Leo Han talks about LOVE ON BLUE CANVAS, 1890 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name: Leo Han
Name of Edinburgh Show: Love On Blue Canvas, 1890
Venue: theSpace on North Bridge
Performance Time: 19:05, 20-25th August
Show Length: 50mins
Ticket Price: £8 / Concessions £6 / Family £6 per person

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
It all started off with a primary school production of ‘The Lion King’, to be honest. I’ve fooled around with singing and dancing before, but it was playing Scar that awakened my theatrical genes. I’ve been doing theatre ever since, both academically and recreationally. Having been casted in an array of ‘outsider’ roles, from Edna Turnblad in ‘Hairspray’, to Alan Turing in ‘Breaking the Code’, to even Frankenstein’s creature, I’ve become fascinated with what it’s like to observe the world from the side line, which then became an interest in directing, in watching others from the wings. A decade later, I’m now studying English and Theatre at University of Warwick and making my directorial debut at Fringe! Guess it’s all going pretty well.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
‘Love On Blue Canvas, 1890’ is many things: it’s part drawing-room drama, part memory play, part postmodern theatrics, and through and through, an elegy to forgotten narratives. Swaying between the 19th and the 21st century, between a Victorian art studio and a modern-day gallery, the play centres around an engagement portrait by an unknown artist. As the past is stripped away layer by layer, contemporary perceptions of the artwork, and the artist behind it, are shattered and rewired, revealing a love story that defies all expectations and conjectures. This debut offering from writers Tara Morgan and Chlöe Standen is an exploration of how a narrative can be changed over time, and how the accepted version of history is not always the correct, or perhaps, the only one.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
‘Love On Blue Canvas, 1890’ premiered back in December 2017, at University of Warwick’s Humanities Studio. But what we are presenting this time round in Edinburgh is something completely different to Version 1.0. The staging, the cast, the style, even the script itself, have all been reimagined to various extents, to reenergise and refine the brilliant material we have in our hands. The main bulk of the work was done in around 2 weeks, which have been both challenging and fruitful.

When we did the show back in 2017, it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. In the summer of that same year, before having even heard about the project, I began my summer job as a tour guide, working at the British Museum and the National Gallery, London. There was a LGBTQ+ Trail going on at the Museum, with the aim of highlighting artefacts related to queer history that were previously censored in the 19th century, kept in a section of the Museum called ‘The Secretum’ – an archive set up in 1865 to institutionally conceal historical objects that were deemed ‘obscene’. The idea that artefacts and paintings, these bodies of narratives, might be telling us the wrong stories, was a powerful and intriguing one. Therefore, when some very talented people have written a play about this very issue in October, it was irresistible for me not to jump onboard. As we advance steadily into a post-truth era, I think the big ideas this play is juggling with will be relevant, and remain relevant, in the decade to come.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
I think having fun is really what the world’s largest arts festival is all about, for both the performers and the visitors. Travelling and accommodation costs are not cheap, and as a fledgling theatre company, we know that very well. So, maximise the time you’ve got there and experience as much as you can get hold of, be it on or off stage.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Considering I’m not performing in the show, it’s really not my place to say. However, I can assure you the majority of the cast will remember that time, when a misplaced wine bottle was knocked over onstage during our premiere, and it was dribbled about like a football for a solid five minutes. Each clanging from the glass vessel was a mortifying dagger to our hearts. That was quite funny.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
In terms of directing, Katie Mitchell’s book ‘The Director’s Craft’ is my Bible. I bring up Katie’s ideas so much in rehearsals that we are pretty much on first-name basis by now. Robert Icke and Dominic Cooke are also huge inspirations to my work: the surgical immediacy found in Icke’s treatment of classics, and the spectacular poetry in Cooke’s works (who studied the same course as I am at Warwick), have left me speechless time after time. And who can forget Marianne Elliott’s ‘War Horse’, ‘Curious Incident’ and ‘Angels in America’? It truly is a blessed time for a young director working in the UK.

In terms of acting: Meryl Streep. Without a doubt.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Use the loo. Better sooner than later. Also, it offers you a confined, quiet space to crawl into your character’s skin, as your method of doing so might be too… unorthodox… to be done in front of others. Weird faces, weird noises, you can do them all in a cubicle.

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Warwick is going full out this year at the Fringe, and I’m very excited to see what the others have created. Good Bad Ideas’ ‘That’s So GCSE’ has been listed as one of the top ten weirdest shows at Fringe by Time Out, along with Gigglemug Theatre’s ‘Timpson: The Musical’. I will be sure to check them out.

Why do you think people show come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
Fringe is a great platform for showcasing bold, radical, and experimental theatre. In that sense, ‘Love On Blue Canvas, 1890’ is a bit of an oddball, in that it also breaks boundaries, but in a tender and reserved way. The confinements of time, space, and truth are breached in the show, but in a drawing-room style sort of drama, with a linear plotline that is questioned at the very end. You need to see it to find out.

Plus, you’ll get to see this awesome painting called ‘Love On Blue Canvas’ at the end, which is pretty cool.


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