ED2021 Caro Meets ED2021 Theatre

Clementine Bogg-Hargroves: Skank

By | Published on Sunday 15 August 2021

One-person shows are a definite fixture up at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and we see lots of them every year, so we are always on the lookout for the great ones, especially those which feature new writing from up and coming artists.

One that leapt out at us from this year’s Fringe line up is ‘Skank’ at the Pleasance, which promises to be rather dark, as well as boasting a witty and poignant script.

To find out more about the play I spoke to writer and performer Clementine Bogg-Hargroves.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Skank’ is all about? Whose story does it tell?
CBH: Zoey Barnes, the director of ‘Skank’, calls it “an autobiographical tale of a power struggle between ambition and monotony”. I think ‘Skank’ tells the story of a lot of young people in their mid-twenties these days – having ambition, but not necessarily the wherewithal to achieve it. But more specifically, ‘Skank’ is about a girl called Kate who is stuck; stuck in a job she doesn’t understand or care about whilst, in her view, her untapped potential for becoming a Nobel prize-winning writer withers away. Our heroine suffers from bouts of anxiety when we first meet her in the play, but this soon spirals further out of control when she receives some frightening news from the doctor.

CM: What themes does the play explore? How would you describe it in terms of style and genre? Is it comedy? Drama? Both?
CBH: ‘Skank’ is a comedy-drama which explores themes of everyday monotony, stress and anxiety, alongside the way some of us use humour to avoid or cover up our pain. The style is similar to a stand-up show, in as much as in I talk directly to the audience. Overall the play is naturalistic with some stylised bits thrown in for good measure. I do ask the audience to suspend disbelief a lot of the time as I talk to characters who aren’t physically there.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you decide to write a show on these themes?
CBH: The inspiration for the play came from one of the worst years of my life – 2018. Things were not going well for me at the time, I had graduated from drama school – an experience which was fucking awful – and I was totally and completely lost. I felt like all that was good about who I was got sucked away and I was left with this pathetic grey shell who only knew how to worry. I fell into a deep depression, I was suffering terribly with severe anxiety; the stress of which led me to develop tinnitus – that constant ringing in the ears.

With the tinnitus, I started to experience more severe mental health symptoms like derealisation – when you think the world around you isn’t real – and suicidal thoughts. I was obsessively self-diagnosing myself, convinced that I could see the inner workings of my body and that I was on the edge of going deaf and blind. This all sounds incredibly terrible and sad, which it was, but I did get the help that I needed from a lovely doctor, who you meet in the play, and I am much better today!

I wouldn’t say I decided to write a show based on any theme in particular, I just got to a point where I was desperate to create and perform again, but I realised that I kinda had to make it happen or it never would. So I went with the old adage ‘write what you know’, therefore the themes in ‘Skank’ are as a result of events that happen in the play, as opposed to building a narrative from a theme.

CM: How did you go about creating it? Did you just sit down and write it? Did you have to do any research?
CBH: After moving out of the house I was sharing with my boyfriend and moving back home to North Yorkshire, I realised that I was either going to get better and get back on my feet or I would get even more sad and further away from the career that I wanted. I decided to give myself a deadline by booking a cafe and selling tickets to a play I had yet to write: the deadline was five weeks away.

At the time I was tutoring Chinese kids online from 11-3pm during the week, so I built myself a schedule around that and to my amazement, I actually stuck to the schedule. The morning before lessons would be my chill time, then I’d work, have lunch and head to the library till around 7pm when I went to the gym before hitting the hay and starting all over again the next day.

I didn’t do any research for the play as it’s all from my personal experiences and since I’d become such a Google addict the year before, I’d kinda done all my research already. The main take-away I took from creating and writing the play is that if you sit for long enough in front of your laptop, you’ll eventually run out of procrastinating things to do and you will end up writing. You just have to sit there for long enough.

When I got to the weekend before the show, I called on my creative partner in crime and best mate Zoey Barnes – who is also the co-director of the show – to help me make some sense of the 70 pages of A4 that was the first draft of the play. I’ve NO idea what I would’ve done without this brilliant woman’s help. Zoey helped me to find the narrative of the play and asked all the right questions, making sure we cut it down to a palatable size for the first performance. Zo has been the dramaturg on ‘Skank’ since its inception and with each new performance we work together to make it even more concise and sharp.

CM: What made you decide to write it as a one-person play? Was it always your intention to perform it yourself?
CBH: One of the main reasons I decided to write it as a one-person play is the fact that you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s schedule to rehearse or perform. I’d also performed my first one-woman show in 2015 – ‘Spine’ by Clara Brennan – and loved the direct interaction with the audience this format gave, and since then I’d had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write and perform my own one-woman show. It probably started as an incredibly self-indulgent exercise, but I do believe it’s moved on from that. Powering a one-person show through ego alone isn’t going to get you through those shows in Blackpool where there are ten people present and the bar staff are ‘whispering’ so loudly you can’t hear the words coming out of your mouth.

CM: What made you decide to bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe this year? Have you been before?
CBH: I studied Arabic at the University Of Edinburgh so I have experienced and loved many a Fringe! I spent a lot of time in the Pleasance Courtyard looking at fellow artists’ posters, quietly wishing for a future where my poster would be on display in that legendary venue. Coming to the Edinburgh Fringe with my own show has been a whispered dream of mine since I learnt of the Fringe’s existence in my first year of university. It is just incredible to be here and at The Pleasance as well! Amazing.

Zoey and I came to perform in the PBH Free Fringe in 2019. We staged Zoey’s two-hander play ‘Austen Power’ in BarBados. It was a tough ten days. Our room was a very odd shape and did not bode well for straight theatre, the drainage system broke whilst we were there so there were some interesting smells and the door to our room literally broke off, so we had to essentially barricade ourselves and the audience in with the loose door when starting the show. I think the experience will be slightly different this year.

CM: What hopes do you have for this show in the future?
CBH: Theatrically wise, I’d like to do a national tour in 2022 but I am also really keen to adapt it for TV. I’d also love to get it published, it would be the most delicious icing on the cake, after all this hustling and graft, having an actual published copy of the old girl.

CM: Can we go back a bit now? Did you always want to be a writer/performer? What got you to this point?
CBH: I think I’m quite a typical performer in as much as I was a proper show-off as a kid, always desperate for attention, which graduated to my being class clown when I went to school. I grew up on films and I knew that I wanted to be in the films that I was watching but I had no idea how one would get there.

I grew up in the deep south of France, which is about as rural as it gets, and there were absolutely no drama groups or anything like that where I lived. It wasn’t until I moved back to England when I was twelve that I got my first experience of drama as a subject, which I loved. But when it came to applying to uni after sixth-form, I was thinking of applying to drama schools but I can clearly remember a mate of mine saying at the time that you have to be REALLLLLY good to get in – which made me doubt my ability and so I chose to pursue languages instead.

Whilst at uni in Edinburgh, I joined the French Theatre Society and performed the most hilarious farces with them every year whilst protesting for Justice For Palestine on the side. I was in two minds as to what path to take, MI5 or acting, but in the end I decided to pursue the safest option.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
CBH: My ambition is to be creating and performing my own work for TV and film. I want to be in the decision-making room as well as in front of the camera. I aim to be making enough money from professional acting and creating that I can put a deposit on a house – in Leigh.

CM: The pandemic has had a terrible impact on the arts industry. How did you get through lockdown?
CBH: It has been absolutely awful for so many people and I’m so grateful for everyone who has been on the frontline for over a year, people are amazing.

I got through lockdown by hustling myself some editing jobs to keep myself afloat financially, I built myself a shed to do yoga in and I put myself through yoga teacher training. I spent a lot of lockdown thinking that I should be doing more writing. I did a bit of writing. The inspiration just wasn’t there, but I wrote a TV pilot for ‘Skank’ – so that’s something.

CM: Can you see yourself returning Edinburgh in the future?
CBH: HELL YES BABY! I’d love to come back forever and ever amen. The Pleasance crew are an absolute dream team to work with, they are just so efficient but also incredibly lovely and up for having banter. I’d bite their hand off if they offered me a chance to come back next year. Also, I love Edinburgh, it took such good care of me when I was young and stupid and not wearing enough clothes in winter – it’ll always have a special place in my heart and I come back to visit at the smallest opportunity.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
CBH: So next, ‘Skank’ is off to The Chiswick Playhouse for a week run at the end of September (27 Sep – 2 Oct), and then we are at The Watford Fringe for one show on the 3 Oct. We’re also looking at doing a run of ‘Skank’ shows in Manchester in October but that’s not set in stone yet. I think I’m also keen to see if anything comes out of this amazing edringe experience for ‘Skank’! – Channel 4 maybe!?… And once all the ‘Skank’ shows are done for this year, I am going to be focusing on my next solo show called ‘Gabby’, which will hopefully be making its debut at the Fringe next year! Watch This Space!

‘Skank’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: www.pleasance.co.uk | twitter.com/ClementineBoggH | twitter.com/skanktheplay