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Oliver Lansley: Flies

By | Published on Sunday 22 July 2018

Edinburgh favourites Les Enfants Terribles are back at the Fringe to co-produce a new show with Pins And Needles called ‘Flies’. We’re promised an absurdist tale in which the enemy is, well, a fly. “One man is determined to conquer his fear of flies”, says the show’s blurb, “but as darkness falls, what is that ominous hum behind the door?”

Keen to find out more we caught up with the show’s writer – and Les Enfants Terribles Artistic Director – Oliver Lansley. He filled us in on his latest tie up with the creative team at Pins And Needles, shared his thoughts on the state of the Edinburgh Fringe, and gave us the lowdown on a new TV project that puts the spotlight on the weird world of PR.

CC: So let’s star with the obvious question, what have you got against flies?
OL: Well it’s nothing personal, but I’m not sure there is anyone who actually likes flies, is there? They buzz and they carry disease and they get on your food and vomit on it and trample around on it… I think we’d be annoyed by anyone who did that to us.

CC: What can we expect from the show? How would you describe it?
OL: It’s kind of absurd. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s manic, it’s weird. It’s a bit of a fever dream, which reflects the way it was written. It’s like ‘The Birds’ meets ‘Fight Club’ via the Mighty Boosh.

CC: Where did the idea for the show come from?
OL: The title. The director, Emma Earle, was booked to work on a piece but lost the writer at the last minute. By the time that happened, the show title had already been released, ie ‘Flies’. So she called me to see if I could help. I had probably 24 hours to get together the first draft. She said “it has to be called ‘Flies’ and I think it should be like a cross between ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Fly’ – GO!”

CC: And the resulting show is a co-production between your company Les Enfants Terribles and Emma’s company Pins And Needles?
OL: Yes, Emma and our designer Zoe Squire together form Pins And Needles. We’ve all collaborated many times before.

CC: How did you first start working together?
OL: Emma and I have known each other ever since our days with the National Youth Theatre. Our first full collaboration was ‘Ernest And The Pale Moon’, which was a huge hit at the Fringe. That show actually came about in a similar fashion. She needed a piece to direct – I think for her graduation piece from Bristol Old Vic – and I wrote her a gothic short story. We enjoyed the piece so much that we then developed it into a full length play.

CC: You’ve also teamed up with the magnificent Kid Carpet on the music for the show. How did that tie-up come about?
OL: Emma and Zoe had worked with him before and when they went to him with this weird idea he was up for it! His surreal tone and energy was the perfect addition.

CC: That music will be live-mixed into the performance. How does that work?
OL: Like the rest of the show, it’s sort of a weird organic mash-up. Our DJ plays sound effects and music and occasionally comments on the action. Our musical performer is sort of like a voice in your head.

CC: You have presented lots of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, what keeps you coming back?
OL: There’s nothing else like it in the world. Our company was born in Edinburgh many years ago. Over the subsequent years we’ve seen companies come and go, and lots of companies stop presenting work at the Fringe when they get too big. But for us – even though we’ve grown significantly as a company and we are now presenting big shows all over the world – we felt it was important that we didn’t just treat Edinburgh as a stepping stone. We have a lot of loyalty to the Fringe, so we try to maintain a presence at the Festival. Plus we have also created our own award schemes to help support the Fringe and other people who perform there, they being the LET Award and the Stepladder Award.

CC: How has the Fringe changed in the years that you have been presenting shows here?
OL: Everything has changed and nothing has changed. I remember when we started all the old timers saying how different things were when they first performed at the Festival and how everything was changing. Now we’re those old timers! It moves in cycles. There is a constant battle between commercialism and the ‘spirit’ of the Fringe. But just when you think commercialism is winning, something brilliant like the Free Fringe comes along and resets the balance. There will always be that battle, but I hope the independent and anarchic spirit of people just wanting to share their ideas and their stories will always shine through.

CC: Looking beyond Edinburgh, I see you are working on a new TV series all about the world of PR. What’s that about?
OL: It’s called ‘Flack’ and it will be on next January. It’s a dark comedy and stars loads of great people. Anna Paquin plays the lead, and then there’s Sophie Okenado, Lydia Wilson, Arenze Kene, Katherine Kelly, Alan Davies and Marc Warren, to name a few. We even got Bradley Whitford!

CC: Does it portray the PR profession in a good light? You’ve got two PRs working on your Edinburgh show – will they be impressed?
OL: I hope so… It highlights the sometimes ludicrous nature of it, but it also shows it off as a dark art. It pokes fun more of the clients than it does the professionals.

CC: I know you have a number of other projects on the go. Tell us about some of them.
OL: As we speak I am in Shanghai, because we are out here about to open the Chinese version of our show ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’, which is very exciting. It’s in Mandarin so it’s all very surreal! Then I head straight to LA for another big exciting television project which I can’t talk about just yet. After that I’ll be back to London to start work on a new production of another of our shows, ‘The Trench’, which I will also be performing in. That will be on at Southwark Playhouse this Autumn. And on top of all that, Les Enfants are working towards a very big announcement for a new show which we’re hoping to confirm in the next few months!

‘Flies’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2018.