ED2017 Caro Meets ED2017 Interviews ED2017 Theatre

Matthew Floyd Jones: Richard Carpenter Is Close To You

By | Published on Thursday 1 June 2017

If you are a regular Fringe-goer, you’ll be more than aware of the work of the excellent Matthew Floyd Jones, one half of acclaimed duo Frisky and Mannish, actor, and purveyor of one-man shows.
This summer, Floyd Jones heads north with a new Festival offering, a show about songwriter Richard Carpenter. I love The Carpenters, so of course I wanted to find out more…

CM: Right. Can you start by telling us what kind of show this is? Is it theatre? Comedy? Something else?
MFJ: It is theatre, but it’s comedic theatre, delivered in the form of a character monologue without fourth wall, so if comedy’s your bag, it’s basically comedy. Unless you prefer theatre, in which case it’s got a very dramatic narrative arc so let’s call it theatre. But it’s chock-full of parody songs, so I guess I could make a case for it being in the musical section. And that’s before we consider the flirtations with cabaret, dance and balloon-making… I can’t answer this question. Next?

CM: The focus of the show is Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters fame. Does it tell a story about him? Are there many elements of truth in it?
MFJ: He is the inspiration, and his life is the jumping off point, but it’s not a biopic. I repeat, not a biopic. I’m sort of like Shakespeare really, in that I’ve also taken a real historical figure named Richard and then imagined a version of him that suits my dramatic needs, while paying just enough respect to reality to make it plausible.

It’s hugely important (not least for legal reasons) that I stress how unrelated to the real Richard Carpenter this production is. It is my fevered imagining of what it might be like to be in Richard Carpenter’s shoes. Look, imagine if the writers of the film ‘The Queen’ and the producers of the television show ‘Spitting Image’ collaborated on a stage show about The Carpenters starring Mannish from Frisky & Mannish – that’s basically it!

CM: What made you want to make a show about Richard Carpenter? Have you always been a fan?
MFJ: When I was six years old, I moved to a new school. On the first day, I was traipsing back and forth across the playground at lunchtime, not sure how to make friends. A little brown-haired girl was doing the same. Eventually, I told her I liked her sandals. She turned out to be Surrey’s youngest expert on The Carpenters and little did I know my education had “only just begun”… I raided my parents’ vinyl collection and started cultivating a deep love for twelve-part harmonies and prominent oboe counter-melodies. Their music has quite literally been the soundtrack to my life, and I am not ashamed of my deep affection for them.

CM: What is it that appeals to you about him?
MFJ: Oh, if I only knew! I mean, why on earth would a boyish fair-haired piano-player who made his career as the double-act partner to an extraordinary female singer be so significant to me? It’s a complete mystery… Sorry, that was uncalled for. I need to keep reminding myself it might not be that obvious to other people that I basically am the Richard Carpenter of the Fringe. Every time someone asks me why I’m doing this, I hear myself repeat that classic line of The Simpsons’ Troy McClure, when that ‘Planet Of The Apes’ musical offered him the role of a human – “it’s the part I was born to play!”

CM: How did you go about putting the show together?
MFJ: With a great deal of help from a great many brilliant people. Charlotte Gittins of Austentatious was the first person aboard the Richie train and her contributions to the development just cannot be over-valued. She is my guru.

Margaret Thatcher Queen Of Soho’s Jon Brittain, EastEnd Cabaret’s Victoria Falconer-Pritchard and Amateur Transplants’ Adam Kay have also been incredibly generous with their advice… I basically magpied them shamelessly and without qualm, and brewed up a great show I’m going to take full undeserving credit for.

Then I booked it in to as many festivals as I could, from Brighton at the beginning of May up to York at the end of July, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about making shows yourself from scratch, it’s that if you wait until it’s ready, you’ll never do it.

CM: Is it really just you on stage for the whole show? Are there others involved?
MFJ: It actually is just me on stage. I can’t even afford to pay myself so there was no way I was going to afford anyone else!

But actually, it makes sense that it’s just me, since Richard has been playing solitaire for over thirty years now, and one of the most poignant things about him for me is that Karen’s tragically early death sort of preserved her in amber and centred the Carpenters’ legacy around her icon – it’s a daunting shadow for Richard to live in, a man who was always a talented musician first and foremost, rather than a charismatic presence.

The idea of Richard having to be everything onstage from now, to sing lead as well as play the instruments, to be captivating and engaging, to be enough by himself… that’s the tragicomedy of the show.

CM: You’re something of an Edinburgh veteran of course. What keeps you going back? What do you like about it?
MFJ: It’s my Nam, I know. I love the smell of deep fried Mars bar in the morning. Edinburgh is where I can live in a bubble for one month out of every twelve, where I can relive my student days drinking warm wine out of a plastic cup in a dank cave whilst simultaneously showcasing my own hard work that could introduce me to a wide range of potential professional collaborators… All this, and I get to avoid baking sunlight, which is my least favourite thing about summer. Win win.

CM: Are you involved in any other shows this year?
MFJ: Why, yes I am. The aforementioned Jon Brittain wrote a play called ‘A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)’ which is coming to the Pleasance this year, and I wrote all the songs. I’ll be at the piano every day. It’s a really unpretentious, warm and heartfelt piece about mental health, and the only show I’ve ever been involved in that makes someone cry every single night. In a good way, I mean, not because of boredom or pain.

CM: What shows are you planning to see this time?
MFJ: Jessica Barker-Wren’s ‘Cow’, Nick Hall’s ‘Spencer’ and Kirsty Mann/Daisy Earl’s double bill are at the top of my list, and of course if Holly Burn, Colin Hoult, Pippa Evans, Piff The Magic Dragon, Cabaret Whore or Toby happen to be there, I’m always first in line to see royalty.

CM: Do you have a favourite Carpenters song?
MFJ: ‘Superstar’ really is a slow-burner – it’s so wistful and longing and painful, but I didn’t really get it when I was younger. It would probably be the one I’d skip. I think you have to be a bit older to really appreciate the power of it. My favourite lyric is definitely “We tried to talk it over but the words got in the way”.

Matthew performed ‘Richard Carpenter Is Close To You’ at Underbelly George Square and appeared in ‘A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)’ at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2017.

Photo: Steve Ullathorne