Tell us a bit about The Gramophones...
We’re an all-female theatre company - myself, Kristy Guest, Ria Ashcroft, Kath Akers and Tilly Branson. We try to create playful, interactive work that makes people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre enjoy themselves and see it in a different light.
How did you come together?
I met Kristy on a clown course, and we both felt there was a lack of opportunity for women in comedy. We put some flyers around Nottingham cafés saying “Looking for female performers for theatre project”, which is how we met Ria and Kath. We just clicked. And then Hatch asked us to make a show for their Hatch:Abroad event. It went really well; the audience was really receptive to it and we thought; “Oh...this is the start of something”.
Do you see yourselves as comediennes, or is it broader than that?
I’d say we’re performers; actresses that like to do comedy. I think our latest show is less
comedic and more honest than our other two shows.
A lot of your works involve travel. Are you all a bit nomadic at heart?
Yeah. I think life’s about journeys. I suppose we’ve all been attracted to shows about
travelling; we did one about holidays, and then one set on a canal boat, and now this
one, about an actual physical journey. I love being able to cast everything off and be a new
person, meet people you’d never normally meet, and notice things you’d never normally notice. You see with different eyes when you travel.
You also get a fresh perspective on what ‘home’ is.
Definitely. We all went through personal journeys, which are explored in the show. But I think we all came back and definitely re-evaluated what home means to us, and whether it’s possible to feel at home when you’re away. There were quite a few times in our journey where we felt really at home, even though we weren’t. We were sat in a tractor trailer having cups of tea and picnics with mums and babies and we just thought we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It was a lovely place.
You basically travelled from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Yes, but we did a bit of a zig-zag and ended up doing about 1,000 miles.
How did it come about?
There was a company called the Theatre Writing Partnership which sadly lost its funding
and their final farewell was to give bursaries to seven writers or theatre companies to go
on a journey and create a show around it. We thought about Europe or America, but
then thought, no, it would be actually really interesting to explore Britain as it is now.
Did you at any point think, “Oh my God, what are we doing?”
Yeah. Quite early on there were all the floods in Cornwall, and we were stuck on a train for acouple of hours. I know a couple of hours in the grand scheme of things isn’t that much but you did feel “are we ever going to get out of here?” And towards the end, we were in Aviemore in Scotland, staying in a log cabin, and when we left we accidentally walked in a complete circle and ended up back at the entrance of the same log cabin. When we finally got to the station to leave we got on a steam train that went round in another circle and took us back there. We thought we were going to go round in circles forever.
Three women on their own across the UK; did that help or hinder the journey?
We did quite a lot of hitchhiking, so I think we looked less threatening, but then again there were three of us so the person picking us up was outnumbered. It took trust on their part and trust on our part. I think it probably helped - if we’d have been big men we might have scared people off. Everyone we met was lovely and we never felt we were being picked up because we were women, that would have made us uncomfortable.
You deliberately went off the radar for a day: what happened?
Day twelve we chose to have no mobile phones, no internet, and to avoid all CCTV cameras. It was a bit of an interesting day but we don’t really talk about it. The only way to find out about day twelve is to come see us.
Did people back home try to deter you, or were they all pretty supportive?
I think they know us well enough not to try and talk us out of it, but they did have concerns.
There were quite a few people on the journey saying, “Do your mums know you’re doing
this?” We spoke to a guy from the BBC every night, who was keeping up to date with our
journey and he kept saying, “I just want to make sure you’re alright! I’m just worried about
Were you surprised by the reaction you were getting?
We were absolutely overwhelmed by how much people wanted to help and be involved. As soon as they heard about the project and what we were trying to do, they wanted to be
part of it. I started to feel really, really positive about Britain; we’d get picked up by people
who would take us miles and miles away from where they were supposed to be going.
What was your favourite mode of transport?
One of my favourites was a limousine ride we managed to blag through Birmingham. It was great fun listening to music and drinking cola from champagne glasses, just really surreal and hilarious. We all had our wish lists: Ria’s was a hot air balloon but no one had one to take us in. Kristy’s was a De Lorean because she’s a massive Back To The Future fan.
Who was the oddest person you met on your trip?
Probably, Dan who took us to John O’Groats. He was an Elvis obsessive in his seventies with a really broad Celtic accent. We can’t say much more though, it’s in the show...
What do you like most about meeting these people?
Everybody you meet has a story to tell, and has something interesting to say. We were trying to ask people about their greatest journeys, and about what home means to them. We did it by asking them to take a postcard and write back to Kath in Nottingham, so some of the things we got back were beautiful - people open up more when they’ve got a pen and paper in front of them. We’re thinking about writing a book, actually. We’ve got so much material.
Did it change your perspective on Britain as a country?
I wasn’t the kind of person who’d choose a holiday here, but I would now. We saw so many places and thought, “Why haven’t I come here?” Places like the Lake District, even Yorkshire - it was really beautiful, and wild, and natural. And it’s just on your doorstep. Quite a lot of people said to us, “I live here but I haven’t explored.” You get so used to your own roots and your own routines in life, you forget sometimes to just stray from the path and think oh, what’s down here? I wasn’t ready to come home, I kind of wanted to carry on.
How hard was it to compact all those experiences into a fifty-minute show?
Really hard. Having Tilly Branson as director is absolutely fantastic, she didn’t go on the journey, so having that outside eye to help edit is amazing. There are several ideas we’ve had to accompany the show; one’s like an installation of all the different things we collected - hitching signs, tickets, leaflets, postcards and addresses - mapped out on the floor. The audience can come and choose something, and we tell them about it.
You’re taking it to Edinburgh. Excited?
I can’t wait. We’re doing two weeks this time. Hopefully we’ll get some good feedback, get
reviewed, and try and tour the show off the back of it next year.
The local theatre scene appears to be really healthy at the moment...
I think it’s happened really recently; it’s amazing. If you’d have talked to me a couple of years ago I would have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities, but it seems really up and coming now, especially with NETwork as well. Things are definitely improving but there’s still some way to go.
Anything else you like to say?
Come and see us at Lakeside. If you don’t normally go to the theatre, give it a chance; it’s
for everybody, not just your regular theatregoer. Our show is all about risk; we took so
many chances on our journey, and they turned into brilliant moments. It’d be nice if people
would take a risk on us.
End to End runs at Bannermans, 212 Cowgate, Edinburgh from 12 to 25 August 2012 at 1:45pm.