Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Ruth Anna Phillips: "I remember for my leavers' assembly in year 6 I wrote a skit about what we would be doing when we grew up and I placed myself as an actor, I believe in the lion king!"
LOVE (WATCHING MADNESS) | Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three)
31st July – 26th August (not 18th), 11:35 | TICKETS
LOVE (Watching Madness) is a funny, moving and relatable insight into how it feels to care for someone who can’t always show that they care for you.
Hi Isabelle & Ruth thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Ruth: It’s all going well, definitely kicking up a gear as we get towards August but all very exciting.
How does it feel to be bringing LOVE (Watching Madness) to Edinburgh Fringe?
Isabelle: It feels quite scary and exposing as it’s such a personal piece. But ultimately I think it’s an incredibly exciting experience to perform at the Pleasance alongside other inspiring companies, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.
RP: It feels like an exciting but terrifying next step. We have been working on the piece for a while but Edinburgh was always a goal for us. It almost feels like it’s coming home but now the pressure is on to deliver.
Are there any nerves ahead of your festival run?
IK: 100%. I don’t see how you couldn’t be nervous. We both care so much about the piece so it feels pretty scary to open it up to people like that. But fear is part of the joy of it all, so I’m trying to embrace it.
RP: Yes, definitely but it comes waves for me, I get caught up in hardcore admin mode and then when I spend some time in the creative stuff and it all feels very real which is nerve-racking but in a good way! And often on my Spotify shuffle, the preset music comes on so that can an unexpected excitement/nerve trigger!
Can you tell me a little bit about LOVE (Watching Madness), what can we expect?
IK: It's a very personal one-woman show about mums, daughters and loving someone with a mental illness. It's based on my experience of my mum having bipolar. It's fast-paced, funny and a bit of an emotional whirlwind.
RP: You can expect an hour (or just under) of a young woman tackling her realities and space for you to feel some of yours. You can expect moments of humour, of subtlety, of variety and of honesty.
What was the inspiration behind LOVE (Watching Madness)?
IK: My mum was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago, aged 61. Before that, she’d been unwell for a very long time and had started to make plans to end her life. My mum and I have a very unique and incredibly close relationship, that I think anyone can relate to if they’ve cared for someone with mental health issues, so I suppose I thought it would be interesting to explore that further on stage. There are so few stories about mums and daughters compared to those about fathers and sons, so that spurred me on as well.
Did you have any apprehension at all about injecting your own personal experiences into LOVE (Watching Madness)?
IK: Absolutely. You’re sharing your deepest and darkest thoughts with a group of strangers and opening your experiences up to criticism. But I think that’s what makes theatre and any live performance so exciting.
RP: SpeakUp's mantra or aim is to ‘tell the stories behind closed doors' so it feels right that we should open up our own. Also, I've found that often experiences that feel unique can actually connect people. Izzy and I have found this in R&D and in feedback, so it's always a little scary to put parts of yourself on stage but the reward and response of people feeling seen and supported always trumps the fear for me.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this new show to life?
RP: One of the big decisions early on was about how to play the two characters in a one-woman piece and how to navigate that, along with the cliché around bipolar being ‘two' states. But through some workshopping, I think we've found the right path to take, one that enhances the show in many ways and the feedback so far has been really positive so a challenge definitely worth facing!
"Write whatever you’re scared to write, make work about the issues you care about and find a group of supportive friends who empower you. "
When you started to write LOVE (Watching Madness) what were some of the issues you discovered that people living with undiagnosed mental illnesses face?
IK: Living without a diagnosis can be really scary when you’re experiencing all sorts of symptoms. I know getting a diagnosis was a massive relief for my mum because it reassured her that her experiences were legitimate and she wasn’t, in fact, a bad person. When she was finally diagnosed, I remember the psychiatrist telling her how courageous she had been through the years and I think that’s true for anyone who spends their life struggling with ill mental health. Getting a diagnosis is the first step in receiving help too, so when you don’t have that it’s very hard to treat successfully. On average it takes 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis for bipolar disorder. That’s a long time to go without the right medication or therapy plan.
When a production like LOVE (Watching Madness) is running is it always evolving or are you able to avoid changing too much of it?
IK: I think the foundations of the show remain the same but the tone of it can change a lot depending on the audience that day.
RP: I really like work to be reactive on stage in terms of acting but LWM it's tricky as obviously, Izzy is the only one on stage, and she is talking to the audience or ‘herself'. So for me, we've built it certain emotional pillars that we need to hit, peaks or troughs, and although they are always a little bit different depending on the build-up, the overall structure and effect remain the same and that's how we get the level of consistency for a long run.
Describe LOVE (Watching Madness) in 3 words?
IK: Fast-paced, punchy, confessional.
RP: Honest, playful, fierce.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
IK: I actually wanted to be a doctor until I realised I was terrible at science. In year 9 I performed a duologue from Fen by Caryl Churchill. I played Angela who is this awful step mum who forces her stepdaughter to drink boiling water. I got so invested in it and I remember that was the first time I felt this amazing rush like "oh my god this is what I need to do forever".
RP: Yes. From as early as I can remember I wanted to be in theatre. I remember for my leavers' assembly in year 6 I wrote a skit about what we would be doing when we grew up and I placed myself as an actor, I believe in the lion king! But it took me a little while to find exactly what role, but I just knew I was drawn to the unique element of people live in space and the power of that.
What was it about LOVE (Watching Madness) that interested you so much as a director?
RP: I think it felt brave, in lots of ways. The bits of text we had already been raw and real (taken from Izzy and her mums' discussions). And the style that was emerging and the vision I had for the piece was nuanced and layered and I felt sure it could work but only through being brave in my choices and then being receptive to what sticks. Working with just one actor on stage, not only is exposing for them, I feel it's exposing for you as a director. So LWM felt like a chance to really step up and make something bold.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
RP: For me, the end style of LWM is different for SpeakUp but the process to get there is similar for us, one we've developed over time. Early on we had an R&D session which involves getting in a studio and playing, sharing and a lot of dancing to loud music. Then it's a case of finding clear moments we want to hit and the overall structure of staging. And then it's keeping it alive and not getting complacent. As a director and my link to the movement (I also work as a movement director), I work a lot with experimental explorations to tap into something I've got a sense of; this has involved me playing Eminem on repeat and throwing balls of paper at Izzy for a good 20 minutes. Standard process.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
IK: My old youth theatre director and acting coach, Ciaran McConville, always told us: “You deserve to be in that room. Don’t apologise for your presence”.
RP: ‘You need to never stop dancing’. So far I’m doing okay with this.
Also ‘take qualifiers out of emails. Women do it when they shouldn’t’. This is one I’m still working on.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
IK: Write whatever you’re scared to write, make work about the issues you care about and find a group of supportive friends who empower you.
RP: Follow the things you love, don't be worried about a specialist box or ‘job title’. Make work you love, in ways you love, and it will all fall into place.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
IK: In the end, there is only room for love.
RP: An insight of a very particular relationship, with a very particular set of circumstances but through that to feel seen, validated and know they aren't alone.