In the second of our guest pieces, Rebecca Peyton talks more about the development of her first play ‘Sometimes I laugh like my sister’ and the decision to take it to Edinburgh…
It’s the very end of July 2010. Martin and I can hardly speak, so interesting are the conversations around us. We are sitting with our beers in an over-priced, over-decorated Chinese restaurant, itself utterly outshone by its bizarre and noisy clientèle. When we do speak, all we can say to one another is, how on earth have we got here?
Edinburgh. Over the years I had been a punter, a student performer and an agent on the hunt for talent. I had long incorporated the advice which I would give to anyone who asked, and many who didn’t: do not take a show to Edinburgh. I love the Fringe, absolutely love it. As a punter. As an agent it is unpredictable and exhausting, surprising, derivative, exciting and totally predictable. As an artist it’s an almost guaranteed way to lose money.
But then a friend, with many stand-up shows under his belt and rather a good career to all sides, told me he thought we should go. He said that it was Edinburgh which had allowed him the creative freedom to develop his considerable writing and performing skills.
So Martin and I started talks about talks. We decided that as an exercise in booking a tour it might be worth it and prepared to show Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister to The Pleasance in London for consideration for their Edinburgh enormo-venue. And then, immediately after the showing to a full house, I had a stupendous meltdown.
Looking back, it was a big thing to do the show to so many people who knew me and had known Kate, to a literary agent, to the Pleasance, for the first time in England. I knew this fact intellectually, but it had been going so well in Switzerland I had not been able properly to anticipate the effect of things not going so well. The show – I – overran. I was very, very sure I had failed and could not hear anything positive about it from anyone. How would I cope if the show bombed? Not only as a performer, but as a writer?
It was a few days later, standing on Hungerford Bridge that we reached our nadir, Martin and me. Clearly I felt incapable of dealing with the situation, so urgently did I feel the need to run away. I told him I would not do the show and he told me that I would be taking the show from him if I did not perform it. I cried and he cried for the first time in the nearly three years I had known him. This is what an impasse looks like, I thought, one of those life-changing impasses which are not thrown upon you, but which you walk straight into, they look like this and feel like craggy, churning, urgent, self-hatred.
We had to stop the bridge melodrama to meet Lucy. She was the only other person who had seen all of the footage we had recorded, pre-edit – the raw stuff. By the time we parted company, I was not giving up performing it and Martin was not feeling abandoned. Lucy had reached some part of me and told me I could, I should, continue.
And so what had this particular crisis taught me? That when I’m working with the person who believes I can, I should, write and I feel I’ve let him down monumentally, even he cannot tell me I should get back on the horse. My sister could have, but still she failed to show: the dead are deeply self-centred. So I had to find some way to tell myself. Years and years of thinking that I speak too much, that what I say is much less important that what others have to say, had taken its toll and I had no idea until now how deep that ran. And yet through the experience of nearly abandoning the performing I started to see that I admired the writing, I realised that, as a performer, I wanted to be true to the writing, to the story, I feared the weaknesses of my performance would let the writing down.
At source, the writer and the performer were the same person and she had to allow the performer in her to allow the writer’s words to be heard. These feelings of being a writer, were unfamiliar and I had actively to decide to stay on the untamed horse of a show, even though it seemed an impossible task.
Martin and I were, undoubtedly, in Edinburgh. As we wandered, overfull of Chinese food, back to our flat through empty, rainy streets, I encouraged him to enjoy the solitude as he was about to experience the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time, and neither of us had any idea what it would hold for our show, our collaboration or our progress as writers.
(Read the first part of Rebecca’s story here.)