ED2021 Caro Meets ED2021 Theatre

Rhiannon Boyle and Catherine Paskell: Kill Me Now

By | Published on Friday 23 July 2021

As readers will surely be aware by now, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is back in 2021, and although it’s got a smaller and somewhat differently shaped programme compared to previous years – because of the ongoing COVID pandemic – there’s lots happening, both in person in Edinburgh itself and also online. It all officially kicks off on 6 Aug and our coverage of it kicks off now!

Our first focus is on a show that’s happening online only, a Zoom-based, interactive drama hosted by edfringe venue Summerhall’s online platform. ‘Kill Me Now’, written by Rhiannon Boyle, is presented by Welsh new writing company Dirty Protest Theatre. I spoke to Rhiannon (pictured) and company artistic director Catherine Paskell to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Kill Me Now’ is all about? What story does it tell?
RB: ‘Kill Me Now’ is a one woman show presented as a live Zoom webinar and is hosted by undertaker Anna Morgan-Jones. Her goal? To sell you the lucrative franchise model of her “end-of-life celebration” funeral business: Festive Endings Funerals.

Anna leads us through her slick PowerPoint sales pitch with ease, reassuring us that she knows everything there is to know when it comes to grief, death and funerals. But is there really such a thing as a grief expert? Will she be able to continue the facade long enough to conceal the dark secrets she has kept hidden?

It is a dark comedy about grief and dealing with a loved one with a long-term terminal illness. It combines humour and sadness in an hilarious PowerPoint presentation full of rainbow coffins, leopard print hearses and Boddingtons beer-can-shaped scatter tubs.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
RB: As I say, the play deals with the themes of grief and the way we are told to deal with it. That makes it sound very morbid, but the play also explores the humour that arises around end-of-life rituals, how we use humour to cope, and how bizarre it can all feel when your world is changing.

CM: It’s going to be delivered via Zoom and is described as interactive – can you explain how the audience participates?
RB: The audience needn’t be scared as it’s definitely NOT the sort of audience participation where you are pulled up on stage by a panto dame and being squirted in the face by a water pistol. It’s not that.

When audience members buy a ticket they will be sent a Zoom link by Festive Endings Funerals, to a Zoom webinar called – ‘How To Set Up A Pandemic-Proof Six-Figure Salary Business’. When they join the Zoom webinar, just as in a real webinar, the audience see our host Anna Morgan Jones. As Anna runs through her PowerPoint presentation, the audience find themselves in the role of someone interested in setting up a Joyful Endings Funeral Franchise, and they can interact with Anna as much or as little as they want.

So if someone just wants to sit back and watch then that’s fine. But equally if they want to bombard Anna with questions about the practicalities of a Viking-style funeral, then they can go for it!

We tested the show out on a live audience and they absolutely loved the interactivity! I think because we’ve purposefully written this play for Zoom – as a live Zoom webinar using all its interactive features – it just really works.

CM: What was the inspiration for the themes and story of the show?
RB: The story and the themes of the play lie close to my heart as someone who lost my Dad after years of him suffering with the long-term degenerative disease MS. I wanted to write a play about Dad dying but because I have a very dark sense of humour, I wanted it to be funny. For me, laughter is such a powerful healing tool.

One of my best mates lost her partner exactly one month after I lost my Dad and we’d meet up every Wednesday for what we called Grief Club – “What goes on in Grief Club, stays in Grief Club”. Our mantra was – Talk it out. Cry it out. Laugh it out. It’s what got us through those dark first few months and years.

CM: Was the show specifically created for a digital medium? How did creating a digital show change your approach to the project?
RB: The play was originally written to be performed as a live PowerPoint seminar but when the pandemic hit we thought there was an opportunity to adapt the play to work as a live Zoom webinar.

This changed the script a lot. For example, in the live version Anna’s lines were ramped up, energetic and sales pitchy, but in the Zoom version that didn’t quite work. You can’t have someone just shouting down a Zoom at you! It’s also a different process for an actor to perform comedy online, without being able to feed off the energy and laughter of a live audience, so making that work has been interesting. And tricky.

The Zoom format has also given us opportunities for quieter, more subtle, intimate moments that you wouldn’t necessarily get with live theatre. Anna can be so close to her camera, which brings her so much closer to the audience, and gives us more of a TV feel in parts. It’s been an interesting process adapting, but I guess if the last year and a half has taught us anything it’s that – adapt we must!

CM: What’s the most challenging element about making a digital piece work?
RB: All the obvious stuff I suppose: bad internet connection, lags, having to be dependent on technology. Rehearsals all day on Zoom can be quite taxing too, so it’s important to have a tight schedule with lots of breaks and time away from the screen.

CM: Do you think the burgeoning of digital theatre that’s happened as a consequence of lockdown will continue when the pandemic ends? Are you keen to continue exploring this medium?
RB: I’m not sure about calling it ‘digital theatre’, because for me that makes me think of filmed live plays. That’s not what ‘Kill Me Now’ is. It’s a live dramatic, digital experience. I’ve always loved exploring different forms and mediums, and I don’t think digital drama is going anywhere.

CM: If the pandemic hadn’t happened, would you have been producing an in-person show in Edinburgh this year?
RB: Yes! We intended to take the live version of ‘Kill Me Now’ to Edinburgh last year, so we are really pleased to be able to connect with audiences digitally this year.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
RB: For me as a writer I would love to take a live show to Edinburgh with Dirty Protest one day. I want to continue to create theatre for Welsh audiences and beyond. I love to work with such companies as Sherman Theatre and Theatre Clwyd.

I have a Welsh language theatre show touring in the autumn with our Welsh language national theatre, Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru, called ‘Anfamol’. My first ever play Safe From Harm is on BBC Sounds and I have a new play in development with BBC Radio Wales. I also write for TV – Welsh language continuing drama ‘Pobol y Cwm’ and new S4C drama ‘Stad’. I’m hoping one day to get one of my own TV dramas produced.

CM: Tell us about Dirty Protest Theatre – its ethos, and aims?
CP: Dirty Protest Theatre is Wales’ new writing company. Its ethos is to celebrate and give space to all the voices and stories of Wales, not just the usual ones. Everyone has a voice and a story that deserves to be heard; we provide opportunities and platforms for those voices and stories on their own terms.

The company formed in 2007, as a reaction to the elitist theatre happening around us that didn’t feel authentic, truthful or fun. Our aim was to build theatre around community, and build community around theatre. We continue that ethos today, championing the periphery and celebrating the underdog.

CM: How has the company been affected by the lockdown and how has it managed to continue?
CP: Dirty Protest continued to work throughout the pandemic by listening deeply to the artists, audiences and many communities we work with. The company responded to what they said their needs, dreams and desires were. We created online spaces for people to connect, share and be less isolated and alone. We continued our commitment to projects, such as ‘Kill Me Now’, and moved activity online.

We worked with our international partners online, since we couldn’t travel to create projects in their countries. In Brazil, with People’s Palace Projects, we worked online with young writers from the Complexo da Maré, the largest favela in Rio, to create ‘Becos’, four digital audio dramas.

In Ireland, with Fishamble, we partnered Welsh and Irish writers and performers to create new collaborative drama online. We hosted online talks and debates, supporting the renewal of the sector, also created new lockdown activities to bring people together online, for free and without obligation or commitment to us, so they could fit connecting with us around their changing situation.

For example, our free weekly online Writers Gyms are led by a different member of the team each week and give anyone – whether they are experienced or brand new – an opportunity to develop writing skills and hang out online with other creatives. Because we work with fun, empathy and care, people want to hang out and be part of what the company does. It’s that connection with other people that has really helped us, as humans, as artists and as a company, get through the lockdowns to this point.

CM: What’s coming up next for the company after this?
CP: Dirty Protest has a lot coming up. As I mentioned, during the first lockdown we worked with our partners in Brazil to create ‘Becos’, and those audio dramas are now becoming four lyric videos, so English-speaking audiences can enjoy the performances through digital animation. Then, on 20 Aug, ‘Rema Maré’ – the live show influenced by these dramas – will open in Rio, which we are directing remotely online with our partners People’s Palace Projects.

We will also begin a new project with a group of partners across the city of Newport in South Wales, supported by the Arts Council Of Wales’ Connect & Flourish Fund, exploring the question “how can Newport be a city of 153,000 creative artist citizens?” This is open for anyone in Newport to join in and be part of and find out more!

We also have a Christmas show, a tour planned for village halls and working men’s halls, and many more writers and artists whose work is in development. If you’re a Welsh artist, or a potential collaborator based in Wales and want to find out more about working with Dirty Protest, get in touch via our website.

‘Kill Me Now’ was presented as part of Summerhall’s online programme at Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: www.dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk | www.summerhall.co.uk/festival21 | twitter.com/DirtyProtest

Photo: Aled Garfield