ED2019 Caro Meets ED2019 Interviews ED2019 Theatre

Lucy Danser: If This Is Normal

By | Published on Tuesday 13 August 2019

We’ve been following the career of Lucy Danser for many years now, through her work as a playwright, but also with an eye on the output of her production company Chatback Theatre And Comedy. It organises regular and popular comedy events down south, including poetry/comedy night ‘Stand Up & Slam’, which also made a name for itself in Fringes past.

This year we’re talking about Danser’s latest play, however, and it’s got a story and themes that really piqued my interest as soon as I heard about it. I put some questions to Lucy to find out more about this play, her career, and why she keeps coming back for edfringe.

CM: Can you start by telling us the premise of ‘If This Is Normal’? What’s the narrative of the play?
LD: ‘If This Is Normal’ is a comedy-drama set in Kilburn, North London, about three friends who meet at school aged eight or nine and immediately form what seems to be an unbreakable bond. The play follows the trio over almost a decade as they become teenagers in today’s modern age, each carving out their own identity and making exciting plans for the future. That is, until a situation occurs that tests their relationship and forces each of them to confront their own beliefs and where their loyalties lie as their ideals and reality crash into each other.

CM: Who are the central characters, and what are they like?
LD: The play’s a three-hander and the characters are Madani, Maryam and Alex. Madani and Maryam are siblings, with Madani one year older. They’re from a Pakistani Muslim community outside of London but live in Kilburn with just their mother for reasons explored within the play. While Maryam is the slightly more serious sibling, academic and keen to assert herself as a modern, independent woman, Madani is a gentle soul, fiercely protective of his family, not school smart but determined to blaze a path in life, start his own fitness business and be able to look after his mother and sister.

Alex is a working-class South Londoner, also displaced to Kilburn, and is a ball of fiery energy, loud and silly, ready to act first and think later, while simultaneously a bit of an anxious over-thinker, constantly questioning and second-guessing herself as she grows up. Together, the three are playful, with a close and loving relationship, nurtured over a number of years.

CM: What are the themes the play explores? What did you aim to shed light on when writing the piece?
LD: I like to write about things that I, or others, find hard to articulate and also things I’m perhaps a little scared to talk about if not through the guise of a character. I think that nowadays we’re very much part of a society that seeks to condone or condemn things in a very black or white way, with less opportunity to explore the nuances of life. I wanted to do that here, to give voice to the feelings that aren’t always recognised.

For that reason I think that a key theme of the play is the issue of trying to deal with a problem when you don’t quite have the correct language to do so. When the words you have at hand don’t quite fit the situation. When the central event – that I won’t go into here! – in the play occurs, all three of the characters are people who have very strong opinions on how people should behave and how the world should be, learned mostly from media – podcasts, TV, Twitter etc – but all three also suddenly realise that their ideals don’t quite meld with the messy business of real life. From this, the themes explored are very much those linked with growing up: personal identity, sex, family and friendship.

CM: I am pretty concerned by the way the media/porn, etc, seems to be altering the way that young people think sexual and romantic relationships are supposed to be, and I think maybe that’s something you touch on in this? Do you think there’s any way to turn the tide on it?
LD: Yes, I definitely do and I think that’s a small part of what I hoped we could do through this play and perhaps who it’s performed to in the future.

I do think it’s quite a big issue but I also believe there’s also a lot of other things that also feed into the problem: how people are brought up, how they talk about things at home and so on. There’s so much information out there that’s absolutely excellent as well as the stuff that’s harmful. Something the play looks at is how young people are expected to sift through this information when there’s such an overload of it.

Ideally I anticipate that the best way to combat the problem isn’t to ban anything (within reason) but rather to assist in this process of how to evaluate information and when to take things with a pinch of salt. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve moved away from a time where people had no sex education of any sort, but it’s essential that we ensure that we’re not setting unrealistic standards in one direction or another.

CM:Let’s talk about you a bit now: can you tell us about how you ended up in a career in the arts, and how it’s progressed? And was it what you always wanted to do?
LD: I’ve always wanted to work in the theatre. As a kid I wrote and acted but always assumed I’d end up as an actress. I did act for a while, and although I would never say never again, I started writing and producing when I became dismayed by how difficult it seemed to be to regularly get to work on things I was passionate about. After university I worked in comedy for a while, creating theatrical style format shows which I’m still involved with. I loved the feeling of having created something out of nothing and actually making it happen. I took a playwriting class when I did a year abroad for university in the USA and my first play came out of that.

CM: What have been your career highlights so far…?
LD: My first play was an absolute lot of guess work really. I wrote it while I was nursing a broken heart and it was the only thing I cared about. It was based on interviews with a friend of mine so was a real passion project and my family all pitched in to help me put it on at the Edinburgh Fringe, my mum designed the set, my dad flyered and my grandma did the PR! We had absolutely no idea what we were doing! So getting my first four star review and a London transfer for that show was incredible. Even more lovely though was that, when they discovered the person I’d written the show about couldn’t afford to come to the Edinburgh Fringe to watch, her friends back home in the USA organised a fundraiser to send her over to us!

Last year my second play ‘Lost In Thought’ had a lovely run at Underbelly and got four stars from The Scotsman. It was a very personal story about my experiences with OCD that I never thought I’d write, so I’d call that a major highlight.

CM: Do you have any big dreams or ambitions for the future?
LD: I’d love to be a published playwright and I’d really love to write plays for the theatres I grew up idolising.

CM: You’re obviously a bit of a veteran when it comes to bringing shows to Edinburgh – can you explain why you keep coming back?
LD: Ha ha! I guess the truth of the matter is that I’m a glutton for punishment. For most people the Fringe is really hard, means you lose money and you’re essentially tired for a month. But it’s addictive.

Long before I brought shows it was my family’s Summer holiday tradition to come to Edinburgh for August and my Mum would draw up these massive spreadsheets so everyone knew what shows they were seeing and when. Being an actual part of it is a dream come true.

On a professional level Edinburgh has probably been the most helpful thing for me. My comedy shows ended up with a run at the amazing Komedia in Brighton that’s still going strong three years later and my plays have been seen by audiences and professionals I’d never have known how to reach any other way.

CM: What do you love about the city, and what would you recommend about/in it, to other people?
LD: I love Edinburgh in Fringe season and out, although it’s weirdly quiet the rest of the year! My favourite things are just how beautiful it is. I love how everything is old and cobbled, I love how you can be in the middle of the city and see Arthur’s Seat and I love how Google Maps never knows if you’re in a cave or on a bridge. I’d recommend walking the stairs at The Scotsman, going for ice-cream at Mary’s Milk Bar and staring in awe at the Castle and the hills. This year I’ve brought my dog and I’ve been impressed at how dog-friendly the city is.

CM: Do you go to see other shows when you are here? Do you have any recommendations for things on this year?
LD: I do! This year I’ve seen lots and there’s loads on my list still. I really enjoyed ‘The Canary & The Crow’ at Summerhall. I’m quite new to gig theatre but it was electrifying and so slick. ‘Piano Play’ at Underbelly is a unique and musical piece of theatre featuring the talented Ed Zanders and ‘Such Filthy F*cks’ was an incisive and well-written exploration of porn addiction. For comedy I saw Zach Zimmerman who was fantastic. I could go on and actually do every day on our twitter if you want more recommendations!

CM: What’s coming up for you next, after this year’s festival?
LD: First off I’m getting married in October, so I’m going to relax a tiny bit!

‘If This Is Normal’ was performed at Zoo Playground at Edinburgh Festival 2019.