BITESIZE FESTIVAL 2024
"Artists who are starting out or whose practice is a bit more experimental and niche rely on festivals like Bitesize in order to find an audience."
February 7, 2024
Your Call Is Important To Us explores the relationship between communication, disability and mental health. As two young lovers try to communicate with each other and achieve intimacy through the worst times, Your Call is Important to Us examines what it means to be depressed with another person.
Hello, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 2024 BITESIZE Festival with your show Your Call is Important to Us?
It feels great. We feel incredibly lucky to be taking part in the festival. I’ve seen many great shows at Riverside over the last few years so I feel very grateful to be able to perform there.
Are there any nerves ahead of opening night on the 9th Feb?
Of course. It would be weird if there weren’t any nerves. That’s natural for any show. I guess the nerves are higher for this show because of the subject matter. It comes from a very personal place: we’re literally putting ourselves, the story of our relationship and our mental breakdowns in front of an audience. That’s a pretty terrifying thing to do, but there’s also something liberating in that.
How important are festivals like BITESIZE in creating this unique platform for theatre and comedy?
They’re essential. It’s so difficult for new writing to find an audience in the current landscape. Theatres that traditionally championed new writing are having to resort to different business models due to financial pressures. Established plays written by and starring established names are seemingly the only things theatres are confident will make returns on their investments. That is not an environment where innovation can thrive. Artists who are starting out or whose practice is a bit more experimental and niche rely on festivals like Bitesize in order to find an audience. Without it, there would be even more brilliant ideas for performances that would never find an audience. And that’s extremely sad.
What are you hoping to take away from the experience of being part of BITESIZE Festival?
I hope people get something from the show. If they do, then that is enough to make all the hard work worthwhile. I’d love to get feedback on the show and maybe get some interest from people who can help us give the play a future. But mainly, I just want the show to speak to people. (I’m also looking forward to watching the show’s from the other people at the festival!)
Your Call is Important to Us has already had exception reviews, what has it meant to you to see your show get so well received by audiences?
It’s great that the play has touched people. The subject-matter really struck a nerve and shows how relevant the play is. I think there are very few people who can’t relate to at least one aspect of the play - the experience of depression, the horrors of medical waiting times, the inability to communicate with your partner, not knowing what to do when someone you love is struggling. It’s obviously fulfilling that people took a lot from the show, but I think it signals that there is a very real crisis in the country at the moment - both in terms of people’s individual mental health and more broadly our society’s inability to respond.
Can you tell me a little bit about your show, how did Your Call is Important to Us come about?
It’s a devised piece of theatre that covers a period of time when Lata and I suffered severe episodes of depression. Thankfully, we got through it, but it was a horrible time and something we’re both conscious could return. As we’re both theatre makers, we felt it only natural to turn our experience into a performance. But whilst the ostensible subject of the play is ourselves, the piece is really about communication: how depression robs us of our ability to communicate with those around us and how difficult it is to communicate with someone who is depressed. We are forever told that we should talk about our feelings to our friends, which is obviously true, but I think it’s also true that most people don’t really know what to say when someone opens up to them. So sometimes dialogue doesn’t actually help the problem. The play is also about society’s inability to listen to people suffering from mental illness. The ‘call’ in the title refers to the endless phone calls to GPs, crisis lines, pharmacies etc. people with depression/anxiety will have endured. There is always someone else, it seems, we should be talking to. That all sounds very serious, but there are elements of comedy in the piece. We felt it was important (both for ourselves and for the audience) that there were moments of comic relief to punctuate the drama, and so the play also pokes fun at some of the silly ways people try to respond to mental health. (Such as in my personal favourite scene entitled Therapy Musical Chairs.)
"The theatre I’ve ended up making over my career has been quite different from the theatre that first inspired me, but it’s clear that’s where my love came from."
What has been the biggest challenges you faced bringing Your Call is Important to Us to the stage?
More than anything, the personal subject-matter. When we first did this show, with a couple of exceptions, every rehearsal was just me and Lata in a room together. We wrote the show together like that - just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what worked. Given the dark nature of the piece and the fact that we were drawing from our own lives, that probably wasn’t the healthiest thing to do. We were lucky to bring on some amazing people to help us this time round, not least our wonderful director Craig Legg, but still that feeling of discomfort lingers. We have to shake the play off at the end of each rehearsal.
Where did you passion for theatre come from?
It came from the theatre - being taken to plays as a child either from school or by my mum. They were family shows up in Lancashire - pantos, fairy tales, that sort of thing - but to my young mind they were the most amazing experiences. I couldn’t believe there were grown-ups who got to do this for a living: put on silly costumes, do silly voices and make people laugh. The theatre I’ve ended up making over my career has been quite different from the theatre that first inspired me, but it’s clear that’s where my love came from.
How best would you describe your show in 3 words?
Honest. Unapologetic. Sensitive.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into theatre and what has been the best advice you’ve been given as you started your own journey?
Find people who share your passion. If you’re a writer, find other writers who will read your work and offer to read theirs. Find actors who are starting out who would be willing to read your work aloud. Find other creatives who are just starting out and look for the smaller theatres where you can feasibly put on work. Don’t expect your first play to be at the Royal Court. And, if in doubt, just make the work wherever you can. My first play wasn’t performed in a theatre at all. We instead used a medical lab and invited a people to come and watch. There are a lot of gatekeepers in the industry, but my advice would be to find ways of working despite them. That, and actively seek feedback. It’s natural to want to hear only good things, particularly if it’s your first piece of work, but it’s the people with criticism who are the ones you should be listening to.
And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from Your Call is Important to Us?
I hope they will gain a more nuanced understanding of mental illness. That or, if they have experience with it themselves, a feeling of recognition: that someone else has been through the pain they’ve been through and are still here.