What I told Rob was that the Hive Bunka was a difficult venue in which to perform a show that had any aspirations to presenting itself in a way that felt formal or theatrical, because the audience is so acutely aware of the fact that they’re sat in a disgusting, smelly, sticky, chalky, dimly-lit alcove in the back of a really horrible nightclub. Anything that aims for any levels of technical proficiency, or the ability to play with the imaginative freedom provided by a black-box-studio space, which can morph into whatever it needs to in the audience’s minds, will be inherently a bit compromised. But it’s by far one of the most interesting rooms in the entire Fringe for creating strange, immersive worlds that play with tone and do something experiential with the atmosphere created between performer and audience. In 2019 the Bunka’s programme incorporated a run of three shows back-to-back - Ben Target’s Six Endings In Search Of A Beginning, Sean Morley’s Soon I Will Be Dead And My Bones Will Be Free To Wreak Havoc On The Earth Once More and my own Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad. that I think built something really unique and strange and tonally odd and immersive in that space, and I loved the way tones and feelings shifted and changed over those three hours. I think not many other rooms feel like that one.
But my mistake, in the years I was making shows in the Hive, was my assumption that all shows being made for a different sort of space - a cleaner, blanker space, a space with more capacity to play with lights and sounds and projections, etc, were somehow cynical and crass, or more preoccupied with their own ambition than with their ability to create an interesting atmosphere. I misunderstood that different sorts of spaces mean you’re able to create different sorts of atmospheres. I had so much fun building independent shows for odd spaces that I assumed the Big Four venues were an elitist clique that exploited their artists. The last few months have been really interesting for me as I’ve been made to challenge the foundational assumptions I made while making different sorts of shows; as I find myself making what is essentially a theatre show and requires specific things from the frame I put around it in order for it to work.
I think when you first set out on any sort of creative endeavour, you’re predisposed to assume that the methods you find yourself stumbling into that work for you are somehow the “correct” ones, the right decisions being made for the right reasons, and that people you see who are pursuing different methods are somehow misguided, or not to be trusted. Then the longer you keep doing it, keep making, keep exploring, the more you realise there is no path, no right way. There’s just decisions made in moments, and you gradually get better at recognising which decision is the right one for the ideas you’re currently thinking about. At the start of the year I felt very nervous about making something that occupied such a different formal territory from what I’ve done before, but now I just feel very excited by it. The day I feel like I’ve been doing this for long enough that I no longer have big lessons like that to learn will be the day I stop, I reckon.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy - Improbably-haired clown Luke Rollason, who sadly died recently, has happily come back to life in order to curate a two-day April Fool’s Festival of clown shows at the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes, with shows from Christian Brighty, Elf Lyons, John-Luke Roberts and more. Should be a lot of fun!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most - There’s a bit in this BBC Four documentary about my favourite two silly boys in the world, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, where Tutu tries to get the Dalai Lama to dance despite the fact that it’s against his monastic principles. It’s really funny. I slapped my thighs and everything.
Book Of The Week - The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. Probably just gonna make my way through the entire Adrian Mole saga for the rest of the year.
Album Of The Week - Exile On Coldharbour Lane by Alabama 3. I used to work with the daughter of Alabama 3’s Larry Love (real name Rob Spragg) back when I worked at a children’s magic cafe, and have half been meaning to listen to them for years. Oh boy, they’re funny. It’s sort of 90s dance/rave music crossed with Americana country-blues-rock. They’re all constantly pretending to be from the Deep South despite also frequently making it clear they live in Brixton. They’re all in the grip of an immense midlife crisis, and it really makes me laugh.
Film Of The Week - Death On The Nile. This is so shit. And I say that as someone who really liked Ken Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express. The titular death in Death On The Nile doesn’t even happen until 70 minutes into the film. Branagh does an extreme close-up of his own eyes every time he has an emotional scene, so we can see that he’s crying. Poirot’s moustache gets a 10-minute origin story. The cast includes a cannibal, a rapist and an anti-vaxxer. It’s car-crash bad. Highly recommended.
That’s all for this week! As ever, please do let me know if you have any thoughts, and if you wanted to recommend this newsletter to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time,
PS Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at me being a photo assistant and stand-in glasses model at Miranda’s photoshoot for Cerys Bradley’s Edinburgh poster this weekend.