The hugely successful Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked is about to open at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We speak to the star of the show …
Hi Linus! You’ll be performing in Rob Hayes’ intriguingly titled one-man show “Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked” this August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, nine whole months since you last performed the piece at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in North London. How has it felt resurrecting the character of Bobby once more? Has much changed in your approach and views on the piece since last November?
I can’t believe it’s been so long! I was scared I’d forgotten everything or wouldn’t be able to find him, but when rehearsals started it all just came back. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that resonates with me like Bobby does, and it was almost as if he’d been waiting to come back all these months. This time I’m also working with a different director – Katharine Armitage. I think that has helped looking at the text with fresh eyes. She’s brilliant and we’ve really taken time to explore what’s led Bobby to end up in the bizarre and horrible situations depicted. I feel as if we’ve dug even deeper into Bobby emotionally this time around.
Could you describe the show for any readers unfamiliar with it in three words?
Hilarious, tragic, surprising.
Will this be your first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe? How are you preparing?
This is my second time, I was in Edinburgh during the fringe last year performing an improv show called Geraldyne (and we’re back again this year – shameless plug). Though last year I was only up for a week so it will be different doing the full run and doing it as a solo performer.
Having done the show before with very good reactions, I don’t feel as terrified as I did last time, which is a big relief. It has been great to rediscover Bobby’s journey and see where we can take it this time, not necessarily changing things – but making sure that the actions I take are truthful and not just because they worked last time.
“Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked” tackles what some may consider obscene and a discomforting subject matter – how have your audience reacted to the piece?
I think the title is great – it grabs your attention but can also work as a warning. If you see a show titled “Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked” you can’t be shocked to learn it’s about a guy who’s f*cked animals, people who don’t want to see a play about that I think naturally stay away from it.
People’s reactions have been great, most people find it hilarious but a lot of people also said afterwards that they didn’t expect to get as emotionally invested as they did. The story is so bizarre and funny – but also very human and truthful about things like relationships, loneliness and our need to be loved. It was wonderful to see how that resonated with the audience, though there are also times when they are noticeably uncomfortable. Which I love.
What is the most awkward conversation you’ve ever had?
Haha, too many to mention! It’s so nice to have finally found a play where my awkwardness comes in as an asset! Though one time that stands out is during one of my first professional acting jobs back in Sweden. I had a tiny part in a TV-series and having finished my one day on set I had a brief chat with the lead, an older quite famous Swedish actor. I kind of just started telling him how great he was and started exaggerating saying that I’d looked up to him my entire life and how amazing it was to be on set with him. I don’t know why I did that, I’m cringing just thinking about it. I mean, he’s a good actor but I made him sound like he was Beyoncé or something.
Bestiality is a subject the British public is oddly familiar with since Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott brought the subject to the forefront of British politics. Why is “Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked” a story worth telling again now?
That’s funny, I’ve never thought of that story in relation to the play! I think what the play does really well is questioning what’s right and wrong. It never defends or normalises bestiality as an act, but it raises questions in regards to how we treat animals – how we are allowed to control and kill animals as we please but bestiality is still one of the biggest taboos. And although sex with animals is, of course, the core concept of the story, the play really is about much more; male fragility, a child’s need for parental love, coping mechanisms and unsuccessful relationship attempts – which I think most of us can recognise ourselves in. At the end of the day it is the story of a tragic young man, made very funny and moving thanks to Rob Hayes’ brilliant writing.
As a Swedish actor currently working and living in Britain, what differences have you noticed between the two countries, and their approaches to theatre making?
Like in the UK, much of the Swedish theatre scene is based in the capital. I’ve never lived in Stockholm, and having moved to London soon after finishing acting school I don’t know if the way I see Sweden’s theatre scene is completely accurate. However, I do feel like serious Swedish plays can sometimes feel humourless, whereas in Britain I feel like even tragedies are often hilariously funny, “Awkward” of course being an example.
If I am to praise Sweden though, I do feel we have generally been better at giving women more of a voice and more nuanced characters than the UK – the changes and steps towards gender equality in the arts we’ve seen here over the last few years are great, but still a few steps behind Sweden. Needless to say, both countries still have far to go in that regard and theatre is of course just one of many areas that needs tackling.
Are you able to observe the chaos surrounding ‘Brexit’ with amused disdain, or are you at all worried it may hinder European performers’ (such as yourself) ability to live and work flexibly in the UK?
As we all know, Brexit is a car crash and I doubt its impact on the performing arts will be anything but negative. I think it’s a big shame if it means the UK will see less European shows, as I already feel non-British shows/performers/playwrights (US not included) aren’t given enough opportunities here and a lot of the theatre can be UK-centric.
Could you give our readers a quick insight into what brought you to the UK in the first place?
Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to work and live in London. Soon before I moved, almost five years ago, I found a book I’d written in school when I was about 11 where you had to say what your life would be in the future. I had written “I live in London and work as an actor.” The theatre scene in London is wonderful, the opportunities as an actor are bigger and I already spoke the language, it just seemed like I had to give it a go!
How has your actor training abroad differed from training offered in the UK?
My training was very method based, it specialised in the Ivana Chubbuck Technique, focused on creating a very driven performance using your personal life. It was incredibly intense and during school we were made to think that this technique was the only way to become good actors. I learned loads, but it was great to discover after acting school how other performers actually work, and how many different ways there can be to find a great performance. One of the main differences I think is Shakespeare. We hardly touched on Shakespeare in acting school. Whenever I have to do a Shakespearean piece for an audition here I’m terrified, I just feel like everyone here knows it so much better as it’s basically in their blood!
What is the best piece of theatre you’ve seen in London and why?
I wouldn’t be able to choose one, but here are a few …
The Judas Kiss by David Hare. I saw this soon before moving to London when I was here as a tourist. It was one of my first theatre experiences in London and it’s such a well written play and again, tragic but still funny. And how I’d love to play Lord Alfred one day!
Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. Also one of my first London theatre experiences. I already loved the story and the music, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as blown away by a performance as I was by Imelda Staunton’s Mrs Lovett.
Fleabag. Maddie Rice took over this amazing one woman play from Phoebe Waller Bridge when Phoebe went on to do the TV-series, and Maddie has now toured it both nationally and internationally. Seeing how wonderfully Maddie carried an intense, dark and funny one person show like this made me ask her to direct “Awkward Conversations” for its first run last year. I was so thrilled that she said yes and learned so much from her as a performer. Make sure to catch her new one woman show “Pickle Jar” this Edfringe!
Hammerhead by Joseph Morpurgo. Shown at Edfringe last year. He’s so amazingly creative and funny that I’d do anything to steal his brain.
Angels in America. The production at National last year was near perfect. 7-8 hours of theatre I just never wanted to end.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Because Harry Potter. And what a production!
Slightly Sillier Questions
Voulez-Vous is by far one of ABBA’s greatest songs – do you have a favourite?
The Winner Takes It All. Easy.
If you could give our avid readers one Swedish travel tip, what would it be?
If you do speak to the locals…
Do Say: Får jag bjuda på en fika? (Four jah b-ew-dah paw en Fee-kah)
Don’t Say: 2-0 World Cup quarter final.
Linus was talking to Joseph Prestwich
Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Underbelly, Cowgate
August 2nd to 26th (not 13th) at 6.40 pm
Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked – Review | ★★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | November 2017