Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Benny Ainsworth, Sally Paffett, and Michael Parker: Vermin

By | Published on Sunday 20 March 2022

When I first heard about ‘Vermin’ – a new show previewing this week at the Etcetera Theatre ahead of a run at the Brighton Fringe in May – I thought it sounded like just our sort of thing, a new funny play with some interestingly dark themes. 

I was also interested in the team behind it. ‘Vermin’ is the work of Triptych Theatre – a company founded by Benny Ainsworth, Sally Paffett and Michael Parker – and was written by Benny, is performed by Benny and Sally, and is directed by Michael, while being produced by them all. 

I spoke to the Triptych team, to find out more about the show, the company, and what we can expect from them now and in the years to come. 

CM: Can you start by telling us something of the plot of ‘Vermin’ – who is it about and where does the narrative take us?
BA: Without wanting to give away too much, ‘Vermin’ is the story of Rachel and Billy, a couple who’ve recently moved into the flat of their dreams. Their paradise starts looking a lot more like hell when an infestation of rats begins to get between them.

At its heart, ‘Vermin’ is a character driven piece. Billy is a DIY nut with a penchant for murdering animals. Rachel is an old school romantic with visions of a fairytale future. We follow them from their first encounter all the way down the rabbit hole.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
SP: I’d say love, grief, death and the supernatural.

MP: Fate, mental health, dark impulses, control and revenge.

BA: These are all quite dark, aren’t they? I promise you it’s funny. Closer to the start we also have themes like romancing, and positive relationships between animals and humans. 

CM: How would you describe it in terms of style or genre?
MP: Well, it’s a two-hander for a start. It’s almost a horror-comedy that plays out through the lens of a kitchen-sink drama.

SP: It’s definitely dark, it plays on humanity’s obsession with the grotesque and the unknown – but in a hyper-realistic way.

MP: The fourth wall is up and down constantly. I want the audience to be wondering whether certain moments are part of the show, or whether the characters are going completely off piste.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to create a show on this particular subject and theme?
BA: The show was originally just a short monologue about a grieving mother, which was inspired by a devastating BBC interview, but the monologue itself inspired a whole tangential storyline.

I’ve always been interested in taking an audience on a wild ride. To make them feel or at least be witness to the most heightened states that it’s possible to experience as a human. This is my attempt at making that happen. It’s exactly the kind of theatre I myself would want to watch. 

CM: The play will be performed at the Brighton Fringe in May, won’t it? Have you performed there before? Do you have plans to take the play to any other festivals or on tour?
SP: It will indeed, and we’re very excited about it! I’ve performed there once but as a company, no. We are making our way to the Edinburgh Fringe as well, actually with two plays, this one and ‘An Audience With Stuart Bagcliffe’.

We have been accepted by some exciting venues and cannot wait to perform there. We’d love to take the play on tour but we will have to see what offers we get!

CM: Can you tell us about your company? How did you come together to found Triptych Theatre, and what were your aims?
SP: At the end of drama school I decided I wanted to create my own work, so I basically just approached Benny and Mike and stole them both, and here we are.

MP: For the record, I don’t feel stolen.

BA: Yeah, I like to think there was at least some free will involved.

SP: I think after three years of drama school, where you’re performing all the time, it’s quite unnerving to suddenly find yourself in the real world knowing that you’re relying on other people for work which might be quite sporadic.

MP: We all had a similar mission in mind, which was to create impactful new work with roles suited for us as actors, which we can sink our teeth into. 

CM: What hopes do you have for the company in the future?
BA: Well obviously world domination.

SP: But peaceful domination.

BA: Of course. No sharks with laser beams.

MP: We want to perform our plays with some consistency, and hopefully create interesting conversations as we go.

SP: We also would love to inspire a new generation of young dramatists to go ahead and take a risk, and create some challenging work.

CM: Can we talk about you as individuals? Can you tell us about what made you want to begin a career in the arts and how you went about it?
MP: We were actually just chatting about this. For all of us it came down to good teachers. Benny and I had that experience at school.

SP: For me it was at Saturday school. I think it takes someone inspirational to ignite any passion, and to then make that feel like a realistic option or way to live life. From there we all applied for drama school, which we would all definitely recommend to any budding actor as the best route to becoming a professional.

BA: Yeah, it’s obviously about teaching you how to act, but also creating contacts and sticking you in front of audiences of agents and casting directors. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you each have for the future?
SP: Well I think we want the same from our professional lives as everyone else. We want to work in a way that doesn’t feel like work.

MP: We all still have day jobs of one sort or another, and it would be lovely to shake off those shackles. 

CM: To what extent were you affected by the pandemic and how did you get through the lockdowns?
BA: We actually had our Edinburgh Fringe run sorted for 2020, but obviously that didn’t happen.

MP: It worked out OK though, because ‘Vermin’ was written in the first lockdown.

SP: Yeah, it’s definitely a bonus to be able to take the two shows up together.

BA: In terms of surviving lockdown, I basically went full goblin mode. Bed, wine, TV, the lot. It was like groundhog day. It felt good at the time but let me tell you, I’m still shedding the weight.

CM: What’s coming up next for you all?
MP: We’re all still auditioning and have various things in the pipeline, but really we’re just looking forward to being able to perform our plays lots of times this year, and right now that aim is pretty much all consuming.

BA: It’s full steam ahead for our previews now, then we’ll have a bit of a break before Brighton. I’m off to trek the Himalayas during that time.

MP: Maybe I’ll try my hand at goblin mode.

BA: No! Don’t do it!

MP: Alright, fine.

SP: Thanks for the chat!  

‘Vermin’ is on at London’s Etcetera Theatre from 25-26 Mar, for info and to book head to this page here.

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