"It's Only Words" is one of the most astonishing shows I have ever seen. Where on earth do you get the idea of this show from?
Thank you! I have always been surrounded by people trying to learn languages and communicate as my family was a host family for foreign students when I was growing up. I studied Chinese at university and lived in Beijing, but I felt however good my Chinese got, I felt better doing business meetings with a Chinese person with me who I could trust, who could interpret all the body language and subtle things in the meeting that I couldn't necessarily see as a non-native: I realised I had spent 8 years learning vocabulary; but it was never really about the words!!! I now spend a lot of time making documentaries for the BBC and that is all about watching what people are communicating sub-consciously. A cheeky look at the camera could mean so much more than what people say in an interview, like safari for humans I guess. All these experiences made me believe it would be possible to make a show totally in Chinese that could be understood and enjoyed by non-Chinese speakers.
How did you become such a fluent Chinese speaker?
I have a degree in Modern & Classical Chinese from SOAS at University of London, which took 4 years. I spent a year at university in Beijing and I went to work in a Chinese office after graduating. They say it takes 8 years to learn Chinese properly - but for me it really never ends. Even Chinese people forget characters all the time. Ironically, my Chinese is currently probably the rustiest it's ever been.
How long did it take you to put this show together?
I first tried out a little bit in November 2014...and then started working on it intensely in February, knowing I had to have a show ready in some form for the Brighton Fringe in May 2015. It's still evolving all the time.
You got a good response from a smallish audience in Cardiff. How have your other reviews gone?
Thanks. I personally feel the Cardiff preview was probably the worst show I've ever had. The lighting set up was difficult as I really couldn't see the audience at all, and that made this kind of so-called "intimate" and interactive work quite tough. But, I thought the audience were very open to me and did their best in the boiling heat, they were great. It was also the smallest audience I've ever had for the show, which is harder for them because it's so interactive. I had a lot of fun performing for them and am grateful to all who came.
You rely upon a LOT of audience involvement. These segments only work as well as the people involved. Have your "volunteers" generally been quick on the uptake or has it been harder than you expected to get your point across?
I love the high risk element of audience participation -ultimately it's my job to make people feel at ease and want to "come with me". Clearly, this works better in some sections than others depending on how well I've done my job that night. With a bigger audience I can have a wider range of choice about who I bring up on stage with me - I try to read the audience to choose people who will be happy to come and play...but of course, I don't always get it right and sometimes there simply isn't much choice if the audience is smaller. Sometimes someone is really uncomfortable when they first come on stage, but then they start to relax and enjoy it and then the best moments are created. It's not an exact science. I love the excitement and freshness this brings to each show, hopefully.
You stated at the end of this show " I feel like I have run a marathon". Is it harder work than you thought?
Haha...I found the Cardiff show particularly hard for all the reasons outlined above...Certainly, what I do is extremely physically demanding, I have to do quite a lot of physical training to prepare for Edinburgh. I think when you are putting a show together, you are just concentrating on making the best show possible..you don't think about how hard it will be for you to actually perform it. Maybe my next show should be lying in a bed or something. He he.
With less than three weeks to go before the festival is the show settled or is it still "Work In Progress"?
It was still very much a WIP at Cardiff. The puppetry element I introduced that night for the first time and I had only had the puppet for a couple of days. Although I felt it worked on the night, I've now decided to remove this from the show...I am still playing with ways of performing certain elements..I think because of the improvised nature of the show, it will continue to evolve for some time yet.
Are you a keen analyser of your shows and how do you know when to stop tweaking your material?
I have filmed most of my previews and I am a keen tweaker. I think there is just a feeling when you know something is working - the temptation is to tweak too much, which actually hinders it. It can be quite hard to trust the material and stop tweaking. I am really lucky because I have a very kind husband who has helped me develop the show and who has seen all my previews so he gives excellent feedback...He doesn't actually like live comedy that much and he's very hard to please, which is very helpful when trying to improve the show.
Can you describe the life of a touring comedian?
I do not consider myself to be a touring comedian, although I have been taking this show around the country a little bit. It's really fun, rehearsing and getting ready in the morning, travelling in the afternoon, performing in the night. There is a nice rhythm to it.
What do you prefer, the writing process or the performing?
I love both, but for me once I have put a show together and performed it a few times, I kind of lose interest a bit. It is satisfying to know I have made a show and I then I kind of have the impulse to move on instantly. I have already started writing my next show, for example. So, it is kind of fighting all these impulses to take it to Edinburgh. I am very excited and baffled about how I am going to manage to perform it 25 nights in a row though. That's just insane. I do love performing when you're totally in the moment of the show with the audience, and time stands still. It's an intense form of living, cheesy as that sounds.
As a solo performer, is complete control of the stage empowering or can it be a lonely experience?
It might sound strange but I never see it like this. As my show is so interactive, it's kind of about creating an experience with the audience that is hopefully special because it's just all of us together in this room and it can never be repeated. I think I would find it lonely if I didn't have my husband Tom with me to debrief. It's quite hard for people not having anyone to talk to about the show type thing or give you a reality check.
As the festival approaches we are getting VERY excited here at DARKCHAT. As a performer do you feel the same way or are the opening days like sitting an exam?
I feel very excited also. I hope I just manage to stay focussed on the one thing I can control, which is doing my show as well as I can each day and try not to worry too much about the rest. It is scary though...
Your show is on at 16.15pm. How do you plan to pace your day?
Well, my intention is to wake up and do yoga, porridge for breakfast, salad for lunch, flyering from midday onwards and then do my show. What will probably happen is that I wake up late with a hangover and then eat a mcdonalds.
Assuming this is your first Edinburgh festival what are you expecting?
I am expecting a lot of fatigue from doing the show day in, day out. It is very physically exhausting, I am planning to do approx 3-4 hours flyering each day also.. I am hoping there might also be some time to have some fun with friends and seeing other shows too...everyone I know keeps telling me to pace myself as if running a marathon.
Who are your comedy heroes?
I really love Doctor Brown, he is definitely my favourite clown. He has huge sensitivity, beauty and hilarity in his work. I also really love Nina Conti, she allows herself to be very vulnerable on stage, I am really excited to see her improvised show this year.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing in Edinburgh this year?
I really want to see Kim Noble's show if he is coming back again - everyone was talking about his show last year but I haven't had a chance to see it yet. I am also keen to Marney Godden and Holly Burn 's shows - as they are also women making physical comedy, and we're quite a rare breed. I've heard great things about both their shows.
Despite being inundated with flyers it occurred to us at DARKCHAT that as we are quite organised before we arrive we never watch a show due to a flyer. So, as a first this year we have allocated Sunday 9th August as Flyer Day. The plan is that 2 DARKCHATTERs leave our flat ( near Arthur's Seat) and start walking down Nicholson Street and go to the 1st show we have a flyer for etc, & so forth. Does this sound a genius or a disastrous idea?
I think it sounds like a genius idea. Am sure you'll see a lot of weird things that you wouldn't ordinarily plan to see...for better or worse !!!!!
Finally, how do you plan to survive that month of mayhem?
Erm, trying not to hate myself for eating a lot of Mcdonalds...and playing with my puppet to see if I can work her back in the show..
If you only want to see one UNUSUAL show this fringe book tickets here: