To find out more about Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and the spotlights, please see the introductory article.
Next up in our Spotlight feature is The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, which plays Edinburgh Festival from 4 – 26 August 2017. I caught up with writer and actor Rosalind Blessed:
Describe your show in three words.
Funny. Harrowing. Moving
Is this your first Edinburgh Fringe performance experience?
I have been a performer at the Festival many, many times starting at the age of sixteen performing in an educational piece about A.I.D.S.
Whilst at Exeter University I performed in many shows that we brought there – once being in three different shows a day. My favourite of that time was playing Greta Garbo who had had a sex change to a man (pretty obvious casting) in an absurdist play The Difficulty of Sexpressing Oneself to which the director had added Cole Porter songs. I like a bit of a sing. After drama school a couple of my Central friends and I brought a sketch show, Fat Hammond’s Banjo Lounge, that had run for several years, to the Fringe.
My last and probably most significant experience was performing as Tamora, Queen of the Goths in Zoe Ford’s production of Titus Andronicus. We had a strong reaction from our audience ranging from making them vomit to being so engrossed that they peed in a cup rather than miss any of the action. The Andronici were dressed as skinheads with accompanying tattoos and were clearly so convincing that they actually got spat at in the streets whilst flyering. Beware! That production was a huge success and was transferred to the Arcola Theatre in London.
Who else are you most looking forward to seeing while at the Fringe?
I never miss John Robertson’s The Dark Room. Just go.
How do you feel to be performing at Space Triplex?
I’m really delighted to be working with The Space. The Titus Andronicus was performed with them at the Surgeon’s Hall and they were very supportive. I feel they really value drama. The studio itself is the perfect size and configuration. The audience are very involved, almost part of the couple’s lives, and the space has just the right level of intimacy.
Who or what are your inspirations?
Watching my mother (Hildegard Neil) on stage as a child is what really inspired me to become an actress in the first place. Obviously I was lucky – see how I sidestepped Blessed there – to grow up in such an artistic and imaginative home. Now that I am writing and putting on my own work my inspirations come from those who combine superb artistry with real graft and resilience like, on the world stage, Kenneth Branagh and closer to me, my friend Alexander Neil, who set up Dilated Theatre as soon as he left drama school and puts on consistently quality work. I feel there is no substitute for bloody hard work. I’m way too stupidly over-sensitive and I look to these guys to inspire me to develop a spine for goodness sake!
What is your secret to surviving the intense, fast pace of the fringe?
The subject matter of our show is pretty dark and the emotions required from both Duncan Wilkins and myself are extreme. It helps immeasurably to be doing the play with Duncan as he is probably the person I trust the most on this planet, so it makes the experience far less draining and stressful. I didn’t cast him because of that. I cast him because he is the most breathtaking actor, combining huge skill and technique with extraordinary depth and emotional connection. The fact that I like the fella is quite the bonus though. We will need to keep things around the show reasonably healthy both physically and mentally… so boring stuff like eating right, trying not to drink ourselves into a coma and doing some exercise, alongside spending time with gorgeous people and seeing inspiring stuff is in order.
What are the future plans for your show?
I would love the play to have a future life – perhaps at a larger London venue or on tour. During it’s last seven-week run in London the audiences would find me after the show or message/email to tell me their personal experiences of being in abusive relationships. There is some shame that lingers around the subject and the play seems to be lifting it. Because of this I want it to have as wide ranging an audience as possible. There was even some talk of taking it to prisons, as those that worked with the abusers felt it would be helpful for them to see abuse from the outside.
What is the best production you have seen this year – can be any genre, style, in any theatre or performance space?
I’ve just seen Guildford Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is part of their summer outdoor season. It was characteristically both imaginative and loving to the text. This company produces quality shows all year round plus working with adults and children in the community. It’s a real treasure chest of talent outside of London.
Is there anything else you want to highlight about your show/ theatre company/ production?
It might seem a bit grim…a play about domestic abuse. It’s not. There are plenty of laughs and good stuff like drinking and swearing and a man dressed up like a dog that you can pet. The dog aspect of the play is very important to me. I’m passionate about rescue dogs and changing the perception of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Dogs are incredible. They can save your sanity. Goodness knows…..I need that!
Writer: Rosalind Blessed
Director: Caroline Devline
Producer: Fergal Coghlan
Cast: Duncan Wilkins; Rosalind Blessed
The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People plays Space Triplex as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 from 4 – 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.