Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your directing background?
I am Maddy and I am the founder and Artistic Director of The Thelmas, a company dedicated to the promotion and development of female and non-binary writers. My Co-Director is writer Guleraana Mir. I also work in participatory settings, mostly in prisons these days, but also with young people and vulnerable adults. I trained originally as an actor at Arts Ed, but after a few years in the industry realised it wasn’t happening, so I did an MA in Applied Theatre at Central School of Speech & Drama and haven’t really looked back since then. I founded The Thelmas in 2014, after feeling totally frustrated by the lack of female penned work, but also equally by the type of female stories that were being told. Since then we have been a New Diorama Emerging company (2017) and recently finished a London run (co-produced by Ovalhouse) and national tour of ‘Coconut’, which is Guleraana’s debut play.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Ladykiller by Madeline Gould is a pitch-black comedy which taps into the feminist zeitgeist in a most unexpected way. It tells the story of a hotel chambermaid who has stabbed a female guest to death in her room. As the story unravels, we begin to see that there is more to the maid than meets the eye. It is a comedy, but it also doesn’t pull any punches in terms of its darkness. As we discover what the maid is really planning and why, we find ourselves torn between feeling disgusted and yet strangely empowered by her ideas… plus a whole heap of uncomfortable but hearty guffaws along the way. If I had to describe it in one word it would be, audacious.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
Ladykiller started as a 15 minute monologue back in 2015 as part of our evening of one woman shorts, Ladylogue! at Camden Fringe. Ladykiller was the firm favourite of that year’s show and I was really keen to work with writer, Madeline Gould and actor, Hannah McClean again. After a brief hiatus, we dug it out and scratched it about a year ago to see if we still wanted to pursue it. Maddie then I think just went for it, putting all her frustrations and demons down on paper. We really wanted to make sure she felt supported sufficiently to go as dark as she wanted without censoring herself and she did not disappoint.
I think it is more relevant now than it was when we first started working on it to be honest! What with the #MeToo movement, the rise of the gig economy and the new fervour of feminist activism, it slots right in and raises many questions about how women are represented. We as a society are somehow always more shocked by women who commit violent and evil crimes because of our internal biases about how women are supposed to behave. We either have the tabloid ‘Monster’ type reaction (in response to serial killer Aileen Wournos) or the ‘Foxy Knoxy’ response (despite her eventually being found innocent), which was distastefully salacious in its revelling in her youth, attractiveness and the sexual nature of the crime. I meet men through my prison work all the time who have done some terrible, terrible things. If you want to talk about addressing the gender imbalance, then we also have to talk about women’s capacity for violence and darkness too. I don’t always want to see female characters who I can root for – I want characters who are fucked up and nasty too! Why can’t we have Harriet Lecter as well as Hannibal?
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Without wanting to sound like someone’s mum; a backpack, layers and a sturdy pair of shoes! You can never underestimate the importance of comfort. If you want to go really extra, then good Excel skills for that all-important spreadsheet. I think it is really key to accept that you are never going to see/do EVERYTHING so don’t give into FOMO. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that you can spend some time just soaking up the atmosphere, have tea and cake (or gin). Also, don’t forget to eat something green once in a while!!
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I guess if I think back to when I was still pretending to be an actor, I was in Newsrevue and had written a song about Martine McCutcheon dropping out of My Fair Lady in the West End. I was doing my best Martine impersonation singing along to the re-written ‘I could have danced all night’, being pretty mean about her work ethic, but it seemed to go down well. It was only after the show finished that I was introduced to her agent who had been brought along to see me. (Although, he was rather lovely about it and said that actually it was pretty accurate, although admittedly didn’t take me on!)
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Katie Mitchell is a HUGE influence on me. There is something about her work that is so unrepentantly dark and rich and unsettling…. It’s going to make me sound like a big theatre wanker, but the visual poetry she creates is like no other. I have to admit that I actually cried at Ophelia’s Zimmer because I knew I could never hope to be that clever! Same goes for Alice Birch, who as a writer, again just hits the spot in such an understated and sensitive way – beautiful. In terms of industry figures, it’s a tough competition between Vicky Featherstone and Dame Jude Kelly – both absolute trailblazers in pushing the agenda of fairness and inclusion as far as I am concerned. I do have to give a massive shout-out to Natasha Gordon, who has just utterly smashed it with Nine Night – it really is just so unbelievable that she is the first British Black woman to have secured a West End run. And last but most definitely not least, I have to say that producer Tobi Kyeremateng gives me massive hope for the future; she is just brilliantly smart and generous and honest – someone give this woman a building to run!
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
As a director and producer it is hard to have your own rituals because of all the stuff you need to take care of, so I find it easier to make myself busy checking the stage, props, and making sure the actors are ok. I do have a lucky coffee mug though – it has a picture of Jane Fonda’s mugshot from her arrest at an anti-Vietnam war event in 1970 on it.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Super pumped to see Breach Theatre’s ‘IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE’. Also Pecho Mama’s take on ‘Medea’ (my favourite break-up play of all time). Nouveau Riche’s show ‘Queens of Sheeba’ looks like it’s going to be a whole load of fun. Joana Nastari’s stripper story, ‘F*ck you Pay Me ‘ is also set to be a wild ride… I absolutely love Jo as a performer (Maddy directed her in the multiple OFFIE and Broadway World award nominated ‘The Awakening’ in 2016) and this show is absolutely the epitome of BDE (big dick energy). Finally, really looking forward to seeing the Donnachie sisters, 3 Years, 1 Week and a Lemon Drizzle for something a little more personal.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
People who want to see a female character that you genuinely never see on stage definitely need to come and see Ladykiller. Anyone who liked ‘End of the Fucking World’, ‘Dexter’, ‘Gone Girl’ (the book), ‘I, Tonya’, new Sky series, ‘Sharp Objects’… this show will appeal. We
were recently runners up in the Fringe Artist Support competition that Clean Break ran so that’s a pretty good sign. Hannah McClean who plays HER, is a revelation. Seriously. The character she has created is mad, bad and dangerous to know and yet is so utterly composed and plausible. She looks as though butter wouldn’t melt but boy has she got a dark side – I love her! It is also our fringe debut, so if you’ve not seen anything we’ve done before, then come along and say hi – as a company we are really keen to connect with audiences all over the country so it’s a good chance for us to get to know each other.
Also it’s at 1pm so early enough to not give you nightmares!