Matthew Roberts talks about brining love and loss to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in CANOE

Name: Matthew Roberts
Name of Edinburgh show: CANOE
Venue: The Space at Surgeons Hall – Theatre 2 (Venue 53)
Performance time: 21.05
Show length: 50 mins
Ticket price: £8. £5

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
At 18, I went to Drama School. At 22, went to the NSDF and met writers Simon Block and Stephen Jeffreys; I discovered my love of writing alongside performing. At 40, I have written two plays for the Edinburgh Fringe FXXK 18 and SUNNY RUNNY RUNCORN. Both were performed in London and up north. As an educator, for 15 years, I have taught in China, Manchester, Liverpool and London. One highlight has been working with The South Bank Show, Sky Arts and Sonia Friedman Productions to document Benedict Cumberbatchs’ Hamlet at the Barbican. My students performed a choral ‘To be or not to be speech’ and discussed the play with him. You can still see it on Sky Arts! I love the transformative power of the arts that can permeate all our lives.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
David (a ground breaking gay children’s author) and Tom (ex-military) have been together for 20 years. Their children, through surrogacy, Samantha (9) and Kevin (12); have died in a fatal canoe accident on a school adventure holiday. Andrew (24) their adopted son, arrives back at the family home in Richmond, with his own son (9 months). It is the night before they say goodbye. The use of classical children stories and poetry, embedded in the text, illuminate how their children will live forever in the imaginative stories we share.

CANOE represents a rarely represented family (without them being distanced through comedy and clichés). It communicates universal ideas through a prism of people who have been marginalised and survived with compassion and imagination. Fundamentally, it’s about love, loss and the question: ‘who are ‘we’, now we don’t have children?’

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I wrote the show last summer. Originally, a four hander. I was working on the Creative Learning Panel for Digital Theatre +, with Struan Leslie, the founding Movement Director at the RSC and Katie Mitchells Movement Director for 15 years. I asked him to come on board: as director and dramaturg. I wanted to re-frame CANOE as a solo show in which I would play both Fathers and the adopted son. It is an honour to be a part of ‘Death on the fringe’ which develops openness about bereavement and grief in Scotland. “More than half the children in the UK and US are being brought up outside a traditional family” (New Scientist, Dec 2017). Abbie Goldberg, a psychologist at Clark University speaks of “Every person deserves to be a parent as long as they can take care of a child”. CANOE takes us to the edge of parental powerlessness. What ensues is a social media circus that sadistically attacks the couple; tweeting and blogging that they had no right to be parents in the first place. The relevancy of how we raise each other up and tear each other down has never been more topical.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Breakfast: tea and toast. Have a plan for the day: and allow that plan to be open to magical and spontaneous things to unfold.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
In FXXK 18 (Club 18-30 meets Restoration Comedy) there was audience interaction – a dance. The audience wanted to continue with the ‘interaction’. As performers we were very clear that we were acting a play and this was pretend. It was very saucy and naughty! But all in the best possible taste!

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Charlotte Josephine for BLUSH and her work as Mercutio at the RSC. Simon Block for his contribution to work on stage, screen as well as novels, HOME FIRES. Lin-Manuel Miranda for HAMILTON and the hope that can be transmitted through the power of words.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I like to meet and greet my audience. It’s like an air steward getting ready for take-off!

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
LOAD!!!LOADS!!!LOADS!!! Comedy, dance, new writing, known acts, unknown acts. I have my plan. I am making sure I go to see at least three shows a day…in between flyering…To inspire you have to be inspired. I’m so excited.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
CANOE personalises the politics around social services, surrogacy, IVF, faith, gay parenting, family and grief. It opens up the dialogue to a subject we may never have to face; but the bravery, humanity and courage of those who have been through it, and continue to live with love in their hearts, that’s the kind of example, that’s the kind of champions of the strength of the human spirit I want to have been in the presence in my life, off stage and on. I hope you will too – see you at CANOE!


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