Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Tuula Costelloe: Christmas Is Cancelled

By | Published on Friday 8 December 2023

I was intrigued when I heard about ‘Christmas Is Cancelled’, a play by Tuula Costelloe that begins a run at the Etcetera Theatre this week.

Not least because of the sensory elements involved in the production and the fact that it has more than one ending, but also because it explores a number of themes that are really interesting to me. 

Tuula performs in the show as well as having written it. I spoke to her to find out more about the play and its inspiration and, of course, more about the creator herself. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of ‘Christmas Is Cancelled’? Who is it about and where does the story take us?
TC: ‘Christmas Is Cancelled’ is the story of Kate Ghotti, a vivacious a-list celebrity living the life of her dreams. Until, three nights before Christmas, the phone call comes.

She learns an exposé on her is about to be released that will take away her career, status, friendships and maybe even freedom. And we don’t know exactly what is in this article. 

We then follow her on an odyssey across a freezing, festive London, as she fights to hold onto everything she has, putting her mind, body and soul on the line. For Kate, nothing is off limits!

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
TC: On the surface, we are exploring the topical themes of celebrity, media, cancel culture and also glamour.

But as we get deeper into the story, we are exploring how easy it is for society to become a mob, and asking the audience how they would feel if it was them the mob was after.

I think at the heart of the story, though Kate is an ambiguous and grey character, there is something to be said about the human spirit/human condition. 

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to write about this topic, these themes?
TC: The inspiration for the play was to fight for the empathy I know is in us all. I’m a very sensitive person and have always hated any kind of bullying or ganging up. 

I also have a type of OCD which means you spend 50% of your time paranoid you are going to be framed or outcast in some way. So seeing the way social media has escalated over the past few years, and the tragic consequences this can have, has been quite overwhelming for me. 

The soul of the play is, I think, kindness. I feel some of the final lines will be very unexpected and I’m excited to open up a debate around these topics.

CM: As well as writing the play, you also perform. Which part do you play? Did you always intend to take this role?
TC: I play Kate Ghotti and I definitely wasn’t expecting to take on this role! I decided to go for it and put on this project approximately five weeks ago, as the festive theme meant it was now or next year – or never!

I wasn’t sure if anybody else could learn the lines in time so I switched from my plan to take a supporting role to Kate and her 70 pages of lines – us actresses have to throw ourselves in at the deep end sometimes, right?

I saw myself as more of a writer than an actress in the past few years, but since exploring such a complex character, my acting bug has been fully reignited.

Kate was originally written as older, with more gravitas – I’ve brought some quirks to her that weren’t there in the original script and I hope I can do the piece justice!

CM: I’m told the show is a multi-sensory experience – can you explain what that means?
TC: The director, Hector Smith, and I wanted to draw the audience into Kate’s decadent and irresistible world – the kind of world nobody wants to leave behind, to show the audience just what is at stake for Kate.

So we have scented the theatre, stocked it with edible treats and let’s just say our opening is more ‘Moulin Rouge’ than fringe theatre! 

Then, as the night descends into something more and more disturbing, all that will go away and be replaced by darkness, temperature changes and one stomach-churning moment involving those ‘edibles’. 

CM: Apparently the show has more than one ending – can you tell us a bit about that and why you’ve written the play that way?
TC: While writing the play, I knew how I wanted it to end.

But one day an idea was sparked, one that would take the audience to a whole new place and create a brand new phobia – it’s the kind of unsettling final moment that leaves you thinking about what could be out there and what we’re not being told.

We wanted to give the audience this special moment while also feeling some nights should end more grounded and centred on the core message of the piece. The mindf**k ending is happening Tuesdays and Saturdays. So if you like us, please come twice! 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? What drew you to a career in the arts and how did it all begin?
TC: As an actress, I have the typical story of loving drama classes at school, wanting to be in as many plays as possible, and then the dream of doing it professionally.

As a writer, it came from a much deeper place – once I started writing about the things I care about, I couldn’t stop. The words poured onto the page.

I’m just at the point now where I want to close the laptop for a bit and put my projects out there.

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life thus far?
TC: This year, I made it to the shortlist and the top 1% of the BBC Writersroom Open Call, so 42 out of 42,000 scripts.

It was amazing validation, and the BBC kindly invited all us shortlisters for an in person Q&A with none other than Jesse Armstrong – being in that kind of room kept me on a high for days!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
TC: My dream medium is TV – for over a decade now I think it’s given us the best entertainment, character and stories.

I’d like to write a TV drama and act in it – Brit Marling, who created and starred in Netflix’s ‘The OA’, has the kind of career I’d like to emulate.

This year I finished a novel about a UK that has just legalised euthanasia; it’s a very emotional, liberal story and I think my ultimate goal would be for this to become the next prestige TV drama.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
TC: I’ve been commissioned by a former BBC executive to write an elevated horror set in the world of podcasts – I was working on it before I went into dark Christmas mode and I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

I’m also working on producing my script that was shortlisted by the BBC – it’s set in a prison riot and is the scariest thing I’ve ever written.

Then this summer, last year I blew off some steam as a go-go dancer in Ibiza – who knows, I might go back!

‘Christmas Is Cancelled’ is on at Etcetera Theatre 11-14, 17-19 + 22-24 Dec. For more information and to book tickets see the venue website here.