Fresh from the full month stretch at the Edinburgh Fringe, the folks that make up Misshapen Theatre aren’t a bunch to rest on their laurels. Back on the opposite end of the UK, they presented their two plays as a double bill to the eager audiences of London Town. Now, before the final leg of the current tour, we managed to catch up with Jon Brittain, the pen behind the performance, to chat about the plays and how it all came about.
First off, could you give us a quick intro to each of the plays?
Of course, I’ll give you the sales pitches!
The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo is the story of a man who, after an accidental sex text, gets drawn into an online world of swingers, fetishists and people looking for one night stands. It’s the story of him, the people he meets and the effect they have on each other even though they’re ‘just keeping things casual’. Given all that, it’s really very tame, there’s no nudity and the only sex scene is narrated to the Thunderbirds theme tune!
And Phillipa and Will are Now in a Relationship… well, that’s a different story altogether, and a true one at that. A few years ago I followed the wall-to-wall of a couple I knew at the time, they were very open about the aspects of their relationship that most people keep under wraps – we all know people like this – and their oversharing made me laugh and cringe in equal measures. Several years after they broke up I went back and read it, still found it very funny, so copied and pasted it into word and cut it down to half an hour. The show tells the story of a couple’s relationship but entirely through their facebook wall-to-wall which is read out by two (very funny) actors.
So they’re both loosely about love, sex and the internet – the latter of which is undeniably modern, these plays are my rather desperate bid for relevance.
Two plays about coupling and the multitude of perils that follow. Did the idea for these emerge together? Did you envisage them running in tandem?
I wrote the first draft of Peter Mayo bloody ages ago, way back in January 2010. I just sat down for a week and bashed it out. Unsurprisingly it was a bit poor and barely any of it remains in the current version. Phillipa and Will came more recently and was something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, we used to read this wall-to-wall all the time and piss ourselves laughing, but then you reach the last few months and it’s genuinely heartbreaking.
Did you run into any difficulties reworking these plays for The Fringe?
Basically, Peter Mayo got considerably shorter. This is more to do with it being a festival show than anything else, I felt like the demands of an hour are different to those of a longer play (the first draft had an interval and everything!) and the story changed as a result. The original had a lot more characters and a far more upbeat ending but I felt like over two hours you could really go on a journey with a character cause you have a long time to get to know them and like them so when they go to that horrible place with their life and attitude it’s almost like a friend is, so it’s really cathartic when they come out the other side. Over an hour I just didn’t feel like I could tell that story, so I basically showed the first half to two thirds of it. So you spend the time getting to know and like him and then follow him up to a conclusive point. I struggled somewhat with the ending; I didn’t want to say ‘sex is bad! Sex on the internet is weird!’ Nor did I want to say ‘this lifestyle is great and positive FOR EVERYONE’. So Peter is someone who benefits from it in a lot of ways but also loses a really nice part of himself. Whether it will work out for him in the long term or whether he will leave the online world and find ‘redemption’ or whatever, that is really left up to you.
The difficulty we’ve found with Phillipa and Will was to get people to take it on its own terms. There were a few critics who didn’t bother to look past the ‘it’s a Facebook wall’ aspect of the show and, while saying they were entertained, questioned the meaning of it. I like the idea trying to find the profundity in quite shallow situations and characters. The fact that these ridiculous characters who are SO annoying become sympathetic for me is a pretty massive journey for an audience to make.
Tell us a bit about Misshapen. How did you come together?
There was never a founding moment. It just grew into something and became enough of an entity that we had to give it a name. I took my first play The Wake to NSDF (National Student Drama Festival) in 2009 and since I wasn’t taking the show up under any uni society (I had already graduated at the time) I decided to give it a company name. After Edinburgh 2010, Jack [Swain, the man behind Misshapen’s publicity and Will, from Phillipa and Will] and I decided to give the company a proper go. We teamed up with Lucy Jackson (Who was also at NSDF that year, though we didn’t meet until later) and set to work.
I like to work in an environment where the edges of each person’s role is blurred. Hence, Lucy and Jack have plenty of creative input. Jack acts, Lucy gives masses of input on scripts and I get involved in the production elements. We’ve had a really great year together with a run at The New Diorama where we did Phillipa and Will for the first time, the final performance of The Wake at the Leicester Comedy Festival, the Brighton Fringe and FIFTEEN at The Space, not to mention this year’s Edinburgh with the double bill.
What’s next in the pipeline? Are you unveiling any new work soon?
There are plans to try and create a load of new short plays directly with the actors who’ll be in them and put them on somewhere for a week next year.
I’m most interested in creating shorter, weirder pieces like The Wake or Phillipa and Will. It’s through these that hopefully we can carry on experimenting and having fun. I keep having crazy ideas for things – 26 plays in 26 days where I write a 10 minute play every day – a bee who falls in love with his keeper or a play set entirely set on treadmills – and it’s these ideas that I think would benefit from our ‘house style’. I nearly called the company ‘slightly wonky’ or ‘cheap and cheerful’ and I think they’re the things I aspire to, I don’t want to send you out thinking ‘that must have been expensive’ or do the same sort of slightly preachy plays about the latest real life issue, I’d rather make you laugh, make you feel and give you something to think on afterwards.
Who am I kidding? I write jokes about Facebook and erectile dysfunction. Somebody has to!
Misshapen Theatre is taking Phillipa and Will are Now in a Relationship to Brighton this weekend. It’s on at Upstairs at Three and Ten. 22nd &23rd 6pm.
See more from them over on their website.