Name: Blue Fire Theatre Co, (Steve Taylor & Lottie Walker)
Name of Edinburgh show: Red Peppers
Venue: The Space on the Mile
Show length: 40 minutes
Ticket price: £6-9
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
We’re from very different backgrounds – Steve is a “legit” actor with a wealth of experience playing roles across all genres. He also dabbles in the odd musical and is a Gilbert & Sullivan specialist. Lottie has a variety background, real “end of the pier” stuff. She’s a “turn”. We first worked together in a show where we were both murdered within the first 12 minutes and bonded over a few drinks in the theatre bar for the rest of the first half.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Given our backgrounds it’s the perfect show for us. In 40 minutes or so it introduces the audience to a has-been husband and wife variety double act and a few of the dreadful characters who inhabit their world (dressing room). The “act” is truly terrible – and it’s great fun doing something that you know is supposed to be dreadful. We love the audience being in on the joke. And the marriage is in probably worse shape than the act. The play is possibly Coward’s shortest. It was written as one of the ten play cycle “Tonight at 8.30” and in 40 very funny minutes conveys the decline of traditional music hall/vaudeville through the allegory of George and Lily Pepper’s declining relationship.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
We set up Blue Fire in November last year and decided pretty much immediately that we wanted to come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as our first proper venture, so planning started almost immediately. Despite being written in 1936 this play is extremely relevant to the 2018 audience. At it’s most basic level it is a study of a relationship in decline – and who hasn’t been there?! Looking beyond that though are social and economic issues that resonate still: George and Lily are far from happily married but the nature of their employment means they also don’t have a home. They are forced to stay together, travelling around the country in order to keep a roof over their heads. And that roof belongs to whichever theatrical landlady they happen to be staying with. Implicitly the play also deals with a changing world and the effects of technology; in Red Peppers’ case this relates to the rise of cinema and subsequent decline of the vaudeville/variety genre of entertainment. Today we are looking at the effect of social media on world politics in a constantly changing environment. Above all, though, this is a play about the theatre and the eccentric and transient people who work in the industry. What better place than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to hold a mirror up to ourselves?
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Try to keep some perspective! This is our first time performing at the Fringe, but we’ve been several times as visitors and it’s remarkably easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the thing. There is so much choice and there are so many people it can be daunting. So give yourself some headspace and – factor in chill time. Take afternoon tea on the Royal Yacht Britannia or a walk through the Botanical Gardens to get away from the madness for a while.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Funny you should ask that today of all days. We have just done two preview performances of “Red Peppers”. In the matinee performance Steve had to put his DIY skills to use and fix a collapsed clothes rail, rescuing the costumes in the process whilst continuing dialogue. Lottie did not help him. In the evening performance Lottie’s suit trousers lost their fastening and she held them up for a long time before she managed to do up the last remaining button (that thankfully held for the rest of the performance). Steve did not help her.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Lottie: Oh my, I genuinely admire so many people across all areas of this business. This question is too hard. Press me to think of someone around at the moment whose career I would steal tomorrow if I could, though and I’d have to say Janie Dee. She does Cabaret, Shakespeare, Ayckbourn and Musical Theatre at the highest levels and does them all really well. Historically I’ve been inspired by many – Joyce Grenfell (who performed a lot of Coward songs and monologues), Julie Andrews (who starred in the movie, ”Star”, about Gertrude Lawrence ) – there’s a theme here! And there’s so much to learn from observing the work of our “Dames” Mirren, Dench and Smith – they all move seamlessly between TV, theatre and cinema and are so versatile. Every performance is a masterclass. With my producer’s head on I have to say Sonia Friedman – no explanation required!
Steve: If we go back to my schooldays and early adulthood experiences, then I would have to say W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. These guys gave me the hunger. Add to them, John Reid, the patter song master and the spell was cast. Of course there have been many since – my “Top Five” in no particular order – Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson, Peter Sellers and Ronnie Barker. As far as writers go, then Alan Ayckbourn, J.B Priestly, N.F. Simpson and a dear friend, sadly no longer with us, Jimmie Chinn who wrote a good many plays for radio, easily adapted to the stage as well as two absolute stage “gems” in my eyes – “Straight and Narrow” and “A Different Way Home”. Someone’s career I would steal? That would have to be Ronnie Barker, no question – as David Jason quite rightly named him, “The Guv’nor”
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
It sounds boring but we both like to concentrate before a performance. Although what we do is fun most of the time we do take it seriously and neither of us appreciate unnecessary dressing room rowdiness. That said, since we’ve been rehearsing “Red Peppers” our characters have taken over a bit and rehearsal rooms have become something of a battle ground so it’s likely we’ll be having a ritualised scrap pre-show when we get to Edinburgh.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
There is an awful lot of good stuff on this year. We’ve tried to be conservative and not book to see too much as we want to be match fit for our own performances but who knows what will happen once we get up there and carried away with the atmosphere! We’ve already booked for Monica Salvi’s “Mad Women in My Attic”, David William Bryan’s “In Loyal Company” , “Fast” (written by our mate Kate Barton) and “Six” the musical. We’ve already seen the “Dad’s Army Radio Hour” , which we loved and also Peter Duncan’s preview performance of “The Dame” in London and would absolutely recommend that– it’s superb.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
Everyone loves a double act – Laurel & Hardy, Morecambe & Wise, French & Saunders, Ant & Dec – George & Lily …. The Fringe is a great place for new writing but it’s also nice to have an oasis of the familiar amongst all the cutting edge stuff and this play really is a classic in the true sense of the word. It is also not what audiences have come to expect of Noel Coward. This is no drawing room comedy with a cast of upper class characters. “Red Peppers” shows the lower end of the showbiz social scale – people Coward would have come across at the start of his career. It is a snapshot of variety theatre pre-Britain’s Got Talent, has catchy tunes and possibly the worst jokes in the world – Coward would likely win the Fringe Award for Worst Joke with the “appendicitis” one.