CONTENT WARNING: terrorist attack
Theatre Editor Riona Millar talks to Freddy Legg about his brand new play, You’re dead and I’m eating Pic’n’Mix, following the success of his show The Grindr Diaries last year.
What were the biggest inspirations behind this one? What’s it about? Why Pic’n’Mix (which I spell as pick and mix)?
First of all, I clearly don’t know how to spell pick and mix and just assumed that that would be the case. As for inspiration, this came from the seed of an idea that I had when seeing a concert with my then-boyfriend at the Royal Albert Hall. Charmingly, he asked me what I thought might happen if a Bataclan-style terror attack suddenly took place – and I began to wonder how I’d feel if he died and I didn’t.
The Grindr Diaries, the play I wrote and directed at Corpus Playroom last year, was all about disillusionment and collapsing relationships, so I didn’t really know how not to write a sad play – but I was in a really good place! I needed to work out how to consider a hypothetical sadness, like losing the thing that made me happiest out of all the things that were currently making my life good, in the worst possible way. A lot of people have asked if I wrote this after a break-up – we were still together when I finished the play, although I revisited it after the relationship ended to try and align my feelings a little better with the grieving process that comes after a break-up. He isn’t dead, though – he’s just in a worse place (Oxford).
I also drew quite a lot of inspiration from an amazing playwright called Jack Rooke and his show Happy Hour, about a character’s relationship with his best friend leading up to the friend’s suicide. Happy Hour is very much a show that leads you to tragedy through comedy, which is what I’ve aimed to do with both this and The Grindr Diaries.
Speaking of The Grindr Diaries… what did the experience of writing/putting on The Grindr Diaries teach you about theatre, especially in Cambridge?
Well, the obvious lesson is that I went from a six man cast to just me… doesn’t that speak for itself?Kidding, of course. The Grindr Diaries taught me about how to put things on and convey things that have been a long time in the making – the initial concept was in existence in some sort of form for about two years, in many different versions and variants, before it took its final form. It’s more of an introspective play this time round, which is why it’s just the one actor. Last time, it was about making sure other people could put it onstage without having to get into my head.
Following on from that thought, why the decision to be in this one yourself? Do you feel more protective over this play? You directed Grindr Diaries but have handed that particular power over to Niall Conway – what’s changed in that regard?
Having written this one in about two and a half months, I felt a lot more intimately familiar with the script. I wrote this one with the idea of a sort of one person show in mind, and it was definitely a production I was writing for myself. That made me feel more comfortable with handing it over to someone else – I knew that I needed someone else to take control. The Grindr Diaries was a lot more personal, a lot closer to truth with more real experiences; You’re dead… had a lot of real emotions even if they were taking place in hypothetical or exaggerated situations.
It takes place at the main character Steven’s boyfriend Charlie’s house after Charlie’s funeral, but it’s interspersed with various “stories” that act as little flashbacks to different moments in the relationship. Steven’s first meeting with Charlie is actually similar to a way I once met a boy; ultimately, it didn’t work out, so perhaps the play is a way of romanticising and elevating moments in my own life. But the point of the play is to deliberately not shy away from the flaws inherent in everyone, and to actually acknowledge the indiscretions and imperfections of Charlie while he was alive. Part of being alive is making mistakes and being flawed – a lot of drama comes from conflict between what Charlie does in his different relationships, like how he acts with Steven versus how he acts with his mother, and conflicting interests.
Having Niall as director means that he can take control and get a different perspective on things, separate from just my acting and my writing. I think universality is really important in how it offers up a different angle, and I think it’s always important to take a personal experience and broaden it so that it’s easier to interact with or empathise with – and with a director, that broadens things even more.
What do you think has led to the rise in one person shows being written and staged these days? Is it “the Internet”, with the confessional monologue platforms that social media – from vlogs to Twitter to Camfess – provide, or is it something else? Is a one person show easier or harder than a “traditional” play?
There’s definitely been a lot of societal change and upheaval, and I do feel like we as an audience for any show are less enthused by the traditional story format. When I think of a traditional play, I think Arthur Miller, and that focus on the dramatic tension that comes from the relationships between people onstage. With plays being written right now, there’s less of that contemplation of relationships; we’re more interested in stories than relationships. If you look at those one-off storyline episode shows like Inside No. 9 and Black Mirror, and the rise in their popularity, the interest is in those little self-contained units.
In the play, all the flashbacks are called stories: I pick up a microphone, announce Story No. 1, the whole shebang – it’s very much self-aware storytelling. It’s interesting how we’ve come back to storytellers, if you look at Ancient Greece, or the bards, with everyone sitting around the hearth… One person shows are a way of sitting around the hearth.
If you’re interested in sitting at Freddy Legg’s hearthside, You’re dead and I’m eating Pic’N’Mix is showing at the Corpus Playroom from Monday 17th to Wednesday 19th of November at 9.30. Tickets are available from https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/comedy/youre-dead-and-im-eating-pic-n-mix/