Monica Salvi talks about bringing MAD WOMEN IN MY ATTIC to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Name: Monica Salvi
Name of Edinburgh show: Mad Women in my Attic!
Venue: PQA VENUES @ Riddle’s Court
Performance time: 7.10
Show length: 1 hour and 5 minutes
Ticket price: £10 (£7)
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I’m Italian actress who moved to London twelve years ago, to pursue her dreams of a musical theatre career. I was lucky to get a place at the Royal Academy of Music, on the Postgraduate Musical Theatre Course.
Many teachers, during that wonderful time, warned me that because of my nationality and accent, I would probably find it very difficult to get seen at auditions, let alone be cast in decent roles. What both the teachers and I failed to predict, is that there is a certain type of role, that is just perfect for people who are different, sound different, look different.
For some reason, I had some qualities that inspired casting directors to always give me the roles of mad, unstable, or – at their sanest – over the top, quirky women in a show. I have a history with Sweeney Todd, as I was cast to play both Johanna, and 10 years later Beggar Woman, respectively the daughter, and wife of Sweeney. The first ends up spending time at Bedlam Asylum. The second ends up begging in the streets, completely deranged and with little memory of her former life and identity. I also played Bertha Mason, the mad wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre the Musical. I played Violet Gibson in Violet & Mussolini, based on the true story of the woman who attempted to kill the Italian dictator, missed him, and ended up confined to a mental asylum. I created the role of Mademoiselle Syphilis in the song cycle Femme Fatale, by Nadav Wiesel, a wonderful character who was a prostitute rendered mad by syphilis, in fact she was the incarnation of syphilis itself.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
This “madwoman typecasting” offered me an array of characters, that, although having in common a penchant for insanity, allowed me to explore many different aspects of the human psyche.
It is because of these explorations, that I decided to put together a “one madwoman show”, a collection of all the wonderful and mad songs that I had the pleasure to sing throughout my career. Included are many other songs from the musical theatre and cabaret repertoire, that have a connection to ‘mad women’, or psychotherapy.
After channelling my inner madwoman, I wrote a cabaret script which Freud himself would probably be very eager to lay his hands on, and thus, Mad Women in my Attic! was born.
The show is structured this way: the confessions of an asylum patient, who, during the recreational hour, decides to entertain her fellow inmates, aka the audience, with an hour of delightful cabaret; unique songs that range from the light and quirky to the dark and sexy, multiple personalities with choreographic costume changes, hilariously daring audience participation, and, hidden here and there, some poignant messages of emotional empowerment.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I started writing it four years ago, and ever since then I’ve taken it to London, Brighton, New York and Edinburgh. Every time I do a new production, I always change it and revamp it, so it’s never exactly the same. It kinda grows with me. Some of the songs have stayed since the beginning because they are the audience favourites (I have many people who have seen the show more than once, and they always ask if their favourite songs are still in the show).
There are many aspects in the show that make it extremely relevant nowadays.
It’s a show that celebrates the figure of the mad woman, and in doing this, empowers people (not just women) to embrace their own quirky side and get in touch with those powerful emotions, that sometimes we feel we have to dull in order to feel “normal and sane” in today’s society.
In a world that (due to social media, reality shows, fake news, and such) is based more and more on appearance rather than being, my show invites people to actually shed the layers of prejudice, and accept diversity – their own, and that of others.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
If you have the luxury of a day off, and by that I mean a true day off without having to do any flyering or promotion, I would urge you to book one of those beautiful one-day tours in the Highlands. You get to see an amazing part of Scotland and lose yourself in the gorgeous landscapes of castles, mountains and lakes. It is so important to be able to take your mind off “Fringe things”, for a while. If unable to do a whole day tour, spend a few hours connected to nature. Go to Portobello beach, walk along the Water of Leith, climb the Arthur’s Seat with a friend.. Most importantly, do not spend your time off moaning and stressing about Fringe-related problems.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
There is a particular scene in my show, where I have a little interaction with an audience member. Ok, it’s a LOT of interaction, and very funny, though slightly kinky. Ok, it’s VERY kinky. One time, I picked a guy, did all sort of things with him throughout the song for a good four minutes, then accompanied him back to his seat, where I spotted a notepad and a pen. He was a reviewer.
Another time, same song, I picked a very old sweet gentleman, and proceeded to give him the same treatment… The problem is that he had forgotten to zip his trousers properly, so during the song he started to loose them… It was a very awkward moment for both of us, and the song ended with both me and the gent trying to keep his trousers from falling. Thankfully the audience seemed to love it, and the gentleman’s wife was in stitches, and she spent the whole song taking photos on her mobile!
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
People who are eclectic and constantly surprise their audiences.. who don’t settle into just one style or role. Who dabble in many things, and manage to master them all, and they seem to not fear anything.. And this bravery transpires through their performances. I’m thinking Camille O’Sullivan, above all. From cabaret chanteuse, to Shakespearean actress, to tv drama… What a lady. And when you think she was actually an architect, who changed her career and life around as a result of a life threatening accident, it tells you so much about her.. How she is capable to bare her soul in every performance on every type of media. I aspire to that kind of stage honesty and bravery (though I know I’m still far from it).
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
No, the mere word “ritual” invokes in my brain a set of self imposed rules, which is actually what my show’s message is against. To free oneself from the prison of a prejudiced mindset and allow a bit of craziness and let go of control.
Having said that, right at the beginning of my show, before I make my quirky entrance, as I can hear the audience coming in, in my mind I start to speak to them, I welcome them into the space and silently ask them to be open to the exchange of energy that will happen between the performer and the audience. I believe our subconsciouses are all connected on a subtle level, and this kind of silent dialogue usually creates the right atmosphere, even before the show begins.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Emily Carding and Brite Theatre’s new one woman show Hamlet – An experience (those who remember her “Richard III” from three years ago will probably understand my excitement). Jojo Bellini’s new show Agents Provocateurs, as she’s another extremely creative and entertaining cabaret artist with such a positive personality. I look forward to seeing Adele Anderson’s and Maureen Lipman’s solo shows.
Aside from one women shows, I can’t wait for Michael Mopurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom, with original music composed by my own pianist Jake Dorfman (who also portrays my psychotherapist in my show), and Infinita by Familie Flöz, that will be another stunning success like all their past shows.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
It fulfils the entire spectrum of human emotional needs, so for example if you are with a group of friends and someone fancies humour, another wants drama and a thought provoking message, one would like cabaret and live music, another is in a sexy mood…. Well my show gives it all in the space of 65 minutes!