Documentary theatre writer Una McKevitt and our reigning Standup Comedian of the Year winner Eric Lalor sat down with Aoife Ryan to discuss the return of the hit show Singlehood and its upcoming performances in Vicar St. Singlehood had a sell-out run at the Dublin Fringe Festival and was lauded for it's hilarious, raw honesty about relationships and the ups and downs of singledom. It returns to stage on March 1st and 2nd 2013.
How did you come up with the idea for the show Una?
Una: Well I had just finished a play called 'The Big Deal' which was quite a serious piece based on the experience of being transgender that was a little bit heavy and arty so I was trying to think of something fun and light, and more of an ensemble show... I wanted something that would appeal to people outside of theatre. Initially I just thought it was the worst idea I ever had because it's so simple and you know it's not massively original. All these shows like Friends and Happy Endingsare based on the idea of being single but of course the hook is the person ends up in a relationship. Singlehood is not really viewed as a destination but as a purgatory. It's not a failure but people have the expectation of ending up with someone. It's also trying to convince everyone else you're happy. They think 'oh you're happy being single but you'd be happier in a relationship'. One has to be a little defensive at times, even looking at friends of mine who are going to ordinary events like weddings and trying to get an invitation without a plus one. There are all these kinds of politics around relationships. We celebrate them and there's all these rituals surrounding them. Look at the Sex and the City episode about celebrating singlehood and having a party just for you rather than for getting married or having babies. I was in a relationship for so long and had just broken up. I never thought about wanting to be single, but I finally thought 'it's time to be single for the love of god'.
How did you become involved with the show Eric?
Eric: Initially I met Una and Dave in the Fringe offices and we were talking about other projects when I was brought into another room that left me wondering what was going on. What proceeded was an interview for Singlehood. What was great about it was it brought me back to those single days, back to a place full of true panic. Around the age of twenty one I hadn't had a serious relationship. I think my longest relationship was maybe two or three months and a lot of my friends had been going out with girls since they were eighteen-long-term relationships- and I thought if I don't get my act together I'm going to be left on the shelf. Now when you look back you can't help think how stupid you were but at the time it made sense. I thought I had better get myself into a relationship or I'll be single forever, which is just bullshit really. So when Singlehood came along I thought of all this and it really got me interested. The tagline is 'any dope can be in a relationship' which is very true. I loved the humour in it and there are some parts that are quite poignant in it which is great too. Excuse the clichéd phrase but it's a real rollercoaster. Overall it is more humour based than poignant but I think it has to be.
Una: It's important to have someone in the show who is happily married like Eric. It creates that necessary balance.
Was it difficult to display such a personal part of your life to an audience?
Eric: It wasn't that hard because I'm used to putting that on stage anyway with stand up. You can only talk about what you know and your own experiences and to me that is the closest to stand up that I do in the show. That's the part I relax because they're my own lines. There isn't that added pressure of having to get someone else's lines right. Doing my own bits was when I was the most confident.
What drives you towards the subject of relationships Una? Are you most interested in romantic relationships?
Una: I'm more interested in human interactions generally. There's a big responsibility taking on other people's personal lives and I'm terrified about working on someone else's marriage or something. Friendship is a theme I keep coming back to. Friendship is still a big mystery to me. I'm interested in why and how we connect and the ups and downs of those connections.
Where any revelations made throughout the process about relationships? In particular did any of the variables such as age, gender or sexuality make a difference in people's attitudes towards relationships?
Una: Yes they do make a difference I think. We interviewed between fifty to sixty people overall. No in terms of the commonality that everyone thought they would ultimately meet somebody. Another thing people had in common was continuing to struggle through past relationships. Both men and woman had that in common For men the fear of losing their freedom and having a boss was a recurring theme.
Eric: 'I don't want to be told what to do ', that kind of thing.
Una: For women it was more that they found it hard to meet a decent guy and where to meet them.
Eric: For decent guy read obedient guy.
Una: One woman said they're either an alcoholic or a head banger. I suppose you could say the sexes were cautious of relationships for different reasons. Age wise the use of internet dating was huge, especially for those who were divorced or separated. It had never worked out for the people we were talking to or they never heard of anyone it worked out for but what it did do was give a huge boost of confidence. So seeing the trauma that people go through in trying to get over a break up in this country, it's such a palaver. It's just about feeling you're not invisible.
Eric: You're back in the game.
Una: It's the revelation that you're allowed. After a long-term relationship it's hard not to feel like its cheating so it takes awhile to realise it's over, you are allowed to move on.
As the writer do you reveal any of your own memories in the play through the other characters Una?
Una: I tried to. I wrote it with Dave. We tried to put our own stuff in but it just never worked. It wasn't a conscious decision to stay out of it but nothing we found interesting enough to include came out if the interviews we did between the two of us, with him interview me and vice versa. You are so hooked into everybody else it's hard to remove yourself on that level but I can identify with the other stories.
You said you're used to displaying your own personal details on stage because of your stand up experience but was it nerving at all to do something different Eric?
Eric: I was looking forward to it from the beginning but what I was nervous about was performing someone else's material, somebody else's script. You want to do justice to it. The first time we did the project arts centre was one of the most nervous I've ever been. Stand up is a piece of piss in comparison. But then after the first two or three shows I got into the groove and felt more confident. There was still that pressure that it could all go tits up and I could let everyone down but that keeps you on your toes.
Why do you think it's been such a big hit?
Una: Our ambition was to provide a good night out and I'm not sure that's always what you get from theatre. You might get food for thought certainly or really confused. Singlehood is short and sweet; it doesn't take itself seriously or pretend it's something it isn't so I think that might have an appeal to people.
Eric: There's so many stories and different angles that everyone has a part in the show they can identify with and relate to. When they see the cast on stage having a good time it transmits into the audience and they then invariably have a good time. We are going to Vicar St on a Friday and Saturday night and they are the entertainment nights. We want people to go and just enjoy themselves. We don't want to send people home depressed and introspective.
Una: It's a show people can laugh and drink through and it's a show that doesn't ask for a lot of reverence from its audience. We are talking directly to the audience which makes a difference as well. Our eyes are always on them. We haven't had many heckles or disruptions yet.
Eric: That'll probably change now in Vicar St.
Una: There was a lady who got up and screamed during a performance of one of the songs called 'An Audience We'd Like to Fuck'. Another lady stood up alarmed and said it looked as if the actors were coming towards her during the song.
Eric: We do stand up and address the audience head on alright.
Una: It's their Westlife moment.
Eric: We walk towards them very suggestively I might add and in the Project Arts Centre it's an intimate setting so I can see why they would be a bit taken aback at first.
Is the music integral to the show?
Una: Yes. The songs are very tongue and cheek songs about sex by The Guilty Folk, a musical comedy duo. Their songs are as if they were written for the show, they just married really easily. One song is about a not very good looking man finding a not very good looking woman but when they made love they felt beautiful. Another is about sex toys on the shelf looking for a home.
Eric: It is such a difficult show to explain. A lot of people have been asking me about it and the one thing they say is 'a play? In Vicar St? I've never heard of that before'. To which I have to respond 'well it's not really a play'. They're then asking what it is then and I'm saying there are eight in the cast and there's music. They then jump to the conclusion it's a musical and I've to say 'god no it's not a musical'.
Una: We have no great singers.
Eric: So it is difficult to explain right away but that's the charm of it.
What are the future plans?
Una: We have a gig on Valentines' night in the Draiocht. I've always had visions of doing something with it on valentine's night, giving something back! We've been invited to Edinburgh for the festival after that and we are still looking for sponsors for that. Our producers found different comedy venues we can perform in that I never would have heard of in the world of theatre in Cork and Ardee amongst others.
Eric: The minute I did singlehood I could see it working in a lot of comedy venues around the country. I was thinking this could really turn big if it wanted to you know. There's been interest and a few enquiries.
Una: Every minute of the day now is plugging away for Vicar St so that's all we can handle right now.
Singlehood (With support from stand-up comedian Maeve Higgins) plays at Vicar Street March 1st & 2nd. Tickets priced €23 on sale now.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Thursday 24th January 2013 | Theatre