Spies Like Us Theatre talk about the two shows they are bringing to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
My name is Ollie and I’m co-Artistic Director of Spies Like Us Theatre. We’re a physical theatre company focusing on devised physical storytelling that places movement at the heart of everything we do and this is our second year producing work having been formed as the Pleasance’s XYP company 2017. Whilst I’m not really a performer anymore, I first performed on the Fringe in 2013 when I had just turned 16 and have been back as a performer or writer/director ever since!

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Our first show, Woyzeck, is a new interpretation of Büchner’s iconic play. It’s fast-paced, intense, sexy and sad. It’s a project that has been rattling around in my head for about four years now so it’s incredibly exciting to see it start to come to fruition! The play tells the story of Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier living with his partner, Marie, who he can’t afford to marry, and their young son. Through a combination of manipulation and jealousy he begins to lose his mind with devastating consequences. With an incredibly intense denouement we hope you’ll be on the edge of your seat, be entertained and will be moved.

We are also performing our debut show, Our Man in Havana for six shows only at the end of the festival after successful stints performing at last year’s festival and in London. It’s a fast-paced physical farce that tells the story of an ex-pat British vacuum cleaner salesman who accidentally gets recruited to the British Secret Service and begins to blur the boundary between fantasy and reality with his reports. It’s very silly, very funny, and all we use a vacuum cleaner (which turns into everything from a dog to plane propeller) as our only prop.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
As mentioned earlier the idea has been floating around for quite some time, and I devised a short section whilst I was at school, but this production has been ticking over since Christmas 2017. It is only really in the last few weeks and months that things have really jumped into gear though, and with an intense two-week rehearsal process we have to get a lot done quickly! It’s a timeless story of love and loss with a socio-political bite that is unfortunately no less relevant now as it was in 1829 when first written.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Sleep wherever and whenever you can (unless it’s in somebody else’s show), see everything you can and make sure you go to the Italian on the Mound for their famous no.9 sandwich!

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
As someone who tends to be up in the box pressing buttons I don’t have many funny stories onstage! Neither funny or embarrassing, but perhaps more dramatic that the show that was going on, was when someone collapsed 10 minutes before the end of one of our shows last year!

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
As someone who has spend most of my adolescent and early adult summers in Edinburgh in August, it’s often the companies and shows that I’ve seen consistently that have left the biggest mark. As a company that prioritises physical movement as a means to tell a story I think we all look up to Gecko as a shining example of how incredibly detailed work can be beautiful without sacrificing integrity. As a lover of film and cartoon-style comedy, Joseph Bone’s Bane shows left an indelible mark on me as someone wanting to make theatre, and I think it’s thumb-prints can be seen on a lot of the shows I’ve been lucky enough to work on. Outside of the Fringe scene, Simon McBurney is someone I think should be a role model for everybody, whether they’re interested in the arts or not!

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I’m not really one for rituals, but Our Man in Havana calls for slices of Cucumber in the show, so producer Niki and I would tend to be chopping bits of cucumber jut before our get in last year!

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Incognito Theatre are always ones to watch, and Tobacco Road should be no exception to that rule. Familie Flöz are consistently excellent and having clashed with their show last year, I’m incredibly excited to see Silent Faces’ A Clown Show About Rain.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
Woyzeck and Our Man in Havana use nothing more than five buckets and a vacuum cleaner as their respective sets, yet with these simple tools five actors take audiences from London, to Havana, from happiness to sadness, from tears of laughter to tears of sadness without ever pausing for breath or to mop the sweat from their brows (and there tends to be a lot of sweat) … If I’m being totally honest, though, there are dozens of companies and performers who can also boast the inventiveness, intensity and excitement we profess to have, but in my opinion it is the passion, the heart and the fact that above all else we love working together and putting work together onstage that makes us special, and is the main reason we are able to consistently strive for the high standards of performance we aim for. Hopefully we’ll see some of you in the audience!


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