Words: Caroline Whitham
You’re returning to the Fringe after a break. Can you tell us about that, and about what led you to create your new show, LORENZO?
You’re right, I’m back! (Cue: a John Barry theme tune.) My last outing was 2018’s Splosh! – an ode to swimming. In 2019, I began developing a follow-up with The Yard Theatre through their wonderful new writing programme. It was going to be called How to Build a Lighthouse and explored belonging. This got torpedoed by the Global Pandemic™ (heard of it?). During the Lockdowns (Vol. 1-3), I became the live-in carer for an irascible, octogenarian prankster called Lorenzo and I quietly retired from making art forever. Lorenzo was such a fascinating person though, and so, with his permission, I began recording our conversations. At first, I didn’t think I’d do anything with them, I just enjoyed his stories and opinions on everything from Human Rights (“necessary”) to Chicken Chow Mein (“also necessary”). When he died though, I wanted to celebrate him, so I returned to the stand-up clubs and started sharing his extraordinary tales. Enter the undeniably brilliant Director Adam Brace (who is also now dead, and might I add, it had nothing to do with me). He saw me “pissing around” on stage and asked if I’d make a show with him about our experiences of caring for the elderly. I said “no” because I wanted to become a fireman (for real) but he spent six months stubbornly convincing me to change my less stubborn mind. He achieved this by treating me to a string of fancy dinners. I’m soft like that. And so, here we are. Or rather, here I am. Sadly, both Lorenzo and Adam remain dead.
I still remember your debut show, Discover Ben Target, as one of the most extraordinary Fringe experiences I’ve ever had. How has your performance art changed, and how do you tap into that creative, absurd side of yourself twelve years on?
Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say and I’m delighted it’s stuck with you. I remember that show too. The workload of it cost me my mental wellbeing for quite some time (insert laughing and weeping emoji here) BUT it was so much fun to perform, and I made some lifelong friends doing it, so I’m incredibly grateful for the experience. When I was making it, I was fascinated with the art-comedy pranks of Andy Kauffman (amongst many other performance art inspirations) and so designed the show to be a place that the audience and I could step outside of the expected confines of a comedy show and play together – the en masse game of beach ball remains the highlight for me but then there was also crowd surfing, a parade and a bicycle chase, so, a lot. Since then, I’ve tried to make my engagement with the audience lighter (insert smiling emoji) and the overall tone of my shows more kind (insert gift or candle emoji). This was partially inspired by watching hours of Bob Ross and Fred Rogers when I was in recovery. The main evolution in my work though has come from learning to write longform narratives and illustrate them in inventive ways. As for the absurd, I don’t think it’s escapable, it feels like the main thrust of life to me.
LORENZO threatens the audience with live carpentry. Can you tell us a bit more about what else to expect from the show?
Threatens is a strong word, I prefer seduces. The audience will be lulled into having romantic feelings by me shaping wood (not a euphemism), possibly topless. Alongside this, the show will feature shadow puppetry. I think shadow puppets are shit but Adam Brace (Director, generous, not alive) demanded they be in the show, probably because they were a fetish of his. But I’m not here to kink shame anyone, so they’re in the show now. Besides, my new Director, Lee Griffiths (also generous and crucially, still alive) has demanded they remain in the show because he thinks they’re fit. In fact, during rehearsals he yells “Be more sexy!” at me whilst I handle them. This has been his only note so far and maybe the only one I need to be fair.
You’ve been working with Jaz Mattu on his debut hour, Jaz Mattu Emerges. What was it like to be a consultant absurdist?
I love collaborating with other artists and have had the pleasure of working with some truly inspiring ones over the years, such as: Adam Riches, Kieran Hodgson, Richard Gadd and Joz Norris, amongst others. I really enjoyed getting work with Jaz Mattu and was sad that I couldn’t see this project of his through to the end, as mid-way through, Adam Brace (my aforementioned, lauded and still dead, Director), offered to make this show with me and I learnt long ago not to bite off more than you can chew. What I liked most about working with Jaz Mattu is his fervent imagination. Having an ideas jam with him is like going for a jog through Looney Tunes land. Jaz also works incredibly hard, which is ideal, and is fearless in the creative risks he takes on stage. He’s also surprisingly skilled. Did you know he composed the entire soundtrack for his show and plays all the instruments?! Well, he did and does. I’m excited to see what he’s made.
Is there anything in particular you look forward to whenever you’re planning your Edinburgh stay? Any city highlights?
This is an out-of-city highlight (apologies for being an obnoxious contrarian): I take the choo-choo train (official name) from Waverley station to North Queensferry. It chugs over the Firth of Forth bridge, which is a magnificent beast of engineering, painted a delicious postbox red. I stare out across the calming waters, whilst sipping a cheap cup of coffee and sucking on a Polo mint – a flavour combination my friends rinse me for but I swear by it. I walk back along the road bridge, where I sing a Frightened Rabbit song and pay my respects. I finish this pilgrimage by having poutine at the Canadian breakfast hut in the harbour and return sated by life’s multitude of feelings.
Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to seeing?
My dear friend Joz “Jog” Norris has recommended I see the American performer Geoff Sobelle and I trust Joz’s taste in art, so I will. I’m also excited to be sharing my venue with two other wonderful storytellers, James Rowland and Hannah Maxwell, whose shows I can’t wait to revel in. For maximum fun, there’s also the return of one of my favourite comedians and humans, Adam Riches – this time he’s armed to the teeth with a mediaeval game show. Can’t wait.
Any advice for first-time visitors?
Get stuck in.
Ben Target: LORENZO
Summerhall – Anatomy Lecture Theatre
2-27 Aug (not 14, 21)