Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lila Clements: Look, No Hands

By | Published on Monday 9 August 2021

There’s a really interesting show coming up at London’s Pleasance Theatre this week that’s about a cyclist who ends up in a road collision and what happens to her in the aftermath. Inspired by a true story, it explores the idea of Post Traumatic Growth and the female cycling experience.

Following its run in London, it’s going to be available online at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

To find out more about the play and the creative behind it, I spoke to Lila Clements, writer and performer.

CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from ‘Look, No Hands’ in terms of its narrative? What story does it tell?
LC: ‘Look, No Hands’ tells the story of Vee, a cyclist on her way home. She’s involved in a road collision and wakes up in hospital with amnesia and no idea of how she got there. Afterwards, she begins to piece together information from different sources to fill in gaps about what happened to her… But the thing that’s most surprising of all, is that this traumatic event has left her feeling incredible – maybe even better than before! On the ten year anniversary of the collision, we meet her again at the crash site…

CM: What themes does the play explore?
LC: This play explores trauma, the female cycling experience and Post Traumatic Growth – or PTG – which is the theory that trauma can be the catalyst for positive life changes. Although the play is about trauma, there are a lot of laughs too – as Vee isn’t always the most reliable narrator.

CM: I gather it’s inspired by a real-life event – can you tell us a bit about that? To what extent is the script based on this real experience?
LC: The play is indeed based on a cycling collision I had in 2010 and it is this event which forms the centre of the play. Like the character Vee, I also woke up in hospital with amnesia, a friend saw me on ’24 Hours In A&E’, and I went to court with no memory of the incident. Again like Vee, I remember feeling fantastic afterwards: even though I’d been through something traumatic I had a new sense of purpose and perspective. Lots of the script is based on real life events, some parts of which have been described as ‘stranger than fiction’!

CM: What made you want to base a play on your cycling crash? Why did you think this would work?
LC: This idea of trauma changing people on a deep level is something that really interested me. My cycling crash made me think about the ‘Sliding Doors’ nature of accidents – if I’d left a little later or not stopped at that traffic light – what would have happened? Then, when the pandemic hit last year and turned many people’s lives upside-down, I began to see parallels with the trauma that the world was dealing with; people questioning their lives, work, relationships – all in unknown territory. I hope this play resonates with others in 2021 – and also some of the 1.3 million people who bought bicycles during lockdown!

CM: Did you write the play with the intention of performing it yourself?
LC: Yes, I guess I did. What shifted for me over that last year and a half was the desire to make more of my own work. Writing and performing at the same time does require a few different head spaces – but getting out of my comfort zone is what it’s all about at the moment. Although we joke that this play is like a workout where I have a lot of conversations with myself! I feel very lucky having such a wonderful creative team bringing ‘Look, No Hands’ to life – it’s an absolute joy to share it with them and I’ve loved what everyone has brought to the table.

CM: Can you tell us about Velociposse and their involvement?
LC: Velociposse are a female cycling club, whose aim is to provide inspiration, support and knowledge to help cycling become more accessible – from complete beginners upwards. I met some of their members recently to talk about their experiences and I took part in my first ever track cycling session at Herne Hill Velodrome – a brilliant, adrenaline filled experience!

We wanted to show the character Vee as an ‘everywoman’ kind of cyclist, so when Velociposse were doing a cycling tour of London monuments, we popped a 360 degree camera on a harness on one of their members and filmed everything from a cyclist point of view. This footage will then be projected onto the set and Vee onstage.

CM: How does the female cycling experience differ from a male cycling experience?
LC: After chatting to Velociposse, some members told me about being physically and verbally harassed while cycling in London. I also read recently that “female cyclists in the UK are twice as likely as men to have faced ‘near misses’ or harassment by drivers”, so yes, there is a gender division which I’ve been led to believe centres around the lack of cycling infrastructure in cities and in some cases the accessibility of cycling schemes.

CM: Can we talk about you now? Did you always want to work in the arts? How did you go about forging a career in this area?
LC: I’m originally from Dundee and moved to London to train at Rose Bruford College. Since graduating, I’ve worked all over the UK on projects with BBC2, Sky, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre Scotland, Shakespeare’s Globe, Park Theatre and Audible.

I started writing a few years ago when my first short play was selected by Tamasha Theatre as part of a regional voices new writing project and I was recently commissioned by Pitlochry Festival Theatre to write a piece about the River Tay, on the banks of my hometown.

Over the last few years, I’ve found writing for stage to be incredibly empowering – particularly coming from a performance background, where you can often be a facilitator in someone else’s project. Making my own play – from idea to production – is a first for me, and I and the team are excited to share it with a live audience for the first time!

CM: The entire industry has been affected by COVID of course. How has your career path been affected by the pandemic? How have you managed through lockdown?
LC: Strangely, I was in New Zealand just before lockdown – so I missed the build up in the UK and couldn’t really believe what was happening. Losing all my work literally overnight was pretty shocking and took a while to adjust to. I do a lot of voiceover work, so I got myself set up with a home studio and managed to record from home – inside a giant duvet, for soundproofing, of course!

Lockdown was the time when I really started to develop ‘Look, No Hands’. As I mentioned before, like many people 2020 became a time to pause and reassess. I really wanted to tell a story about someone who rises in the face of adversity – and that’s where ‘Look, No Hands’ came from. So yes, aside from making sourdough and banana bread, I spent lockdown writing my first one person play.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
LC: ‘Look, No Hands’ – the movie? Just kidding. Not quite yet, but it will be streaming online later in the month. I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing my first play, so I’d love to develop more work… and I have a few ideas brewing at the moment. Most of my work has been in theatre, so I’d love to explore more filming work, as writer and actor. I’m just putting it out there that I’ve always wanted to play a TV detective!

CM: Finally, what’s coming up next for you after this?
LC: In the rehearsal room, we joke about the huge scale version of ‘Look, No Hands’ with flying bikes and a revolve! But really, this play is most well suited to intimate spaces and, as part of the National Partnerships Award scheme, we’re looking forward to performing at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in the Spring 22 and we’ll be announcing more venues for soon…

Before that, the play is streaming on Fringe Player, so if you can’t catch it in person, there will be a digital version to watch from the comfort of your own exercise bike.

‘Look No Hands’ is on at the Pleasance Theatre in London from 10-14 Aug, book your tickets here. You will also be able to watch the show digitally via edfringe from 23 Aug, click here.

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