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Nottingham Castle

We Sit Down With Nottingham’s Ben Norris and Cassie Bradley Ahead of Their Trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

4 August 22 interview: Gemma Cockrell
photos: Ryan Howard and Faye Thomas

Two-time UK national poetry slam champion writer Ben Norris is taking his new show Autopilot to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, starring Cassie Bradley. The two Nottingham born actors chat with us about the themes of the play and how it compares to other projects they've been involved with...

I’ve heard that Autopilot is about class, power and self-driving cars. What was the inspiration behind the play? 
Ben:
 I was inspired by an article I read about self-driving cars. Before that, I hadn't considered how they would work. The article mentioned the trolley problem: if the car is going to be involved in an accident, how does it decide who it saves? That was the jumping off point.

The play was supposed to debut in 2020 but Edinburgh Fringe was cancelled. How does it feel knowing the show is finally making its debut?
Ben: Agonising! But loads of other things were happening in the world that were a bit worse than my play not going on, so that put it into perspective. It gave me an opportunity to rewrite bits, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise in the end. 

The story is told in non-chronological order. Was it difficult to write a play in this way?
Ben: The scenes arrived to me in a jumbled order. You have to read it in a linear way and then again in the way it’s going to be presented. It's a bit crazy! I have all the scenes printed on my bedroom floor, like a mad professor.  

There were so many parallels with my own life, in the weirdest ways. There are some references to Nottingham in it. There's a unique perspective coming from the Midlands

Ben, how does bringing a play like this to the Fringe differ from your debut solo show, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Family, in 2015?
Ben: I'm finding it really strange. I'm used to being in things I've written. It's a different type of nervous sitting in the audience. As a writing exercise it's been interesting. Not everyone is as wordy as me, so an actor gets it and they're like, 'What the hell is this?' 
Cassie: I have found my speeches really easy to access! Maybe we have similar rhythms because we're both from Nottingham. 

Cassie, you will be playing Rowan. Could you tell us a bit more about her?
Cassie: When I first read the play, I fell in love with her. There were so many parallels with my own life, in the weirdest ways. There are some references to Nottingham in it. There's a unique perspective coming from the Midlands. 
Ben: In London, you're a northerner. In the North, you're a southerner. 
Cassie: Rowan sits in the middle of arguments. She's a geospatial engineer. I've had to learn a lot of science!

Hannah Van Der Westhuysen plays Nic, the other main character in the play. How would you describe her character?
Cassie: Nic is passionate about her principles. She’s an immovable object. She's fizzy, exciting and carefree. She hasn't had to worry about anything because of her perspective of the world, which is the polar opposite to Rowan's. 

It was surreal being on an audition panel. The big task was finding people who were right for the parts, whose energy was right together

Ben, what was the casting process like?
Ben:
It's the first time I've been in this position. It's odd because I'm an actor as well, so I have experience with auditioning. It was surreal being on an audition panel. It was about getting the right pair. The big task was finding people who were right for the parts, whose energy was right together. 

Cassie, how does performing in a play like this differ to TV acting roles you’ve had, like in Coronation Street and Invisible?
Cassie: I went to Nottingham Youth Theatre. I was involved in the Playhouse and started my career at the National Theatre. I wasn't sure if the magic would translate into the TV world, but it absolutely does, in a completely different way. The process of creating a character is the same, but the performances are driven in different directions. 

Ben, you are currently in pre-production for your second short, commissioned by the BBC. Could you give us any exclusives about this?
Ben: I think I'm allowed to talk about it! No one's told me not to... We'll see. It's called Monitor. It's was written pre-lockdown, and we are going to shoot in autumn. It's about a world where you have to complete a trial to be able to have a child, because of overpopulation. It's in a similar universe to Autopilot, thematically.

Autopilot is showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Tickets are available online

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