Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Sophie Mercell: Get Happy

By | Published on Friday 21 August 2020

The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival kicks off this week, and there is lots of outdoor stuff for you to take in.

One of the shows we are most interested in – because we love the company that made it – is ‘Get Happy’ by Told By An Idiot.

To find out more about the show, and how the company has been getting on during the COVID-19 lockdown period, I spoke to performer Sophie Mercell.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Get Happy’ is all about?
SM: ‘Get Happy’ is a family show made up of sketches, it’s closer in style to variety performance rather than a straight through storyline. There’s a mixture of physical comedy, live music, acrobatics, hip hop and audience interaction. It’s really playful and joyful with bits for everyone to enjoy.

CM: Are there any themes that connect the different elements of the show?
SM: The scenes are mainly standalone, with some linked together, but the sense of quirky playfulness and off-the-wall humour are key throughout. The main influences for the show were Pina Bausch, Charlie Chaplin and Dr Seuss.

CM: What was the inspiration for the show? How was it created and who is behind it?
SM: The show was created through research and development, which is how Told By An Idiot make most of their work. The company’s Artistic Director, Paul Hunter, worked with a group of performers in developing various comedy scenes that were geared towards audiences of all ages.

The show was first created in 2013 and played at the Barbican over Christmas in 2013 and 2015. It’s also been to Beijing and Luxembourg.

Paul wanted to create the show initially as he was inspired by his then three year old’s imagination. There are radioactive wigs, strange egg sandwiches and other unexpected and off the wall things that happen throughout.

We are now re-imagining it for outdoor performances, so throughout rehearsals we’ve been adding in new bits that complement parts of the original version.

CM: What is your own role in the show?
SM: I play a sophisticated lady, who is thrown into lots of silly situations.

CM: Who is the show aimed at?
SM: As I said, it’s a family show for kids and adults of all ages. So it’s for anyone who breathes and wants to be entertained!

CM: It sounds like it’s going to be staged in some interesting locations during the GDIF – can you tell us about them, and how you feel they will affect the performances?
SM: This is the fourth iteration of this show, the first time in an outdoor venue, which is a great new challenge as we love to be responsive to the locations where we perform.

Our venues as part of GDIF include a basketball court and under a flyover. We have some exciting ideas of how we can respond to and use the location within the show, but we are going on site-visits early next week to see what other ideas come out.

CM: How has the company’s work been affected by the lockdown? What has the company been able to achieve during this time?
SM: Told By An Idiot is, by its very nature, innovative and able to be wonderfully spontaneous in its creativity and, therefore, responding to the pandemic – whilst it’s been tough for us financially, having to close down two touring shows back in March – we’ve certainly not been quiet!

We’ve released ‘Idiots In Isolation’, a pack of activity which included releasing an archive of digital performances for free, plus offering live free ‘Doctor’s Surgeries’ for theatre-makers who wish to meet – virtually – with Paul to talk about a devising process or a new piece of work.

Paul has also released a number of short ‘Lockdown Musings’ and some top tips on how to stay creative in isolation.

We’re also busy working on some podcasts too, one of them being a conversation between Paul and the eminent actor Edward Petherbridge – who starred in the Idiots’ hit production ‘My Perfect Mind’ a few years back at the Young Vic, which transferred to New York.

Nothing compares to ‘staying live’ though, so we are thrilled to be performing our first live show post-lockdown.

CM: Have you been able to make any other plans for the immediate future? Do you have anything coming up after Greenwich?
CM: I had a couple of projects in the pipeline, however due to theatre closures at least one of them has definitely been postponed to next year. So, for now, I’m just auditioning and trying to stay creative in any way I can.

CM: What hopes do you have for the long-term future, post-COVID?
SM: Well it’s all so unknown at the minute, I’m just over the moon to be performing a live show to an actual real life audience again, and to have the opportunity to spread some joy and silliness in these tricky times.

CM: The industry has taken a big hit because of the pandemic – what hopes do you have for its recovery?
SM: I’m dreaming of the day when we can fill an auditorium full of people once again, but whether that will take six months or two years – well, only time will tell.

All I know is, the arts make life worth living; they inspire, educate, and change us as people for the better. For now, we just need to think outside the box and be more creative with how we put on shows, which is why this festival and shows like ‘Get Happy’ are a massive step in the right direction.

‘Get Happy’ is on at GDIF as part of On Your Doorstep, at Woolwich Common Estate on 29 Aug, Thamesmead on 30 Aug and Eltham on 12 Sep. Tickets are free but must be booked, see the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival Website here for info.

LINKS: | | |