ED2016 Interviews ED2016 Theatre ED2016 Week1 Edition

Holly&Ted: Girl power pond style

By | Published on Friday 5 August 2016


In ‘Pond Wife’, theatrical duo Holly&Ted take the Little Mermaid and transform her into the kind of hero who could save a pop star. The result is a traditional fairytale with plenty of pop tunes and dance moves from the 1990s and 2000s.
We threw some questions over to both Holly and Ted, and these were their answers…

CM: Okay, so let’s start at the start – who are you guys?
H&T: We’re a collaborative duo who work together to create theatre that focuses on strong women. We work entirely collaboratively, sharing devising, writing, directing and performing duties, as well as supporting each other both on and off stage.

CM: How long have you been working together? How did you meet?
H&T: We first met as children when we were both attending Playbox Youth Theatre in Warwick, though we were in different classes. We became friends when we both attended Dartington College Of The Arts and have been making theatre together ever since. Ted trained in directing, while Holly trained in performance, so we often share the skills we learnt with each other in order to keep everything equal, and to keep learning and growing as a company.

CM: Without giving too much away, tell us a bit about ‘Pond Wife’.
H&T: ‘Pond Wife’ is loosely based on ‘The Little Mermaid’, but we were also inspired by seminal moments in pop culture – such as Britney’s breakdown and Kesha’s trial against Dr Luke. We wanted to take a fictional character, like the Little Mermaid, who is typically weak and gives up her voice for a man she’s never met, and make her a hero who could save a pop star.

CM: So definite feminist themes?
H&T: We’ve tried to make the themes of strength in sisterhood and following your heart the strongest parts of ‘Pond Wife’. We want to encourage young women to help each other to achieve their dreams, and not compete against one another. Feminism was always going to be a clear theme in our work as it is something we are so passionate about, however we wanted to break these down further.

CM: What inspired the project?
H&T: Whilst researching the different versions of ‘The Little Mermaid’ we were listening to pop music and found so many concurrent themes, such as waiting around for a man, or not knowing what to say to a man, which fit perfectly with the original tale. Then when we juxtaposed these against some incredible songs about independence we began to realise where our version of the story would take us.

CM: What made you use Hans Christian Anderson as a jumping off point in the first place? Are you fans of his work?
H&T: I think everyone is a fan of Hans Anderson, aren’t they? Along with the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, he basically reinvented storytelling, and what was appropriate for a children’s story. The original ‘Little Mermaid’ is a heartbreaking tale of lost love, inspired by Anderson’s own life. We chose ‘The Little Mermaid’ because we knew we wanted to work with a fairy story, we knew we wanted to reinvent it with a feminist twist, and we thought that she was possibly the weakest female character.

CM: Where do you stand on the Disney version of ‘The Little Mermaid’? 
H&T: The Disney film is a very sanitised version of the original story, with a happy ending and adorable sea creature companions. But it’s completely brilliant in its own way. It may no longer be a heartbreaking story of lost love and loneliness, but it has some great tunes, and Ariel’s dad is super hot.

CM: The show is described as both funny and feminist, which some asses would regard as impossible! What would you say to those who are put off by feminist discourse and think that feminists are humourless?
H&T: To put it simply – they’re wrong. Ted used to hate stand-up comedy until he started working at Soho Theatre and started to see a wider range of comedians than the straight white males that are so often pushed forward by mainstream media. Women have a wider range of unexplored and unexpected experiences to draw from which is often going to be funnier than the privilege of being a cis man. I mean if you can’t find the humour in our attempts to lip sync to 90s pop music, where can you?

CM: Do you think it’s possible to change people’s attitudes via theatre? Do you think you could convert a non-feminist with your approach?
H&T: Theatre is an incredibly powerful medium, because it asks you to empathise and identify with a human being sharing the same immediate space as you. If you can put yourself in their shoes, and believe their experiences, it can change the way you see the world once you’ve left the theatre. Obviously its harder to get a ‘non-feminist’ – we prefer the term ‘misogynist’ – to come see a feminist show, but if you can get them through the doors… anything can happen!

CM: What age range is this suitable for? Is this something I could bring my eight year old to see?
H&T: The show is set in the 90s and told using 1990s and 2000s pop lyrics, references and dance routines. If you’ve lived through the 90s, you’re more likely to get those jokes, but we’ve had audiences of young children who loved it because of the magic and the visuals. There’s no inappropriate content as we wanted to create something that feminists of all ages could enjoy!

CM: You’re newcomers to the Edinburgh Fringe. What are you expecting? 
H&T: We’ve been touring different fringes with the show for a while, so we’re hoping Edinburgh will give us a boost in terms of audience engagement and company profile. It would be amazing if in a few years time people got excited about seeing ‘the new Holly&Ted show’.

CM: Is there ‘a new Holly&Ted show’ in the pipeline? And what next for ‘Pond Wife’?
H&T: What’s next for ‘Pond Wife’ kinda depends, because as a small unfunded company we’ve potentially reached the limits of what we’re able to achieve with this on our own. But if a venue comes along and enjoys it, or a producer is looking for a tour… who knows! Either way, we’ve already started researching our next show which is very different from ‘Pond Wife’, but with a similar sensibility.

‘Pond Wife’ was performed at Underbelly Cowgate at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

LINKS: hollyandted.com