© 2019 by The New Current. 

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019 
Steve Cooper: "A plastic sword, a cape and a native American costume spring to mind, though I was caught short one day and soiled the costume."
 
PARADISE LODGE | Underbelly, Bristo Square​  
Jul 31 Aug 1-11, 13-26 | 13:15 TICKETS
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A hilarious, heart-wrenching musical comedy. Two actors play multiple roles that have the audience laughing, crying and singing their hearts out. Inspired by the author's experience caring for his mother-in-law when she was living with dementia. 

Hi Steve & Richard thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?

Steve: All going great, thanks. And thanks for letting us do this interview. Busy. Getting the play into tip-top shape. Going through checklists. Meeting deadlines for leaflet and poster printing, Getting copy and images to brochures and websites. Filming trailers. Booking accommodation. Keeping an eye on the money flowing out. Putting new strings on my ukulele.

How does it feel to be bringing Paradise Lodge to Edinburgh Fringe?

Steve: Amazing. Exciting. Nerve-jangling.

The response Paradise Lodge has been amazing, what has it meant for you to get the type of reaction for your work?

Steve: It’s been reassuring that people seem to get it. I’ve been told time and again that the play is truthful and authentic. That’s important to me. Everyone finds their own connection with the characters. When people are coming back the next night and bringing others with them it shows that they feel ownership of the play. For me, that’s the highest praise.

Are there any nerves ahead of your Fringe run? 

Rich: I think there are always nerves no matter where you play, but playing in the world’s biggest theatre festival is very exciting and no doubt those nerves will settle once we get the show in and start running. 

Steve: Nerves? Are you kidding? We’re producing this ourselves and have never been to the Fringe before so we feel like abandoned puppies in a snarling-jungle. I’m confident that the show is quality, that audiences will love it. But will they turn up? Aaaargh! Next question, please.

Can you tell me a little bit about Paradise Lodge, what can we expect?

Steve: A musical comedy with two actors playing many characters. A dysfunctional 1940’s duo, ‘The Doodlebugs’ are doing a gig in a care home called Paradise Lodge. We meet some of the care-home residents and hear their stories. As the duo disintegrate, we see how the onset of dementia has affected the lives of those living with it and their carers. You can expect to laugh a lot, cry a bit, and occasionally laugh and cry at the same time. And be prepared to sing.

Did you have any apprehensions about writing a play that draws from your own experiences?

Steve: Not for myself. Writing this play has helped me come to terms with what was a very trying few years. It helped me make some sense of it and organise my thoughts. I was apprehensive for my wife’s sake. I knew the whole process would be upsetting for her. It was her mother, Dorothy, whom we cared for. After mum died I started putting my notes together and a year later, I had enough of the play to start workshopping. The scenes are all from life. Sometimes word-for-word. Even some costumes and props were Dorothy’s. We both cried plenty through the development of the play but we are telling Dorothy’s story and others seem to take some comfort in that.

"I’ve always put all my energy and thought into a production; into research and structure when writing, into developing character, my routine to warm-up and prepare when performing."

What have been the biggest challenges bringing this show to life?

Steve: To tell an inevitably sad story without leaving people emotionally drained was my biggest challenge. I solved it with the structure of the care-home gig. The 40’s duo, ‘The Doodlebugs’, provide the music and belly-laughs as they fall apart and disintegrate into slapstick and farce. I did some gigs in care homes with duos myself and I can tell you those scenes are authentic too. The Doodlebugs provides the balance to an emotive issue.

Rich: I think the biggest challenge is that it is a new piece of work, I suppose with well-known plays, half your battle is won having a play that people may know the story of prior to seeing it. But the whole rehearsal process has been an extremely enjoyable one, especially getting to work with Steve’s brilliant writing and also with him and Sophie in the cast. 

What was it about Steve’s play that really spoke to you as a director?

Rich: Steve writes in an incredibly human and honest way, with both passion and humour. Paradise Lodge is also based on his first-hand experiences of dementia and I think for anyone whose lives have been touched by this subject, this play is an honest account of the highs and lows of those affected by dementia. Also, both actors play several characters, so the challenge of that was also a great one to play with, especially exploring the different viewpoints of how the characters both deal with having dementia and the differing attitudes of those that surround them. 

Have you always had a passion for performing?

Steve: Oh yes. When I first saw the dressing up box in infant school I was hooked. A plastic sword, a cape and a native American costume spring to mind, though I was caught short one day and soiled the costume. Performing is the only time I feel totally at ease and in the moment. I still have that.

How much has your approach to theatre changed since you started?

Steve: I haven’t soiled a costume since infant school. Apart from that, my approach hasn’t changed much. I might be able to articulate it better now. I’ve always put all my energy and thought into a production; into research and structure when writing, into developing character, my routine to warm-up and prepare when performing. It’s a bit old school but for me, the gig’s the thing.

Rich: I think my approach has always been to serve the story and create a playing space in which the actors can create and explore the character with freedom and without inhibition. Although along the way you pick up new techniques and ideas, I think at the heart of my approach is always tell the story in the most accessible human way, so that an audience really feel connected and part of the work. 

"I think the most important thing, especially for smaller companies, is that by hook or by crook, original work is created and new productions are seen."

What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?

Rich: I think I would have to quote my dad. He would always say “you never know what tomorrow may bring” this advice forever propels me forward through the good times and bad. 

Steve: Turn up early for rehearsals and never miss a gig.

Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?

Rich: I think my only advice would be if you have a great story to tell, get out there and tell it, surround yourself with passionate people and have fun. I think the most important thing, especially for smaller companies, is that by hook or by crook, original work is created and new productions are seen. 

Steve: Book in some show dates as soon as you have the idea. Then make it happen. Having concrete deadlines really focuses on the mind and stops a project from dribbling on indefinitely.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?

Steve: I hope people are uplifted, tickled and thought-provoked. I want people dealing with dementia to feel they are not alone.

Rich: I hope people will really enjoy Paradise Lodge not only from the standpoint of it being a fab new play, performed by two brilliant actors but it will also get people discussing dementia and their own experiences with it and hopefully raise awareness, which can only help as sometimes it is a very difficult subject to talk about and one that at some point people may have to face themselves as they go through life. But at the heart of Paradise Lodge is a universal tale of self-sacrifice, love and friendship, that I think can be enjoyed by any audience member.