Inspired by true stories of scientists working to communicate with animals, it blends surreal comedy with moments of tenderness and vulnerability to explore the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone else.
Hi Pete, Kim & Ellie thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Good thanks! We’ve just finished a tour of Little Top, our circus show for babies aged 0-18 and their grown-ups, so we’re now shifting our focus back into the world of adult theatre for Like Animals!
How does it feel to be bringing Like Animals to Edinburgh Fringe?
It’s exciting, and a bit nerve-wracking. We had funding to make the show in October 2018, after a few shorter development periods, and it took us a bit by surprise where we ended up with it. We’d imagined we might not have found quite what it was we were trying to make and hadn’t put a lot of pressure on it to be the final version of the show. This probably helped us to just make something we were all excited by without thinking about its future too much, so after we’d previewed it for audiences we knew it was ready to do a longer run to a wider audience.
Are there any nerves ahead of your festival run?
The Fringe is scary, it’s got a different kind of unknown quality to it because there are just so many shows on at once. We’re all based in Scotland but the Fringe is its own ecosystem, so all the knowledge you have of the sector kind of goes out the window. Ellie had her circus piece No Show at Summerhall in 2017 so the experience of that has helped us to go in with a bit of an idea of what’s good about a Fringe run and what’s challenging.
Like Animals is directed by Herald Angel winner Ellie Dubois, what has the experience been like for you both working with Ellie?
We’ve all known each other for ten years - we met at drama school, and Ellie went on to study circus. When she came back to Scotland we started working together, and often two out of three of us will be working on a show under the SUPERFAN name. Like Animals is the first show all three of us have worked on, and as much as it’s been a collaboration, we all really value having a director in a devising process - it can be hard to ever actually make a show without one! The fact we’ve known each other for so long means we have a shared language when we’re working together, and we have a shared ethos of how we want to make shows and also trust each other in a way that means we can take more risks, and try stuff out without being worried it won’t work.
Can you tell me a little bit about Like Animals, what can we expect?
The show is an off-beat examination of love and communication, using the lens of stories of animal-human language experiments to ask some pretty hard questions about how we understand the people we love. It’s also really silly and funny, and at times quite surreal.
"I was in an after-school program where we were basically given a box of costumes and allowed to make up skits."
What was the inspiration behind Like Animals?
Pete is often inspired by animal behaviour as a way of exploring the human problem. He was researching stories about animals and grief when he found the stories of these scientists trying to teach animals to speak English, and relationships between them - relationships that are often quite odd, and funny, and sad. The more we researched and thought about these stories the more we realised they ask big questions about all kinds of relationship and about the limits of language in helping us really understand another person (or animal).
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this new show to life?
We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to tell three stories at once, and how much of these stories we need or want to tell. It’s complicated because we’re looking at real people and animals, and our own relationship, and we really didn’t want to get bogged down in the detail of faithfully re-telling events and end up not conveying the feeling of each story.
We’ve worked with Xana Marwick as Dramaturg, who is brilliant and gave us loads of ways to pare down the stories and hone into the ideas we were most excited by, and also to really think about how to structure the show.
When a production like Like Animals is running is it always evolving or are you able to avoid changing too much of it?
Usually, all of our work is constantly evolving - and part of doing a long run at the Fringe will mean we can learn a lot about the show and it can evolve and grow as we do it. Although in Like Animals a lot of the text is spoken in unison, which means it has to be exactly the same every time - including things like pauses, which gets pretty technical so it does need to be really exact each time! But even that changes slightly as we discover more things about it with audiences.
Kim and Pete are also both a bit obsessed with finding the funniest way to deliver something, so we’re always making tiny changes to word choice, pauses and facial expressions.
How would you describe Like Animals in 3 words?
Funny, touching, surreal.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Yeah, all three of us have been interested in making our own work since we were teenagers. Kim grew up in Edinburgh and her Mum is a prolific theatregoer, so seeing all sorts of shows (and doing the tea and biscuits at her Mum’s Am Dram group intervals!) made theatre feel like a really accessible way to make stuff. Pete’s passion was ignited at the age of 7 after seeing his school friends playing trees and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and it inspired him to join his local youth theatre.
What was it about Like Animals that interested you so much as a director?
Ellie: Mostly it was about getting the chance to collaborate with Kim and Pete and the rest of the Like Animals team. They were all people I really wanted to work with. We have all collaborated before in different combinations so it felt like we would have a shared way of working. I also really love making theatre, I often make shows using circus and while I love circus in some ways it is more challenging for me to make work without a circus in it.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
Ellie: I don’t think that my style and approach has changed much but I think I have become more experienced and confident. I always try to create work that I would like to see. I have more resources now and am able to work with some super people so rather than having to make lighting and costume and set decisions alone I feel part of a team.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
At drama school, we were told really early on to ‘name the beast’ when you’re making work. We always find it useful to come back to, particularly when you’re devising work about a bigger idea rather than telling a linear narrative. What is the tricky thing at the heart of the show that your wrestling with? Also, it’s a fun thing to shout at each other when your getting tied up in big ideas, and helps when you need to be brutal and cut material that you like but isn’t actually doing what you want it to.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
Try and work with other people whenever you can, you can’t make every part of the show. Especially with devised work, it can be tempting to just try and do everything yourself, but carving out time and funding to work with designers, dramaturgs, writers, composers, whoever it is that can bring another specialism to your work, the easier it will be to actually make something that comes alive on stage.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
We’d like our audiences to come away with questions to keep thinking over, about how we communicate with each other, and how good we are at really listening to each other. Also, we think it’s hard to see the show and not think about dolphins a bit differently!