The Penelopiad: Edinburgh Preview

ELOISE DAVIES chats to Alex Cartlidge and Marthe de Ferrer about funding, feminism and insularity, ahead of the opening of their show at the Fringe.

alex cartlidge ed fringe eloise davies Homer penelopiad Shit stuff Theatre

The Edinburgh Festival involves performing for over two weeks solid – are you feeling at all daunted?

AC:  I don’t think I ever find a show daunting, I find it exciting instead – whether it’s a Corpus late show, an ADC main show or a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

You can’t be scared or worried, you’ve got to be passionate and optimistic about it all. I’ve never even been to Edinburgh before, let alone the Fringe, so I really cannot wait.

MF – We did a performance last week in Ascot, which we threw together in just over a week; it went really well, so I hope that the cast are as confident as I am going in to Edinburgh.

Where does funding come from? Do you think the process works/is fair?

AC: We’re being funded by the Pembroke Players, who are a really brilliant society, and we’re really grateful for their support.

I don’t see any problems with the system, we applied to other societies and got turned down, it’s about having that determination and commitment to carry on in the face of rejection, and believe it’s all going to work out, and that someone will be just as passionate and understanding as you about your show.

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The Cambridge theatrical scene has taken some flak in the national press recently for having an unreasonable monopoly at events like Edinburgh – do you think this is a problem?

MF – When I have spoken with friends taking shows up from other universities, they always mention the vast swathes of shows coming up from Cambridge, but at the same time you have to look at the number of productions put on during our terms.

I have yet to find anywhere else that even begins to challenge Cambridge in this sense: at least 4 shows, at two professionally run venues a week is phenomenal – there’s no wonder that Cambridge bring so many productions to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh’s also been known for prizes etc being dominated by men. Taking a feminist play with a female director, have you found/do you envisage any problems because of this?

MF – Personally this hadn’t even crossed my mind. I am aware that (outside of Cambridge) female directors are certainly a minority (an increasing minority in film, but the balance is being redressed in theatre), but this isn’t really something that I think will affect me in Edinburgh.

It concerns me on a general scale, but there is very little I can do about the situation, apart from continuing to direct!

Obviously the feminist aspect of the production is important, but the play isn’t simply ‘men bad, women good’ – it is far more complex, addressing issues of social inequality as well.

I can’t imagine any Fringe audience member objecting to the feminist or social message we are conveying, and if they do, well, fuck them!

Cambridge Shortlegs – are you going to continue to work together as a group? Do you about insularity, or do you think working as a team has made your work better?

AC: I’d like to think there should be a great interest to push the constraints of the Cambridge theatre scene, and away from that we want to see what is available elsewhere, to plan for the future, and to also test ourselves.

It’s received an odd reaction of sorts from some people being excited and supportive about the idea, and recognising and understanding what is.

But then we’ve had some who have been prematurely dismissive and mocking of the idea, for no apparent reason, and personally I must say I’m startled by the pointless and childish opposition some people have had to what is a harmless idea.

But we didn’t set this up to please certain people, and we are very excited about the possibilities, and I think this summer we will hopefully start to make some progress and developments for the future, such as a weekly radio drama slot next term on Cam FM.

The show opens on Sunday, and tickets are available here.