ability of these effortlessly talented performers is at the heart of every show they produce, creating work that is utterly absorbing, surprising and provocative.

It is called inclusive theatre because it makes much of the skills and raw talent of people who often get overlooked in today’s world and gives them a platform to make and perform stunning theatre alongside actors who don’t have disabilities.'

Listings Information

The Flop

Summerhall, Venue 26, Main Hall

4.55pm 3-26 August (not 13 & 20 August)

17 & 18 BSL Interpreted performances (Sami Thorpe)

Tickets: £12 (£8 conc) 3-5 August - £6 per ticket

6 & 7 August – 2 for 1 on tickets

Box office: 0131 560 1580 on online at

Connect with Hijinx Theatre online at: on Twitter @hijinxtheatre instagram @hijinxtheatre Facebook 

Cast and Creatives

For Hijinx:

Director: Ben Pettitt-Wade

Music Director: Dan McGowan

Cast and Devisors: Hannah McPake
Jess Mabel Jones

Iain Gibbons

Ted Lishman

Jonathan Pugh

Adam C Webb

Lighting Designer & Technician: Tom Ayres

Design and Costumes: Rebecca Jane Wood

For Spymonkey:

Composer: Toby Park

Idiocy Dramaturgs: Petra Massey, Aitor Basauri

The Flop is devised by the Company

About Hijinx

Hijinx are a professional theatre company based at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff who tour small scale theatre throughout the UK and Internationally.

Training actors with learning disabilities to perform at a professional level is also at the heart of their mission. For this reason, they have established Hijinx Academies, the only professional performance training in Wales for actors with learning disabilities.

About Spymonkey

SPYMONKEY is the UK's leading physical comedy ensemble, based in Brighton and comprising a core creative team of artistic directors Toby Park, Petra Massey and Aitor Basauri, producer Emily Coleman, designer Lucy Bradridge and associate artist Stephan Kreiss. They have been making sublimely hilarious and deeply ridiculous theatre for the last 20 years, delighting audiences around the world - from Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas to Sydney Opera House, from London’s West End to Just For Laughs Montreal. The ensemble frequently collaborate with leading directors and writers, including Emma Rice, Carl Grose, Cal McCrystal, Tim Crouch, Jos Houben, Ed Gaughan, Chris Green and Improbable.

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