Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
"We used to use Amazon without thinking, as so many of us do, but I would never think of asking someone face to face to walk 10miles that day in order to get me a Pokémon keychain tomorrow."
FULFILMENT | Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Laugh)
1st – Sunday 25th August 2019 (not 12th), 15:40 | TICKETS
This shocking piece of theatre explores what it takes to fulfil our ever-increasing consumer demands. Fulfilment shares verbatim testimonials from real Fulfilment Centre workers along with the experiences of a member of the show’s creative team.
Hi Kezia & Richard thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Hi TNC, it’s great to talk to you, we are good! Buried in Edinburgh prep which is always fun, doing script rewrites and playing around with cardboard boxes - so a fairly standard time for SharkLegs!
How does it feel to be bringing Fulfilment to Edinburgh Fringe?
Kezia: It’s really exciting, the Fringe is always a fantastically weird and joyful experience and bringing this new show to the festival is a great opportunity for Robox to meet some amazing audiences. Fringe audiences are really wonderful to make work for, there’s no audience as open and as up for anything!
Richard: It’s also great to see the work of other theatre-makers - Edinburgh is great for meeting new artists and seeing a wide variety of new and exciting work!
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival run?
K: Of course! Bringing any new show to the festival is scary, you don’t know if people will respond to it, and as we are taking on a massive multinational corporation with this show, we have to say that does add an extra frisson to the experience...
Can you tell me a little bit about Fulfilment, what can we expect?
K: When the audience buys a ticket, they have in fact bought some time with their own personal fulfilment device, Robox. Our gorgeous puppet Robox is a next-generation fulfilment device and will interact with the audience to get to know them over the course of the show, what do they like? What do they want?
Robox keeps being interrupted however, there are some other people who want their voices to be heard, who want to interrupt your efficient fulfilment experience with some really inconvenient verbatim stories.
What was the inspiration behind Fulfilment?
R: I didn’t know much about Amazon when Kez and I started talking about this show. I may, or may not, have ‘accidentally’ bought my fair share of stuff I don’t really need to be delivered the next day. I hadn’t really thought about the people in the warehouses, all I wanted was my Dungeons and Dragons colouring book...
But, when I actually met a guy who worked at an Amazon Fulfilment Centre he told me about his 10-hour shifts, the enforced overtime he has to do and how far people actually walk every shift that I really started to get it. Talking to him, and the other associates we went on to meet, was the real inspiration for this show. Their stories gave us an insight into a world you don’t see when you click Next-Day Delivery and it is their experiences, many of which are shared verbatim in the show, that really brings home the fact that it’s not elves or magic robots who make our lives more convenient, it’s real people with real lives who are really suffering.
What was it about the stories you heard from fulfilment centre staff that inspired you both to write Fulfilment?
K: The stories are shocking; you don’t associate these kinds of working conditions with jobs that are just down the road from us all and that was one of the major inspirations for creating this show. We used to use Amazon without thinking, as so many of us do, but I would never think of asking someone face to face to walk 10miles that day in order to get me a Pokémon keychain tomorrow. When you have heard the stories, you have to start asking yourself why is it ok to ask people to do that if I am ordering online.
"Robox can easily deal with the increasing demands of the audience, but the puppeteers have to work harder and ultimately suffer."
Did the research and stories you heard about the fulfilment centres play a role in your boycott of Amazon?
K: Absolutely. We have been boycotting Amazon since January and it is all about what we have read, heard and experienced from their Fulfilment Centres.
In Fulfilment you use Bunraku puppetry, can tell me a little bit more about the style and why you want to use this in the show?
R: Our little Robox is a 3 person Bunraku puppet. In this style of puppetry, the puppeteers are always visible to the audience. However, as Robox comes to life, the audience’s attention is drawn to the puppet and we start to forget, or ignore, the puppeteers and only see the adorable and funny little character. We are using this convention to explore the relationship between consumer and worker in a global supply chain - Robox can easily deal with the increasing demands of the audience, but the puppeteers have to work harder and ultimately suffer.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing a play to life?
K: Funding is always a massive challenge and sometimes it feels like making theatre is 99% admin so finding the balance between focusing on the creativity and all the things that you have to do to support the creativity is super challenging.
When a production like Fulfilment is running is it always evolving or are you able to avoid changing too much of it?
R: Robox wants to get to know each and every individual audience, and as each audience changes there has to be quite a lot of improvised content which is created on the night around a loose framework.
K: This show is very much always evolving. We try to keep our shows developing as they play through which is one of the joys of live theatre and devised work - you get to see and test what works.
How would you describe Fulfilment in 3 words?
Funny, irreverent and poignant
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
K: Definitely. Theatre totally stole my soul at 16 when I saw a Complicite show. There was a moment at the beginning about breathing, the audience had our eyes closed and I suddenly realised that there were 1000 people in this room all breathing in and out at the same time, connected in that moment, all together. That liveness, that ephemeral moment of connection stole my soul.
R: I grew up in a small town in Wales and as the nearest theatre was quite a distance away, I didn’t get to see much. I remember seeing a production of ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ on a school trip, in the show they had covered the entire stage with grass and my little mind was blown! I remember sitting there thinking “...but you can’t do that. You can’t have grass on the stage. That is impossible.”
In that moment Astroturf had blown my mind and theatre had become a place where impossible things could happen.
How did SharkLegs come about?
We both trained at East15 Acting school and lived together after graduating while doing our separate things in the industry. One day we had a few drinks over dinner and were ruing the fact we hadn’t seen any theatre we liked or loved which was a fairly common conversation. So common in fact that our respective partners looked at each other and told us to stop complaining and start make the work we wanted to see! We couldn’t really back down at that point so SharkLegs was born.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
At the start we made theatre which threw our brains onto the stage with no filter and no refinement - hundreds of images all at once with no space or time for the audience to take anything in before the next image was thrown in front of them. We now filter, we still start out with a thousand images, but now we refine them, giving things time to land and be held by our audiences.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
If you wait for the money to be there before you do anything you will do nothing. Quite often in theatre you have to jump before you know there’s a crash mat (obviously not literally, health and safety is important) and just have the blind faith that things will turn out ok!
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
Creating anything is hard. There will be moments where you trip, get lost or fall off the map entirely, but with every project you will develop your craft and refine how you communicate to an audience. Don’t give up when the journey seems insurmountable - that is the best bit! You don’t know where the journey can take you, or what mischief you will get up to on the way.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
Amazon is really easy for us, we click on a product and it magically turns up, but it’s not happy little elves working away and singing who make this happen. It is real people who have to really pick your product, pack your product and deliver your product - we hope the audience ask themselves if they would still click next day delivery if they had to watch exactly what goes on to make that happen.