This week saw the inaugural Litmus Fest at the Pleasance. The premise for the festival makes complete sense: to bring the creative, risk-taking spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe to London.
Because, while the Pleasance is one of the best venues in Edinburgh, it sometimes takes a bit of a back seat down here in London. So it was great to see six very different theatre companies take up residence at the Pleasance and share their work-in-progress shows.
In order to get a sense of who was involved in Litmus Fest and how the performances were developed we talked to Adam Loxley and Lee Anderson of Performance Anxiety whose show, Skeletons, featured in the press evening performance.
The PEG: It’s great that Performance Anxiety are a part of Litmus Fest- how do you feel to be a part of it?
Adam and Lee: We scratched 10 minutes of Skeletons (or, How I Learned to Love Fucking Up) at The Pleasance back in February. Litmus Fest allowed us to take those very rough and ready ideas and really run with them. It’s a festival that encourages experimentation and celebrates taking risks, which was important to us. It’s great that The Pleasance is opening up a space for this kind of work, and the festival has already proved incredibly eclectic, so we’re proud to be part of it.
The PEG: Can you some up the ethos of Performance Anxiety in three words?
Adam and Lee: I’m not here. But, actually, the ethos is already in the name. We quite like creating performances which have a little bit of discomfort and tension. For us, this energises the audience in one way or another and allows you to create an atmosphere where anything goes and which feels little bit otherworldly.
The PEG: How much involvement did the Pleasance have over the 2 weeks of R&D?
Adam and Lee: They pretty much let us get on with it. In a good way. Which we took rather literally.
The PEG: The show is a reaction against society’s obsession with success and perfection, but what was the starting point for the show?
Lee: Adam and I became interested in this idea of sharing secrets in a public space. Initially, the show was little more than an attempt to test whether an audience could be persuaded to donate secrets anonymously and have them shared with other participants. It was only once we began deconstructing that idea that we discovered the show was really about shame, in various forms.
The PEG: Both yourself and Lee perform with an honesty and bravery that allows the audience to really connect with your show. What makes you choose this style of performance?
Lee: It sort of just happened. I usually hate it when people say that kind of thing, but in this case it’s true. I’m not a trained performer. I’d never consider myself to be an actor. We weren’t particularly interested in developing ‘characters’ to play. It had to be natural, because we wanted to explore those ideas of shame through our own lived experience of it. We also wanted the audience to come with us, so we had to be willing to lead by example. It was more out of necessity, at least in the early stages.
The PEG: The best part of the show is the audience involvement and the volunteers who participate in the game-playing. Is this something you’ve experimented with before? What did you envisage coming out of this section of the show?
Adam: We experimented with it in the scratch and it worked really well. So we wanted to take it further in this show. I am also in a sketch group (This Glorious Monster) that uses a lot of audience participation. I genuinely enjoy the reactions of people on stage and that unpredictable human element so it felt like the right thing to do with regards to the subject matter.
We were hoping to prove some of the points we were making throughout the show but also hoping to illicit some catharsis in participants and a sense of empathy in the audience.
The PEG: What do you hope to do with Skeletons next?
Lee: We’re going to go through the feedback from the show, and talk to as many people who saw the show as we can and take it from there.
The PEG: Where/When can we see more of you and Lee and Performance Anxiety?
Adam: I’m still performing in This Glorious Monster on and off. We have a youtube channel were always adding stuff to as well.
Lee: I’m about to start rehearsals for Skin Deep, a new-play with Attilla Theatre that I’m directing for the London Horror Festival. It tells the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a.k.a ‘The Bloody Countess’.