Caro Meets Theatre Interview

David Ralfe of On The Run: Tell Me Anything

By | Published on Wednesday 14 September 2016


We were first exposed to the work of Hannah Moss and David Ralfe – aka On The Run – when we witnessed their debut production ‘So It Goes’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, so it was great to see the company return to the Festival this summer with another entirely awesome play, this time a one person piece featuring just one of the duo.
When I heard that ‘Tell Me Anything’ would be heading Shoreditch-wards this month, I made time to put some questions to David, the star of this year’s show.

CM: Tell us about ‘Tell Me Anything’. What’s the story?
DR: ‘Tell Me Anything’ is about my experience of trying to care for a girlfriend who had an eating disorder, when I was fifteen. It was my first proper relationship and my first experience of love and sex; which is heady enough for a fifteen year old boy! But in my case it was hugely complicated by the fact that my girlfriend had an eating disorder, which no one knew about except me.

CM: What themes does the play explore? How is it structured?
DR: It’s about relationship dynamics and the roles we create for ourselves within relationships. I think I was trying to fulfil the ‘strong man’ archetype and hide the fear her illness caused in me; so it’s about masculinity, male roles and how hard men can find it to be vulnerable.

It’s also about mental health and addiction; specifically, how hard it is to love someone when you love them but you don’t love their illness because their illness is very destructive.

Finally, it’s about young love and adolescence and the impact those formative experiences have on us as adults.

CM: Apparently, it’s an autobiographical account – it is entirely honest? Is there any fictionalising or embroidering on the truth…?
DR: That’s a big question! I wasn’t carrying a dictaphone when I had these experiences so, necessarily, I’ve had to use some imagination to write the scenes. But every scene is based on real events which I remember very specifically and we’ve tried to be as truthful to those as possible.

However, it can’t ever be objective, because it’s coming from my viewpoint. So it’s likely that Kate’s understanding of the truth, for instance, is different to mine.

CM: Your debut ‘So It Goes’ was also autobiographical, but based on Hannah’s, rather than your own experiences, wasn’t it? Is the autobiographical theme one which you will continue to pursue?
DR: I think we both want to make shows about things we care about deeply and, more often than not, that connection to a particular subject comes from our experiences. But I’m at a stage where it feels like it would quite liberating not to make an autobiographical show next. They’re really complicated!

CM: With both shows, how did you decide what of your own experiences you wanted to use?
DR: I think we all have experiences which felt huge when they were happening but now feel very much in the past. Then we have experiences which happened long ago but still nag at us in the present because there’s something about them which is unresolved. I think both the shows we’ve made have come from a desire to resolve those things.

CM: Tell us about On The Run – how did you meet? Who is involved?
Hannah and I run the company, and we met at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, when I was making my first professional show and Hannah was doing an internship. We started making theatre together about a year later. We also work with Emma Tompkins, our designer, who’s also an associate artist of the company.

CM: What are your aims? What ambitions do you have? Where do you see On The Run going in the future?
DR: We hope to continue touring ‘Tell Me Anything’ next year. We really enjoyed taking our first show ‘So It Goes’ on the road last year, and hope we can return to some of those wonderful venues across the country and discover some more.

In November, we’re taking ‘So It Goes’ to Shanghai Contemporary Theatre Festival and we’re also remaking it in a new version for audiences in Batumi, Georgia with local actors. We’re doing this with help from the British Council, and I’ve just got back from a two day trip to Georgia to meet the team we’ll be working and cast the show!

CM: How did you and Hannah both end up as performers? Were you always working towards this sort of career?
DR: I guess so. Although we both chose to do English Literature at university rather than Drama and it took us both a while to learn that it was devising, physical theatre, clown and play which excited us the most, which led us both to the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris.

CM: ‘Tell Me Anything’ had a successful run up in Edinburgh this summer. What made you want to return to the Fringe?
DR: Why wouldn’t you go to the Fringe?! It’s theatre paradise. We find the most adventurous, excited audiences in Edinburgh, we see the most exciting work in Edinburgh, we get to see theatre every day and we make friends with other people making cool work.

CM: What’s next for you, after the Shoreditch run?
DR: I’ve just relocated to the East Midlands, so I’m excited to discover what the theatre scene is like up here. I’m going to take some time to hide myself away and work out what show I’d like to make next. But I think I’d like to continue working around themes of masculinity and relationships.

‘Tell Me Anything’ is on at Shoreditch Town Hall from 21 Sep-1 Oct. See this page here for more info and to book.

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Photo: Alex Brenner