ED2015 Comedy ED2015 Interviews ED2015 Week3 Edition

Henry Maynard: Flabbergasting the Fringe

By | Published on Monday 24 August 2015

Henry Maynard

Flabbergast Theatre wowed us and the Fringe at recent festivals with their ‘Boris & Sergey’ shows, featuring the titular puppets and their crazy antics. This year they return with a totally new show, ‘Tatterdemalion’, where one silent man, with his suitcase of props, interacts with his audience to tell delightful stories.
We caught up with that one man, Henry Maynard, to find out how you go about creating a show like this, how ‘Tatterdemalion’ has evolved, and what Flabbergast has planned as it pursues world domination.

CC: OK, let’s start at the start, tell us about ‘Tatterdemalion’. What can we expect?
HM: It’s is a physical comedy piece featuring mime and puppetry. It’s very silly and funny, but has some dark poignancy for counter balance. The central character finds himself in a predicament on stage and sets about trying to entertain his audience with no show to fall back on. You will be involved… because everybody is! It is, after all, live theatre. Come wanting to have fun and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

CC: As you say, you interact with the audience a lot. How much does their response influence the show?
HM: As with all theatre, the audience dictate the mood. In the past theatres employed ‘claquers’ who were paid to laugh and clap, making everybody’s experience of the show better. If the audience are happy to have fun with me we always have a great time together. On the other hand, it can be a tough show if people are very reserved. A couple of reviews suggested that the show only worked because I picked “performers” or friends to take part. But nothing could be further from the truth, I much prefer using strangers and non-performers, as their reactions are so much more natural. Performers can try too hard to go along with things.

CC: Given the importance of audience interaction, how do you go about writing and rehearsing a show like this?
HM: The show has to be rehearsed in front of a live audience. During initial development I do use my company to come up with a basic idea, but only by running it in the real world do you really find the humour and details. At Flabbergast we always use improvisation to create shows in front of audiences. It’s what made ‘Vaudevillian Adventure’, our first show, so good. It was devised over two years in front of real audiences and went through many variations before settling down. With this show, we came up with something that made us laugh, but it’s only now, six months on, and after a tour in Australia and a week or so in Edinburgh, that I feel like it is really starting to take off.

CC: You mentioned ‘Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure’ – to give it its full name – we loved both your Boris & Sergey shows. How do you think ‘Tatterdemalion’ compares?
HM: Both shows use audience participation, no fourth wall and improvisation. I think of Boris & Sergey as clown characters like Laurel & Hardy. Because they are puppets they can get away with almost anything. The character in ‘Tatterdemalion’ is a foolish child, so he does get away with a lot too. I think this show is a little more family friendly, but I may experiment with a later slot in the future.

CC: Tell us more about Flabbergast Theatre. Why did you set it up? And what are the company’s aims?
HM: Flabbergast theatre was set up to make uncompromising and exciting physical theatre in the belief that all theatre should be engaging and sweaty. It came about through my desire to take more control over the work I appeared in. We believe that as theatre is a live experience, we should exploit that and engage with the audience directly, which is why we use so much direct address and participation. As for aims – well, we aim for World Domination.

CC: Are some audiences a bit nervous about silent mime-based comedy? If so, how do you – well – talk them round?
HM: It is becoming much more popular, people like Dr Brown and Trygve Wakenshaw have helped to show people the value of the art form. It is still avant-garde, but those people who love it really do love it. Some people are funny about puppetry too. It seems that I am cursed with a love for theatre styles that aren’t necessarily the most mainstream, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the show I rely on the charm of the character, and if someone really doesn’t want to be involved I don’t force it. You can’t please all the people all the time.

CC: Is the Edinburgh Fringe a particularly good festival for this kind of show?
HM: I think the Edinburgh Festival is a good festival precisely because there is such a range of theatre styles. And it’s great seeing all the other performers who are doing similar things to me too. Jamie Wood is great and on after me; he is also a solo ‘clown’ although he does less mime. There seems to be a real appetite for this type of work at the Fringe right now. Though the show works elsewhere too. I am constantly surprised by the range of people that seem to love our work. And I’m currently attracting an older audience base than perhaps we did with Boris & Sergey, which is great.

CC: We’re into the final week of the Fringe, what have been the highlights so far?
HM: The two sell-out shows have been great, but even the smaller audiences have been fun too, receiving the good star ratings have been gratifying. I’m continuing to develop the show and the character, and it has been fun to polish the timing and elements of the show that perhaps weren’t working at the start.

CC: Any low points?
HM: I have a suspected protrusion in one of my lower lumbar discs which is causing a great deal of pain in my sciatic nerve, which is frustrating, although it isn’t really affecting the show fortunately.

CC: And what next? For yourself, Flabbergast and the show?
HM: I’d really like to transfer the show to London in the autumn, and I’m talking to a few theatres about it. Boris & Sergey also have a completely improvised show called ‘Preposterous Improvisation Experiment’, which will be part of the Suspense Festival at the Little Angel Theatre. I have a few projects which we are applying for funding to get off the ground. And this Christmas I’ll be performing with the Scottish National Theatre in a puppetry based ‘A Christmas Carol’ in Michigan, America. Then next year we plan to bring ‘Tatterdemalion’ and Boris & Sergey back to Edinburgh and we might even be running our own theatre space. Like I said – World Domination.

‘Tatterdemalion’ was performed at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: flabbergasttheatre.co.uk

Photo by Idil Sukan