Caro Meets Comedy Interview Spoken Word Interview

Rosie Wilby: The Conscious Uncoupling

By | Published on Thursday 14 July 2016


One of my most very favouritest multi-taskers – Rosie Wilby – will be performing her latest show at Southbank Centre this weekend. She might be one of your favourite multi-taskers, too, if you have experienced her work as a musician, music journalist, stand-up, or writer, heard her on the radio, or seen her at Glastonbury.

It’s been a few years since we last spoke to her (about her Edinburgh show ‘Rosie’s Pop Diary back in 2011) so I thought it was high time we caught up a bit.

CM: I think the title ‘The Conscious Uncoupling’ might be a bit of a clue for our readers – but can you tell us what the show is about?
RW: Yes, you’d probably have to have lived on Mars for the last couple of years not to have heard the phrase Conscious Uncoupling. It was made famous by Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in 2014 when they announced their amicable split. Like many people, I thought it sounded unbearably pretentious and Hollywood. However, once I started reading further, I realised I really liked the concept behind the language. So it seemed like a great title for a show looking back at an old breakup of mine and wondering if we could have done it better.

CM: What form does this take – is it stand up, storytelling, a dramatic monologue…?
RW: It’s a hybrid of solo theatre and stand up in that it’s funny, but very much has a narrative structure. I’ve loved some of Sarah Kendall’s story-focussed solo shows. They’re full of big laugh moments but still different to the kind of thing you would see in a typical circuit comedy club. My show employs a few more devices and layers within a non-linear structure.

Breakup emails are interweaved with the central love story (which is given a bittersweet feel because we know what lies ahead), lashings of Richard Hawley music and the visits of three ghosts from our romantic past, present and future. The ghosts make a few spoofy yet largely true insights into the neuroscience and nature of romantic love and nostalgia.

CM: To what extent is it based on real experiences?
RW: It’s completely honest and by far my most vulnerable show to date. I think the old adage ‘tragedy plus time equals comedy’ comes into play. Five years had passed since that fateful email pinged into my inbox. Reading it again now, it felt more possible to be empathetic and see both sides. Once I’d corrected her spelling, of course.

CM: What made you want to create a performance about this particular subject matter?
RW: I’ve been aware of all of my friends going through breakups in recent years. We seem to be an increasingly serially monogamous society. So it seems a fairly pressing matter to think about how we should do breakups in a healthier way.

I also think that the way technology plays a role in breakups is interesting. It’s one thing breaking up by email or text but most of us don’t want to be on the receiving end and would rather still have a face to face negotiation and have the chance to have some input and discussion.

My ex and I were fairly civil when we were only receiving emails in a fairly staggered way via our laptops. We had time to think before replying. However, as we got smartphones and communication became more instant, then the messages were more spiky and less conscious and compassionate. We’ve become very reactive as a society because everything is so instant.

CM: Do you think long term relationships are on their way out?
RW: It depends how we define ‘relationships’ and whether we can broaden that. I tend to take a more emotional view than defining a ‘relationship’ purely along sexual lines. I tend to think of some of my best friendships as relationships even if they’re completely platonic. Often they are the truly lifelong connections when it comes down to it.

CM: Apparently, you’ve been working on a book. Can you tell us what it’s about?
RW: Yes, ever since I did a show in Edinburgh in 2013 called ‘Is Monogamy Dead?’, I’ve been reading, thinking, collecting stories, ideas and opinions about the state of relationships in the modern age. I started performing the show at science at philosophy festivals, recorded a TEDx talk, a Radio 4 Four Thought piece, and wrote lots of articles which have had huge numbers of likes and shares. I’ve now been signed up by Accent Press to finish the book this year and it’ll be out with them next July.

CM: You clearly keep yourself busy, with all that writing and your radio work and your live performances – how easy is it to balance all these different strands to your career?
RW: Yes, variety is the spice of life I guess. I tend to try and make all the themes I’m writing about across books, live shows, radio essays all dovetail relatively neatly so it kind of all fits together. Really, ‘The Conscious Uncoupling’ is the final part of a relationship trilogy of shows – which started with my 2010 show ‘The Science of Sex’.

CM: What’s next for ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ – is it going to tour?
RW: I hope so! After this weekend’s performance at the Southbank Centre, it goes onto a short run at Camden Fringe in August then a few Autumn dates including Colchester Comedy Festival and Manchester Women In Comedy festival.

It feels really odd not to be going up to Edinburgh this year but I really want to bring ‘The Conscious Uncoupling’ next year. I decided to play the long game and wait until it was a really slick show that had already toured. I did the same with ‘Nineties Woman’ in 2014, after having written it in 2013.

CM: What’s coming up next for you?
RW: I am going to a writer’s retreat in LA at the end of this month in order to work on my book. I’m the only UK writer who has been selected, and it’s my first time in LA, so I’m really excited.

Rosie performs ‘The Conscious Uncoupling’ on 16 Jul as part of Southbank Centre’s Festival Of Love. See this page here for more info.

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