Aiming to bring the vibes of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton to a heartfelt personal story about grief, family drama, and sisterly companionship. The Great Ruckus sees two sisters navigating their way through their mother’s funeral – quickly finding that the warm embrace of their family is becoming a seething snake-pit of selfish, and self-absorbed relatives. We wanted to get behind the scenes of the incredibly intriguing piece of darkly comedic new writing, so we sat down for pixelated pint with multi-talented Izzy Tennyson, the show’s Writer, Director, Illustrator, Producer, and also one of the performers.
Catch The Great Ruckus at Pleasance Courtyard – Baby Grand from August 2-13, & 15-28 (14:00). Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.
Jake: Hi Izzy and Grace! ‘The Great Ruckus’ tells an observational tale of two sisters navigating their way through their mother’s funeral. Tell us a little about what inspired you to bring the piece to a Fringe stage.
Izzy: Well my mum did die 10 years ago, so her funeral did provide some source material for the play, but in my previous play ‘Grotty’ which was semi-autobiographical I made many of the characters larger than life, and in ‘The Great Ruckus’ I have taken it a step further and made the characters fantastical. In fact, we represent them as projections of grotesque cartoons that we have drawn which turn it into a sort of modern fable.
My style of writing in the past has been compared to Hunter Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing’ books, and these are illustrated by the cartoonist Ralph Steadman, and I have also loved the work of Ronald Searle who drew the original St. Trinian’s cartoons. So I really wanted to create a show that had that feel about it. There is also a practical side as we will have two actresses multi-roling a whole cast of characters so the cartoons help identify the characters, but it also helps the disorientating feeling of unreality that comes with an event like the death of a close relation.
We are posting some of the artwork for the show on our Twitter feed as we produce it. Three of us are creating it and the visual side is really important to the show.
The Fringe is very much a place where you can put on something a bit experimental like this, and I might not have the budget of a Wes Anderson or Tim Burton film but I hope to have created something with that vibe.
Jake: The show takes on what you call rigid Western ideas about grief, family and class. Tell us a bit about the process of creating a show that tackles those themes and what you hope the audience take away from it all.
Izzy: Well I have never really liked to categorise my work as comedy or drama. A lot of people find my work very funny, but I like to mix serious themes in too. I actually think the comedy can accentuate the more tragic side, and take the audience on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. ‘The Great Ruckus’ is mainly a dark comedy, but I take the audience on some twists and turns and into some unexpected places.
I am first and foremost a writer and my writing process starts with just observing people. Real life provides so much good source material. After that it is about crafting it into scenes that work together.
Much of the show is about people behaving badly, and funerals seem to bring out the worst in people. Everyone feels obliged to act out a performance but in fact it just exposes their selfishness. They are supposed to be coming together to support the close family, but it rarely works out like that. Making the characters fantastical helped here, as my family might be badly behaved, but these characters are far worse!
I don’t really want to give away any spoilers, but the two sisters represent two sides of grief and loss. Through the ambitious Jo, the practical set-backs to life plans, and the through more spiritual Ida the deeper psychological disturbance that comes with it.
Jake: You mention that in your view, events like weddings and funerals force together people with different temperaments, motives, and backgrounds. Could you tell us a little more about what you mean and how this expressed in the piece?
Izzy: Well my family, like a lot I guess, has people of different backgrounds, people who have gone up in the world, people who have gone down, and people who have stayed the same. In the play, one sister Jo is very ambitious. She has just finished university but her mother’s death casts a lot of doubts on her plans, and she is being harassed by the Job Centre to take any job. So part of the play is Jo’s journey as she pins her hopes on social climbing but untrustworthy relations to fix up a prestigious job for her, while other relations show the true colours of class envy.
I actually am a fan of Thackery and ‘Vanity Fair’ is a sort of 19th ‘Fear and Loathing’ story with the disgusting Lord Stains and scheming Becky Sharp. I actually think the 19th century literature of Thackery and Dickens portrays the nuances of family and class especially well and provided some inspiration.
Funerals are those sorts of family car crash events where embarrassment can be guaranteed!
Jake: Tell us about your relationship with Edinburgh and the Fringe – have you been before and how are you feeling about it all now we are a month away?
Izzy: Well the Edinburgh Fringe is very special to me as I performed my first professional play, a one-woman show called ‘Brute’ there. ‘Brute’ won the Ideastap/Underbelly award, got lots of great reviews including being a Sunday Times and Guardian Top Pick and had a transfer to Soho Theatre, London. Although my second play ‘Grotty’ went straight on at the Bunker Theatre, London, before Brute I went to the Fringe four years in a row, working on a street team, as a techie, directing my own student play and performing stand-up.
I am really excited to be going back to the Fringe. It is obviously a bit nerve-wracking as there is so much to do to pull together a show, especially as I am acting in it, directing it and producing it, but having our first rehearsal in a theatre space with the lighting and projections was thrilling, seeing so much hard work coming together!
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Izzy: I’m really happy as long as it’s got alcohol in it.