I loved “The Flop”. Where on earth did you guys get the idea from?
One of the cast stumbled upon a mine of information about the impotence trials in 17th-century France, when the church and the state tied themselves in knots over the need for everyone to be able to consummate their marriage. If you could not, for whatever reason, you could be brought to trial and forced to prove your virility at a public trial. The strangeness of these laws was too good to ignore, and the story of the Marquis and Marquise de Langley has it all – love, pride, a fall from grace, failure, manipulative relatives and plenty of idiocy. We saw two characters at its centre who do not conform to societal expectations, who were outsiders. I think this is a very clown theme.
The audience had a great time. It looked as if the cast did as well. Is it great fun to perform?
Absolutely, though I think they will enjoy it a bit more once the show has settled. At the moment all the performers are flying the seat of their pants a little as we continue to make tweaks to the show. Once it gets a bit more settled, they will have a chance to enjoy it more.
It seems a complicated show. Is it chaotic or calm backstage?
Yep, after our scratch performances of the show we decided we would need a stage manager back there to help out, as it was absolute chaos. It still is pretty hectic back there due to the pace of the show and some very quick costume changes!
Are there any amusing mishaps you care to recount?
On our final preview performance in Cardiff one of the actors forgot what scene they had next and started to get changed into a totally different costume, only realising they were meant to be on stage when they were already half naked. In the end the scene started without them, with the other actors. However, it’s the sort of show that allows them to get away with anything as none of the mistakes are hidden, they are embraced as part of the fun, ‘the flop’ is always acknowledged.
A show this complicated doesn’t come together easily. How long have you been rehearsing?
It’s been a germ of an idea over the last couple of years as we explored clowning in the academies. The show has gone through many guises, it was “Wrong”, it was “This is not a show, this is science”, at one stage we were going to stage “Jason and the Argonauts”, but eventually “The Flop” stuck. At times when Spymonkey were not with us I continued to explore clown with our Academy students, and it was during this time that Adam, Ted and Jonathan started to shine. All are relatively new to our Academies, having joined within the past 18 months or so, Ted in Carmarthen, Adam and Jonathan in Cardiff. We’ve done several rounds of research and development, with a scratch performance back in February, rehearsals almost full time from June before three preview performances at Chapter in Cardiff last month.
We have been a fan of Hannah McPake’s due to her Gagglebabble appearances. What is her connection to Hijinx Theatre?
Hannah is a tutor in one of our Hijinx Academies, plus I’m a huge fan of her work with Gagglebabble too.
You mentioned that Spymonkey have been connected with “The Flop”. What has their involvement been?
We started working with the wonderful people at Spymonkey back in 2012, when we invited them to lead on creating an opening and closing ceremony for our Hijinx Unity Festival. Over the past 6 years Spymonkey have returned to Wales to train our Hijinx Academy artists, in clown skills, and research ideas for a potential show together on numerous occasions. It’s been a joy to work with collaborators Spymonkey, but especially Toby Park who went far beyond his role as Creative Mentor and Composer, his support, expertise and constant enthusiasm has been key to the development process.
At the show I saw at the Chapter Arts Centre there was a lot of space for improvisation and ad-libbing. Do you plan to keep this freedom in the show?
Yes, we’ve devised the show ourselves and the cast have all been involved throughout the process. Although the script gives some security for everyone, in all likelihood, it will still be changing in one way or another when you see it next and that is the beauty of devised work, because we made this, we have control. That may mean that no two shows are quite the same, but that is the magic of theatre.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts I never managed to see “Meet Fred”. Were you surprised by the international acclaim it received?
Yes, and we still are! Fred refuses to stay in his box, and is booked for festivals and theatres around the world well into 2019 currently with visits to Helsinki, USA and about 2 months of touring round Europe next on the list.
Did it encourage you to return to the Edinburgh festival this year?
Yes, The Fringe worked brilliantly for Fred and is where the ball really started rolling on it in terms of bookers getting to see it. We absolutely hope that The Flop can emulate that success.
DARKCHAT stay in a flat just round the corner from Summerhall where “Meet Fred” and “The Flop” perform. What do you like about Summerhall?
We also have a flat the overlooks the venue. Summerhall is just a lovely venue to be at as a participant. I find some of the other venues quite aloof, but Summerhall are fantastic at dealing with the artists – they actually reply to your emails which is always a good start! As a result they always have a fantastic, really interesting programme, which for me is the most diverse at the Fringe.
The festival is almost within touching distance now. Are you getting excited or beginning to panic?
We are here! Tech is done. We are just waiting for our opening on the 3rd, spending most of our days marketing, marketing, marketing.
“The Flop” is on at 16.55. What will your average day look like?
To begin with any media calls, meetings, emails and flyering before our call at 15.30 each day. The key is to try to get to the tipping point where word of mouth is doing the job of marketing for you, but you need to graft and tread the streets for a couple of weeks before we get to that.
Are there any particular shows you want to catch this year?
I am looking forward to seeing “Famous Puppet Deaths” and our friends Blind Summit (who worked with us on Meet Fred) have a new show on, so I’m hoping to catch that. I’m also looking forward to seeing Birds of Paradise “My Left/Right Foot”.
What is your favourite Edinburgh memory?
Getting the first reviews in for Meet Fred, out first five reviews were all five stars and everyone was just buzzing.
Sum up the Edinburgh festival in 5 words?
Competitive, exhilarating, fun, exhausting, inspiring
What are your 5 top tips for surviving the Edinburgh festival?
Good comfortable shoes, take a bike, run or walk round the Meadows each morning, don’t have too many late nights, bring an anorak.
What are you most looking forward to about this this year's festival?
My family are coming up for the second week, so that is always fun – there are a lot of brilliant children’s shows to see with them.
I have been a big fan of Hijinx Theatre for several years as they specialise in high quality shows featuring professional and amateur performers in Cardiff.
A couple of years I was geared up to see "Meet Fred" at Summerhall but, unfortunately a tempermental timepiece and an urgent need for a toilet break meant I missed it! I made sure I was not so unlucky in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago when I caught their latest show "The Flop".
The Flop’s Director – Ben Pettitt-Wade kindly answered the following questions as they ready the show for this year's Fringe.