Tim Marriott talks about bringing SHELL SHOCK to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name: Tim Marriott
Name of Edinburgh show: Shell Shock
Venue: Army@TheFringe/Summerhall
Performance time: 17.30
Show length: 60 mins
Ticket price: £12/£11

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I am returning to the theatre after a 17 year career break! I had a good run in the business, including seven years in the sit-com, The Brittas Empire as caring, sharing Gavin the deputy manager of the leisure centre run by the lunatic Gordon Brittas… but got out to run the drama department and theatre spaces at a college in Eastbourne. I did a bit of writing for the stage whilst there and got commissioned to adapt a squaddie’s diary, Shell Shock, written by Neil Blower. I directed a young actor into the role who smashed it at Edinburgh last year but then went ‘travelling’ and landed me in it, re-working the script to be an older ex-soldier. So I bit the bullet, took on the show, left the college and set off around the world performing ‘Shell Shock’ in association with the military and mental health charities.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
We say it’s like that group therapy session where no one wants to talk first, but then ‘Tommy’ kicks off and starts the conversation…

‘Tommy’ tells the story of life outside service and how there’s nothing wrong with him it’s just the rest of the world that’s at fault! His frustrations with Ikea, post office queues and ‘phone zombies hit a comic nerve but boil over into anger and alienation from friends and family. Ultimately, however, this is an uplifting piece, as ‘Tommy’ lights the way to recognising there is an issue and getting help. The show is a solo piece but is interactive, ending with an invitation to a talkback, where the conversation continues… So thematically, this is a stigma reduction project… Put simply, mental health? Let’s talk about it…

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I was commissioned 18 months ago and have been working on it constantly since then. I’ve been to New York, Australia and New Zealand with it and have given performances in support of the military, ‘behind the wire’, as well as in support of charities such as Combat Stress, Help For Heroes and Stand Tall for PTS.

The theme of mental health and the stigma that surround it could not be more relevant today. As the pressure increases on all of us to be happy living social media driven lives, as advertisers and magazines sell us dreams founded in clay, so depression, anxiety, stress and damaging responses to trauma become more and more common. In the military, as soldiers return from stress and trauma experiences abroad to frantic lives back home, the symptoms of PTSD begin to establish. But in a culture defined by ‘grit’, in a world where we must all be ‘happy’, it is hard to recognise these symptoms, still harder to seek help. We aim to illustrate that pathway and offer hope.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Eat well, sleep well and drink well… last year I enjoyed the social side and worked hard to keep on top of doing two shows. This led to lots of late nights networking in the bar… A rookie error. You can’t do it all, which is why so many end up with the Edinburgh flu in weeks three and four! Stay healthy, people.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I took over Shell Shock at 48 hours notice. Going on stage with a new, adapted script, performing to 300 veterans and their families was pretty scary and potentially embarrassing… but I guess, years ago, going on stage for the final denouement of an Agatha Christie thriller, shutting the door firmly, only for a picture to fall to the floor… followed by a bit of a wobble… another picture falling… then, slowly, inexorably, the whole set, piece by piece, leaning inwards and then floating to the floor leaving us standing in a pile of stage set and props… we all just looked at each other and fled the stage as one. Yup… that was embarrassing.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Harold Pinter. The master of subtextual threat and thematic drama. Taking on big issues and asking questions, not necessarily preaching to the converted but holding up a mirror for us to see ourselves and what we do through implication, yet retaining a sense of humour. People don’t always see the humour in Pinter… He was a comedy writer – he began writing sketches for Kenneth Williams. He worked with Peter Cook, another of my heroes… unafraid to challenge, to take on the world, to ridicule pomposity and stick two fingers up to the establishment.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Physical and vocal warm up… vital at my old age if I am not to damage myself!

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
So much! Kokoda (another military solo show, stunning performance from Adelaide), Your Bard (my friend Nick Collett as Shakespeare in the pub – brilliant), Greg Byron (spoken word poetry, railing at the world) and two timely suffragette pieces, A Necessary Woman (brilliant two hander about Emily Davison) and Jo Hartstone’s solo show about Muriel Matters.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
I don’t think they should see my show over other shows! I’d like them to see it as well as seeing others, though! Simply… because it’s a great tale. Author Neil Blower Watkin is one of life’s finest. He’s been to hell and back and come out seeing the funny side of himself. A real success story. We hear a lot of tragic stories around PTSD at the moment… this is an inspiring example of how we can work through mental health issues, seek help and TALK.

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