ED2013 Cabaret ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Week0 Edition

Scary Little Girls: Putting more Brontë in your cabaret

By | Published on Thursday 25 July 2013

Bronte Cabaret

Scary Little Girls are a prolific company, with their output encompassing literary celebrations, storytelling gatherings, school workshops and some very fine cabaret.
It’s in the latter domain that you will find them at Fringe 2013, though in something of a literary fashion with the ‘The Full Brontë! Literary Cabaret’, a show that promises silly banter, daft games, funny stories, and as many Brontë references as it’s safe to include in one show. ThreeWeeks caught up with the group’s Rebecca Mordan – Monika on stage – to find out more.

CM: Let’s start with the obvious question: what exactly does a literary cabaret involve?
RM: Our literary cabaret is a mixture of songs, games and Brontë literary references. I hold it all together as the compere, aka Monika, supported by my trusty sidekick – Sharon Andrew – who we usually call Nom de Plume, though in this show she’ll be known as Nom Brannie, after the Brontë mother’s maiden-name Branwell. This is a Cornish name and we make a point of trying to reclaim the Brontës for Cornwall at every opportunity!

We use storytelling and daft games to share as much as we can about the Brontës, and our views on how ace they were. Some parts of the show highlight their talent in a very moving way. For example, we put the Emily Brontë poem ‘Remembrance’ to music, which never fails to bring a tear to the eye. But most of the show is us being very, very silly, with lots of banter and interaction between us and the punters.

CM: Will Brontë fans get more out of the show than non-Brontë fans, or is there going to be something for everyone?
RM: This show is definitely something everyone can enjoy. If you’re a die-hard Brontëphile, or if you’ve never even picked up one of their books, we think we can delight, amuse and surprise you. At the heart of it all, we’re a double act who combine improv and physical humour with a somewhat irreverent love of the classics. And that means it seems to work well with all sorts of audiences.

CM: It’s often said that history is written from a male perspective, with women’s stories and contributions too often left out. Is this why Scary Little Girls is interested in telling the stories of neglected historical figures?
RM: Absolutely. Women have to work much harder to be recognised, and their contributions are less likely to be recorded or credited, and they often drop from historical records entirely. We think this holds all of humanity back and makes for boring, repetitive stories. So all our work sets out to redress this balance in some way. And we think this is particularly important in cabaret.

This, after all, is the genre where women first demonstrated that they could be stand-up comics, and which gave us such wisecracking luminaries as Mae West, Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. But now it sometimes feels like the cabaret scene is telling us girls to shutt up and get our bits out. Our view is: less nude, more ‘tude! Our previous Edinburgh show ‘The Riotshow Grrrrls Club’, and our touring cabaret show ‘Mother Mae I!’, both champion this with lots of feisty, funny female acts.

CM: What brings you back to the Edinburgh Fringe? And have you got any plans beyond the festival?
RM: It’s hugely exciting to be part of the arty whirl that is the Edinburgh Festival. And we were particularly keen this year to support the Free Fringe; it’s such an important part of the wider Fringe ethos, but it’s the first time we felt we had a show that was suitable for it. Once they offered us The Fingers Piano Bar we couldn’t resist!

My character, Monika, is a somewhat pompous character, so we’re looking forward to her snobby reaction to the venue and it’s suggestive name! We’re hoping to get lots of people in to see the show in Edinburgh, and then to get it on the road next year. We always have a great time touring.

CM: Scary Little Girls does more than just cabaret shows, doesn’t it?
RM: We are a production hub, so our work is very diverse and supports a lot of different kinds of artists. We are probably best known for our storytelling events, ‘Storysmiths’, which can go anywhere and adapt to any themes. Or, equally, for our site-specific ‘Living Literature Walks’, which take place in towns, gardens and festivals all over the country and cover an assortment of topics, from local literature to suffrage.

We’ve been asked back by The Theatre Chipping Norton to do one of these walks about the Mitford sisters in October after it sold out last year and we had to turn people away. It takes place in the house and grounds they grew up in, so it’s a really lovely, immersive look into their letters and diaries.

We also won three national awards this year, including one from the BBC, for a project we run in Cornwall for survivors of domestic abuse, enabling them to make their own radio show once a month called ‘Wild Woman’s Hour’. And next September we’re doing our first season at Cornwall’s stunning Minack Theatre with a specially adapted all-female version of ‘Dracula’ called ‘The Kisses’, so it’s all go!

CM: And you do work in schools too?
RM: Yes, we create bespoke workshops on a variety of themes: literature, history, positive behaviour, nutrition, conflict resolution, to name just some, we pick topics in consultation with each schools. Though the sessions I feel most passionate about are our sex and healthy relationships workshops.

They address vital questions that young people have, while promoting assertiveness and taking a critical look at how media portrays women and relationships. I wish we could do these in every school everywhere; they are so empowering for young people who otherwise mostly only have the internet to turn to.

The internet is another problem we try to address. Pretty often children only take in the worst possible messages about women’s bodies, and we learn a ton from every class we work with. It’s often totally inspirational how the next generation negotiate the mess our adult world tries to leave them in.

CM: Are there any other shows you planning to see whilst you’re at the Festival?
RM: We’ll be checking out our mate Kate Smurthwaite doing her comedy shows, she’s ace. We really want to see Brokentalker’s ‘Have I No Mouth’ and we’ll just try and keep our eyes and ears open while we’re there: we’ll be reading our copy of ThreeWeeks!

CM: And finally, the all important question: which is your favourite Brontë?
RM: Oh, that question is just too hard! We adore the radical feminist Anne and her ‘Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’. Charlotte would surely be the ultimate big sister and her books are gifts that keep on giving, read after read. And Emily not only created Cathy and Heathcliff and gave us some of the most stunning poetry, but she also painted herself facing backwards in every family portrait! You’ve got to love the uncompromising weirdo!

We love them all and their literary contributions, but we can tell you that Monika has spent many happy hours delving around in her Villette. On this subject, though, one thing we do and are planning to do in Edinburgh, is our own street survey designed to decide “Which Brontë Are You?”. We ask people in the street a series of questions and from their answers we work out which Brontë best matches their personality. We can then add up the figures and work out whether Edinburgh is more of a Charlotte, Emily or Anne city!

‘The Full Brontë! Literary Cabaret’ was performed as part of PBH’s Free Fringe at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.scarylittlegirls.co.uk