Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Tom Stuart: I Am Not Myself These Days

By | Published on Thursday 11 February 2016


‘I Am Not Myself These Days’ is a one man show written and performed by Tom Stuart, adapted from Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir of the same name. We first came across it last year when it was staged at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it garnered much acclaim, and was declared to be “profoundly affecting” by our impressed reviewer.
The play tells an incredible tale of someone dealing with extraordinary circumstances, so naturally I was intrigued by the idea of it. I put some question to Tom, ahead of his London previews.

CM: Tell us about ‘I Am Not Myself These Days’ – what is the piece about?
TS: Adapted from Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s beautiful autobiography, the play evokes a time when Josh was living as a drag queen called Aqua in New York, battling alcoholism and desperately trying to make a relationship work with his crack-addicted rent-boy boyfriend Jack. It’s part love-story and part story of self-discovery.

CM: What specific themes does the show explore? Are there particular points it wants to make?
TS: At this point in his life Josh was furiously struggling with his identity, trying to find his voice and a place for himself in the world. He throws himself into the dark underworld of New York where perceptions of normality are continually challenged. He meets Jack and begins to allow himself to love and be loved, but maintaining a relationship in this world they inhabit proves almost impossible. So the main themes are identity, love, loss, self-destruction and conformity. In spite of their extreme circumstances Jack and Josh are dealing with very human problems, common to us all – the biggest message of the play, for me, is that there is more that connects us all, than divides us.

CM: You wrote the play yourself, of course. What inspired you to take on this particular story?
TS: I read the book and fell in love with it immediately. Josh’s struggle seemed so heroic to me, and I felt a real affinity with him. I knew it would be interesting as a piece of theatre because it’s so searingly honest, the circumstances so bizarre, and the heart of it so big. I wanted to have a hand in telling and promoting this beautiful story.

CM: How did you go about adapting this from the book? How did your creative process work?
TS: I’d never written before, so I didn’t have anything like a process – I just knew I had a book that I loved and I needed to re-shape it somehow to make it work theatrically. There’s something so clear and honest about Josh’s writing that I found it relatively easy to transpose into dialogue. The real difficulty was working out what to cut – finding the bare bones of the story without losing any of its colour and depth was a tricky balance to navigate.

CM: What’s it like performing your own piece? Is it important to get an outside view? How does your relationship with your director work?
TS: This has been the creative experience of my life so far, it’s an utter privilege to be so inside a story, to know it inside out and from all sorts of angles. Performing it for an audience and seeing first hand their responses is electrifying. The director, Nick Bagnall, has been on this whole journey with me: he acted as my dramaturge throughout the writing process, and I couldn’t have done any of this without him. It’s exceptionally important to have someone on the outside guiding and shaping you, making what you’re trying to say as clear as possible for an audience.

CM: How much do you relate to the character you are playing? Do you think audiences will be able to relate to him?
TS: I’ve always related to Josh, right from about two chapters into his book! I related to his desperate need for approval, his search for himself and his unrelenting optimism. I genuinely think that everyone, regardless of their background/race/gender/sexuality/age, will see a bit of themselves in Josh – when someone is being so open, honest and human in front of you, it’s hard not to relate. We have all loved, lost, and at some point in our lives struggled with our sense of who we are. Josh’s circumstances are probably beyond most of our experiences but his needs are universal. We’ve had all sorts of people responding, and feeling understood by this play – we even had a nun in full habit in one night, and she was very moved by it!

CM: The show has already met with acclaim, in Edinburgh and on tour. Can you see yourself keeping this going a while yet? Is it a show you see yourself coming back to?
TS: Yes, most definitely. It will be incredibly hard to let go, because it’s been very important for me in all sorts of ways. Josh and Aqua are incredibly infectious, and I can’t think about letting them go just yet.

CM: You have lots of performance dates coming up, but what else do you have planned for your immediate future?
TS: I’m taking each step as it comes. I’m having such a ball with this play that I’m not worrying too much about what happens after, but I do have a couple of exciting projects in the pipeline; among other things I have a new play and TV script in development – I’ll keep you posted!

Tom Stuart performs ‘I Am Not Myself These Days’ at Stratford Circus Arts Centre from 18-19 Feb, then at Shoreditch Town Hall from 1-12 March. See this page here for the February previews, and this page here for the March performances.

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Photo: Manuel Vasson