Isabel Palmstierna talks about bringing her political dark comedy to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name: Isabel Palmstierna
Name of Edinburgh show: A Beginner’s Guide To Populism
Venue: The Space Triplex (Venue 38)
Times and dates: August 13-18, 12:35, August 20-25, 17:35
Duration: 50 mins
Ticket prices: £9 (£7 concessions)

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I’m originally from Stockholm, Sweden where I grew up. I moved to Edinburgh in 2011 to do study English literature at the University of Edinburgh. After that I decided to pursue acting and did the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Classical and Contemporary Text MA last year. In 2013 I also co-founded Stasis Company, a performance group based between Glasgow and London. We mix dance, theatre and art to create pieces that we perform around the UK and Europe.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
The play is a dark comedy warning about the dangers of populism. The villagers of Little Middleton are up in arms about plans to make it part of a garden city. They think it will be the end of the village if it becomes part of a larger community, and so they’ve formed the Save Little Middleton campaign to try and preserve it. Their cause gets hijacked by a would-be MP who uses the weapons of modern day politics – fear and panic – to make them see threats that don’t actually exist.

As with the politicians who are doing this in various countries at the moment, she doesn’t think about the consequences of using these tactics and what might happen if the public believe her. That’s what the play’s about – what can happen when the public believe the lies.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I’ve been working on the show since our first run in November 2017.

The play creates a sense of division between voters and politicians and illustrates how that makes room for a lot of misinformation – here, on a small scale in Little Middleton. That makes it relevant to audiences today as it touches upon what we’ve seen in politics this past year.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Don’t forget to eat and hydrate, not just with beer and crisps. Pack sweaters and waterproofs. Yes it’s August – but you’ll definitely need them! Above all, see lots and lots of shows! Particularly ones with funny and insightful takes on populism.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
In one play, my sister was having an affair with my husband and I was frantically searching for their love letters when I stuck my hand right in a big bowl of tomato soup! For some reason, it had not been moved backstage after the previous scene.

Luckily, the play had elements of magical realism so I symbolically held my tomato covered hand out and hoped it would look like fake blood. It must have worked because when I turned to the audience I heard the front row gasp.

However, it was dripping all over the stage, and in the next scene the lovers kept slipping in the soup!

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Bit of a cliche — but I adore Meryl Streep.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I do a physical and vocal warm up. I also do crunches right before I go on to energise – that’s about it!

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
The Fringe is a place where you can really get some good comedy. I’m looking forward to seeing Osric Omand and the Story of Hope, which should be really good fun. I’d also like to see The Edge of You and Dressed – both of which will explore important topics in new and innovative ways.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
We need things that are both antidotes and insights into all that’s going on in world politics at the moment – and this play is both. There’s a lot of humour in it, but there’s also a serious message at the heart of it. The playwright Andy Moseley has really captured the absurdities of contemporary politics and politicians, which is great and also slightly worrying as he used to work in the Ministry of Justice, so you wonder just how close to the truth this is.


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