ED2023 Caro Meets ED2023 Interviews ED2023 Theatre

Victor Esses: The Death & Life Of All Of Us

By | Published on Monday 14 August 2023

We witness a plethora of different theatre shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and we love every kind of theatrical production that there is. However, as I’ve probably mentioned before (too many times, maybe?) I am a particular fan of the solo performances and I also love a good storyteller.

‘The Death & Life Of All Of Us’ has those very qualities and – when I heard about the true story behind it – I was very much drawn in. It’s created and performed by Victor Esses and in it he charts his relationship with his long lost great aunt, which sounded to me like a great basis for show.

I spoke to him to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us what sort of show to expect from ‘The Death & Life Of All Of Us’? It’s listed in theatre but it sounds like an interesting format…
VE: ‘The Death & Life of All of Us’ is an autobiographical, funny and moving performance that mixes storytelling, live music and documentary footage, to explore my relationship to a great aunt.

She and I are two outsiders in our family, and I look at what is living authentically versus the image we portray to the world.

Another way to describe it would be that we use experimental storytelling and we deconstruct documentary film devices into live theatre elements.

CM: It sounds like you have a really interesting story to tell through the show. Can you tell us a bit about the narrative?
VE: When I was nineteen, I interviewed my great aunt, Marcelle, in Rome, after she lost touch with the family for 30 years.

I grew up in Brazil, but my family came from Lebanon. She had moved to Italy and converted from Judaism to Catholicism, raised her children as such and never told them about this.

This is the story of the journey of our relationship from then to now, 20 years later, as I finally complete the project about her life.

CM: What themes do you explore through the piece?
VE: Apart from the idea of the image we portray to the world, we look at family secrets, me coming into my queerness, and those special bonds we can create inter-generationally – and of course death and life, as the title suggests.

CM: What made you want to make a show about this? Why did you think it would work as a performance?
VE: Marcelle had the most interesting life, marrying an Italian diplomat and travelling the world, creating a different life for herself.

She’s such a big character, full of stories, who loves to dress up, and she meant a lot to me when I was young and was trying to find my place in the world as a gay man.

I think we can all relate to this search for belonging. I just needed time to process all of this and to offer a mature show that looks at the complexities of it all.

I think there’s something interesting in seeing myself in the video from 20 years ago and seeing my body as it is now, and to have Marcelle present on video and interacting with me on stage.

The interaction with the audience is also essential. And there’s something ethereal about the mix of all the elements creating a live experience.

CM: You’re the writer and performer but lots of people have worked on the show with you, haven’t they? Can you tell us a bit about the creative team?
VE: I have such a dream team on this project. Each and every one is dedicated, talented and really believes in the project.

Enrico Aurigemma composed the music and he plays it live in every show – using guitars, samplers, loops, and he also supported us with the projection design.

Yorgos Petrou is a visual artist who co-directs the show with that sensibility. Jennifer Jackson is the British-Latinx movement director with credits with the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe, a deep wisdom of the craft and a heart of gold.

Amy Daniels is our lighting designer/magician and Lou Cope is our dramaturge, a real listener, guide and this is our second collaboration. We have Graham Self taking good care of the backstage.

All this and our producer extraordinaire Francis Christeller… I couldn’t ask for any better.

CM: What made you decide to bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe?
VE: It’s so important to show the work in the right context so when Summerhall invited us to bring it this year, we really knew that we’d be in company with the right, interesting artists.

And the space we perform in suits ‘The Death & Life of All of Us’ so much. Plus this venue takes care of artists so much better.

The Fringe is still the place where you can maximise on meeting an international audience, allow your show to grow over several performances, meet so many exciting artists, showcase to programmers and artistic directors, and hopefully start a long journey for a project.

CM: Have you been to the Festival before? What are your expectations for your Fringe run this summer?
VE: I’ve directed at the Fringe before and came once as a performer in 2019, it was so great to do it, especially given the things that came after. What I learned is to try and keep expectations very realistic. So I hope to do my best each day and allow the universe to do the rest.

CM: What will you be doing in Edinburgh when you are not performing? Do you plan to immerse yourself in all elements of the Festival?
VE: I’m definitely watching lots of shows, hanging out with other artists in the bars, doing some other work of course. But also walking by the sea in Portobello, walking to Arthur’s Seat and chilling in the flat.

CM: Can we talk about your career background? How did you come to be pursuing a career in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do?
VE: I was always creative growing up and I just didn’t know if I wanted to be a visual artist or a filmmaker. I chose the latter as it sounded more financially viable to my parents and I studied film at university in London.

During that time, I fell in love with theatre, the ‘liveness’ of it, the organic process… so I started as an assistant director, and then a director.

I felt the need to tell my own unique stories, as someone gay, who grew up in São Paulo from a Jewish-Lebanese family, I felt there was a lot to draw from that and stories that weren’t being told.

So I wrote ‘Where To Belong’ about all these identities and did it at Summerhall in 2019, which led to a tour of the UK including at Home in Manchester, Oxford Playhouse and Chapter in Cardiff.

CM: Who or what has influenced your work?
VE: So many things influence my work, I would say American playwright Nicky Silver early on, Tim Crouch is someone I admire a lot, visual arts influence me, also the way music gigs work like Lana Del Rey and John Grant, where you have a little chat then you do a bit.

So many things you absorb in life can just find their way into the creative process. I love the multidisciplinary stuff.

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far?
VE: I think reading my work at ‘The Verb’ on BBC Radio 3, performing an early version of ‘Unfamiliar’ at the Barbican, featuring in the Jerusalem Post with an article exploring my queer Sefardi – Jews from the Middle East – identity have been up there on the list.

Also touring my work, getting a four star review from The Daily Telegraph for ‘The Last Days Of Gilda’, and making my first film installation, ‘Unfamiliar To Us’, with the Royal Docks during the pandemic, which I loved.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
VE: I start making a new piece in September that will involve migrant and queer communities. I’m also writing my first full length play for actors. And would love to explore other forms of writing too.

We will tour ‘The Death & Life of All of Us’ in the autumn and spring to The Lowry in Manchester, Harlow Playhouse and a London venue, and several others are to be announced very soon.

‘The Death & Life Of All Of Us’ was performed at Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival 2023.

LINKS: www.victoresses.com | twitter.com/victoresses