ED2023 Caro Meets ED2023 Interviews ED2023 Theatre

Cesca Echlin: Looking For Giants

By | Published on Saturday 12 August 2023

You may or may not know that we here at ThreeWeeks are big fans of the one-person show – and I, personally, especially like the one-woman shows, probably because I am a woman. It’s a format you see a lot at the Fringe and that may be why we have developed such an affection for it. 

When I read about ‘Looking For Giants’, I was immediately intrigued by its themes and interested in the team behind it. The show is performed by Abby McCann, and both written and directed by Cesca Echlin. 

I spoke to Cesca ahead of the Fringe to find out more. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Looking For Giants’ is all about? What story does it tell? 
CE: ‘Looking For Giants’ is about one young woman and her relationship with three different men at three different stages of her early adulthood.

One her university tutor, one a man she interacts with on a dating app, and one a fellow student at her school.

In the young woman’s mind each man becomes an important character in the story she tells herself about her life so far. They act as mirrors through which she can work out who it is that she is. 

CM: What themes does the play explore? 
CE: It’s a play about attraction and the confrontation between self and other. It is also a lot about sexuality, and specifically about how we can conceive of female sexuality in a world so dictated by the male gaze.

It is also about narrativity, subjectivity and the interwoven relationship between fantasy and reality. 

CM: How would you describe it in terms of a style or genre?
CE: This play is a one-woman show that blends a mix of theatre and storytelling, teetering on the line between drama and comedy.

It combines moments of dry humour and sarcasm with lyrical language and mythological imagery. 

CM: What was the inspiration for the show? What made you want to write about this in particular? 
CE: This show is semi-autobiographical. Writing about things that happen to you and the people you interact with is, perhaps, a tricky business, but I find personal experience is the subject matter about which I can write the most authentically.

I’m fascinated by nuance in all things, and the contradictions and inner-conflicts that sit within people. My desire to write about things in a nuanced way made my personal experience the best place to start, because it is the material I am most closely acquainted with. 

CM: Why did you make this a one-person show – and why does it work as one? 
CE: I’ve always been fascinated by the monologue form. Some of the best theatre I’ve seen has been one-person shows, many of them here at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I love the work of Scottish theatre-maker Gary McNair, who I first saw at the Traverse in my teens. As McNair’s work shows, there is something so beautifully vulnerable about the monologue form – one person up on a stage all by themselves, responsible for the whole show. 

But that vulnerability is what I think makes it such a powerful art form. Obviously Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’ and Michaela Coel’s ‘Chewing Gum Dreams’ are the most influential examples of the one-woman show in particular.

Liz Kinsman’s amazing satire of the form, which I saw last year, speaks to just how influential and popular the one-woman show has become. But I hope people never tire of it!

I think ‘Looking For Giants’ has to be a one-woman show because it’s all about the worlds we create inside our head as individuals. Our actor Abby McCann plays all the characters, which I hope speaks to how much our idea of others is largely the product of our own projections.

CM: Did you always plan to direct it yourself? How does directing your own work compare to directing someone else’s?
CE: I’ve mostly worked as a director in the past. In fact, I never thought of myself as a writer much before this.

I always thought writers were in possession of some unacquirable talent that you had to be born with, but it’s been nice to know that a lot of my skills as a director can translate over to my writing.

Directing your own work is a strange experience – you have to put an entirely new hat on in some ways, and approach the text afresh. I think because this is my debut play, I felt this protectiveness of the script and I would not have been ready for another director to take it on.

But after this experience, I think I feel ready for someone else to direct it. 

CM: Have you worked at the Fringe before? What hopes and expectations do you have for this year’s run? 
CE: I’ve done a couple of shows at the Fringe before.

I performed in a production of Martin Crimp’s ‘Attempts On Her Life’ with my school in 2016 at theSpace. Then, in 2018, after my first year at university, I produced and assistant directed a production of Alan Ball’s ‘Five Women Wearing The Same Dress’.

These were texts by more established playwrights so, although I felt a good level of investment in them, they do not feel your own. 

It was important for me to experience Edinburgh doing a production that I felt reflected the person I am and the work I’m interested in creating. And I hope that is what I’ve got in ‘Looking For Giants’.

In terms of hopes and expectations – I want to hear what audiences have to say about the script and think hard about how it might be able to be developed further.

I also always love to meet fellow creatives in Edinburgh in the hopes that we might be able to collaborate on future projects, or else just learn from each other at this stage of our careers. 

CM: Will you be at the Festival for the duration? Will you be taking in other shows?  
CE: We are only at Edinburgh for the first two weeks – so, 3-13 Aug. Although it is a shame we won’t be able to stay for the whole run, I like to think of it as short and sweet!

In a sense it feels like a good test run for our company, That What’s Wild, as this is our first show at the Fringe. Next year we are determined to be here for the whole month! 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? What drew you to working in the arts? Did you always want to do this kind of work? 
CE: I’ve always been totally fixated on the world of theatre.

My mum would take me to kid’s shows when I was a small child and apparently my usually chatty and sometimes rebellious self would sit there in complete silence, totally focussed on what was on stage in front of me.

I always loved arts subjects the most at school because they were not about finding out what was right or what was wrong. They were more about the questions you asked as opposed to the answers you gave.

This is still my priority when making work – I want to leave audiences asking questions as opposed to trying to distil the chaos of life into something monolithic. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
CE: I would say the highlight of my career so far was working as the assistant to playwright and screenwriter Lucy Prebble on the second series of her show ‘I Hate Suzie’.

Prebble was extremely inspirational to me. It was so empowering to see a woman, working at the very top of her industry, who still treated people at all levels with the utmost respect. She made everyone in the rooms she entered feel seen and heard.

I think a lot of the time women in leadership roles are pressured to take on masculine qualities in order to be successful – whatever ‘masculine qualities’ even are – but she was constantly kind and supportive to everyone and that is what has made her so singular.

Working with Prebble, who was interested in me as an individual and what I specifically could bring to the table, pushed me to trust my own voice. And immediately after finishing on ‘I Hate Suzie’, I wrote this play. I have her to thank for that.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
CE: It’s hard to know exactly what will come your way, especially as theatre, television and film can be so unstable as career paths. Opportunities appear and then seem to disappear again. You can’t be sure of where opportunities will come from and you can’t be sure as to when, or even if, they will happen.

I think I’ve learnt that it is best to focus on the present moment and follow your instincts. I think most important to me is meeting people who I can work with, and when you have that kind of professional chemistry, following that.

I want to write more plays, and I would love to write for television. I’ve started to think seriously about writing an adaptation of ‘Looking For Giants’ for TV. However, I have a lot of ideas floating about in my head, so it’s about trying to organise that chaos and take each project one step at a time. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
CE: I’m extremely keen to secure a London transfer for this show and to tour it around the rest of the UK.

I like to think a lot of people might be able to relate to the story it tells, and am so keen to see how it lands with a variety of different audiences.

And, as I mentioned, I also want to work on an adaptation of this script for television, as well as work on my next play.

But you never know what’s coming around the corner! 

‘Looking For Giants’ was performed at Underbelly Cowgate at Edinburgh Festival 2023.

LINKS: thatwhatswild.com | twitter.com/thatwhatswild