ED2021 Caro Meets ED2021 Theatre

Michael Waller, Tim Fraser and Nico Pimparé: Candy

By | Published on Sunday 15 August 2021

As you all surely know by now, there is plenty of work to consume via digital means this edfringe, and there’s a great programme to absorb from ZOO TV.

Amongst this year’s offerings is ‘Candy’, a film from the Reboot Theatre Company, who had hoped to be at the festival in person last year, and then this year. However, in the face of uncertainty, they took a different approach, and created a shortened, cinematic version of their play.

The one man show – about a young man accidentally falling in love with his best friend – was written by Tim Fraser, directed by Nico Pimparé and stars Reboot producer Michael Waller. I spoke to all three of them to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us the basic premise of the original show – what story does ‘Candy’ tell?
TF: ‘Candy’ is a one-man show about a young northern lad named Will who falls head over heels in love when he sees a singer named Candy perform at his local. But it turns out Candy is his best mate in drag! So he’s a little confused, to say the least.

MW: It’s the old classic story – boy falls in love with girl – it just so happens that ‘girl’ is his best mate in drag! The play explores the struggles that Will has when he unexpectedly finds love, and the questions falling in love with a girl that’s actually a bloke brings. It looks at how he manages – or doesn’t – his new feelings, and the struggle he endures trying to resolve them.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
MW: ‘Candy’ is a comedy about identity, masculinity, and love, and explores loneliness and male mental health.

TF: Yes, there’s love and infatuation, masculinity, self-discovery… it’s essentially an existential crisis in monologue form – but funny! Promise.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to tell this story?
MW: This is really a question for Tim – but I can tell you why I chose it for Reboot. I read it on the train home from the Fringe in 2018 and immediately connected with the story and themes. We have all struggled to fit in, and as a gay man at times I still need to, and we’ve all had infatuations with the unattainable – but we keep these stories secret to ourselves in fear of the repercussions. Alongside this, the text is very funny and kept me hooked – something our audiences have always recounted.

TF: There’s a beautiful, funny song called ‘Andrew In Drag’ by The Magnetic Fields that really inspired the plot of ‘Candy’. For the character, I was inspired by a lifetime of watching stand-up comedy. Looking back, there were a lot of other things that influenced the initial, ten-minute short play that I don’t think I was conscious of at the time, as I wrote it in a bit of a frenzy to be honest! Things friends were going through, things I was going through, and my feelings about the spectrum of sexual and gender identity, for example. As ‘Candy’ developed into a full-length show, I thought about my own relationship with romance and infatuation and how that had changed over the years, as well as ideas of masculinity and mental health. It’s no secret that men have a hard time being vulnerable and talking through their feelings – myself included – so I really wanted to get into that with Will.

CM: Why did you make it a one-person show? What made you think that was the best format for it?
TF: As I said, I wrote the first draft of ‘Candy’ in a bit of a mad burst, so I didn’t think a lot about the one-man format at the time – it was just the way the idea came out. When I expanded the story, though, I thought about it a lot more. Will is confessing his feelings to a room full of strangers – or, as we have it in this version, an empty theatre – but he feels he can’t tell anyone in his actual life. I loved exploring that tension, and how it relates to a very British brand of stiff-upper-lip masculinity. It also allows us some dreamy, magical realism moments, which I’m a sucker for. In the story of the show, who is Will actually performing to? Are we inside his head, or is he telling us this story just so he can get it off his chest? Having it be a one-person show really let us emphasise Will’s isolation, confusion and loneliness. All that fun stuff.

MW: As a performer, it’s a fantastic opportunity for both storytelling and character work. In the full-length performance, I play no fewer than ten different characters which can be a fun challenge – and occasionally I get their names wrong!

CM: You had hoped to stage the show in person at the Fringe: what made you want to bring it to Edinburgh?
MW: That’s right – this is the second year the live performance of ‘Candy’ has been postponed – fingers crossed she’s in Edinburgh this time next year. It felt as though the Fringe was the right next stop on this show’s journey – the Festival is hugely important and respected, and accesses a wealth of diversity of audiences and everything theatre. We felt it offered an amazing opportunity to reach out and show ‘Candy’ to these audiences.

TF: My family on my dad’s side are from Edinburgh, so I spent most Augusts of my adolescence and early adulthood at the Fringe. I love it so much. As you can imagine, as soon as the idea was put forward to bring ‘Candy’ there, I gravitated towards it. It’s changed a lot over the years, but it remains an amazing place for new writing and provides a vital platform for up-and-coming writers. Hopefully that’ll still be the case in our post-pandemic world.

CM: Because of the pandemic, you’re instead staging a filmed version of the play via ZOO TV. Is it the same as what people would see if you were staging it in Edinburgh this year, or is it different?
MW: We made the conscious decision not to film the full-length performance – we felt a shorter piece, specifically curated for ZOOTV, would be more accessible to an audience, especially given the one-man performance and intimacy of the show with the audience. Nico and Niall Webster – our director of photography – have cleverly retained the feeling of being in a theatre and the connection with the audience.

TF: We had a really productive meeting about whether to postpone the show for another year or whether we wanted to go the online route. All of us agreed that we didn’t want to just stick a webcam on Mike for an hour and do the show. The online format gave us a unique opportunity to create something exciting and different from the live show, and that became our goal as soon as we settled on a shorter, cinematic filmed play. And I think it’s safe to say Nico and the team knocked it out of the park!

NP: Both the staging and the script of this play were adapted for online viewing. We all agreed as a team that we didn’t want it to be yet another multicam recording of a play – because, frankly, we have seen way too many of those in the last year! The script was beautifully tightened by Tim into a paced, punchy 20 minute version, which I directed using a blend of theatre and film aesthetic – so you’ll know you’re watching a play, but some moments might feel more like cinema. Rather than simply replicating what we had rehearsed for the stage, our real focus was to stay true to the story and the emotional journey of the piece.

CM: What has it been like for you, trying to bring this project to fruition during this locked down period?
MW: It’s offered an opportunity to rethink new ways that we can deliver ‘Candy’, and in reworking and filming the play, we believe it is now even more accessible to a bigger audience – especially those that are hesitant or unable to travel or leave their home; and with a running time of 22 minutes people can watch on demand rather than rushing between Fringe venues.

NP: It has come with its fair share of problems – obviously! – but overall what an absolute pleasure! Getting to be in a theatre for the first time in eighteen months – albeit an empty one, for the shoot – was just thrilling. And it gives us hope that we are slowly but surely coming back to a more normal state of affairs in theatre.

CM: The last year and more has been generally difficult of course. How have you forged your way through pandemic and lockdown…?
TF: With great difficulty. It’s been a really tough time for me, both professionally and personally, as I know it has for a lot of people. Luckily, in early 2020 I managed to secure some work co-writing children’s comic/picture books with some amazingly talented illustrators. That work and those relationships have really helped me get through, especially when other projects have fallen through, or when I’ve found it very hard to get inspired.

MW: When I’m not acting, I work as a respiratory doctor in a central London hospital. The past eighteen months have kept me busy as you’d imagine. The support from the public towards the NHS has been indescribable and brought together the teams working in very challenging circumstances. Lockdown has, however, made me appreciate the value of time, and to focus on who and what are really important to make me happy rather than an unnecessary distraction.

CM: Can we talk a bit about the past now: what’s your background in theatre and how did you reach this point?
MW: Great question – I grew up in the North-East, and went to local drama classes and stage school, but there was very little support, guidance or role models in drama – even my school didn’t offer drama or have school productions. I returned to acting eight years ago and retrained with Morley College in Lambeth – we had a great group of students, and one thing led to another and eventually Reboot was formed. Over the years we’ve produced our own work, and aim to showcase work from new writers in our Reboot: Shorts productions. ‘Candy’ was one play we selected – from over 1000 submissions – and look at the journey we took her on!

TF: I come from more of a film/TV background, myself; ‘Candy’ was my debut full-length play. I first wrote it as a short play a good while ago, for my grad show at film school. I did a screenwriting course, so plays were a good way to showcase our writing. I believe I wrote the first draft at the tail end of 2016 and it was performed in early 2017. After that, I started submitting it to scratch nights around London while I worked on other scripts, and it found its way into Reboot Theatre’s hands in 2018. Nico and Mike were very keen to develop Will’s story into a full-length fringe show after that, which I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t even considered! By this point, I was working at the National Theatre and being in that environment every day was inspiring. I was watching a lot of theatre and had started writing a couple of other plays, so by the time I got to writing the full-length ‘Candy’ I was a lot less intimidated by the form!

NP: I was an actor first, but have been directing theatre in London for a little while now, and more recently have been directing film as well. So making this filmed version felt like a natural step!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
MW: Who wouldn’t love to be in ‘Line Of Duty’ or the next Netflix boxset? I do love the immediacy of theatre acting, and dream of performing at the Young Vic theatre – it’s such a versatile space with ambitious productions, and I admire its ethos – can you tell it’s my favourite theatre in London?!

TF: I’d love to get ‘Candy’ published one day. And I hope the three of us can keep going and build something off the back of this, because it’s been such a rewarding experience.

NP: And, of course, we want to take this show to the Fringe in person next year!

CM: So you are definitely going to be in Edinburgh next year?
MW: We sure will – we can’t say too much, but all being well the live, full-length version will make it to Edinburgh in 2022, and people can hear more of Will’s stories and understand more of his journey.

TF: Yes! We will be back.

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after the festival?
MW: We’re looking at producing a delayed Shorts series of new writing – we put a call out to writers which closed just as lockdown one started, but so far we have not had the opportunity to perform any of the work we received.

TF: More writing. Plays, books, TV, short films, games… I like having my finger in a lot of pies. Well, a lot of writing pies. I’ll leave the directing and acting to Nico and Mike.

NP: I am directing another piece of new writing, ‘Rainier’ by Max Wilkinson, which will be at the Arcola Outside from 4-9 Oct.

CM: What have you learned from working on ‘Candy’ that you would share with other writers and theatre makers?
MW: The close working relationship between me – both as performer and producer – and the director and writer of the piece has been invaluable – the honesty and openness we have together has strengthened each and every performance, and allowed new iterations and interpretations.

TF: I guess I’d say just keep at it; the road is long, and that’s OK. Also, to contradict myself completely, I’d say don’t take writers’ advice as gospel. If they’re telling you not to do something, it’s probably because they’ve done it themselves. And if they’re in a position where they can give you that advice, then making that mistake clearly didn’t do them much long-term damage. Make mistakes. I’ve made plenty of mistakes so far – and some of those have been due to inaction because I was scared of making mistakes. And, yep, just like every writer giving advice I’m actually talking about myself here. Don’t listen to us! We’re all frauds!

CM: What’s the most memorable moment you have had working on ‘Candy’ so far?
NP: The previews at the King’s Head Theatre, in January 2020. Seeing Mike settle into this text we had worked on for months and finally connect with audiences – that was powerful and heart-warming. The audience response was so heartfelt – you could feel the tension in the air with his every movement. It really reminded me why we do this.

MW: Performing to Tim’s dad – he had a chronic health condition and had never seen any of Tim’s work performed before. Performing the show for his dad at the King’s Head Theatre and seeing him laughing, and how happy he was to see his son’s work on stage, was a complete privilege that I’ll never forget. This recorded version of ‘Candy’ is in memory of him.

TF: Thanks, Mike. Really appreciate you saying that.

‘Candy’ was part of the ZOO TV programme at Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: zootv.live/zootv | rebootcompany.org | twitter.com/RebootCompany

READ MORE ABOUT: | | | | |