Director Rebecca Vaa and writer Billie Collins spoke to Love London Love Culture about bringing ‘Spiders’ to the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe.
Could you tell me a bit more about what ‘Spiders’ is about?
Billie Collins: Spiders is about the friendship between Harry and Mia, two squatters taking refuge in an abandoned flat just outside Manchester, and how that friendship is put to the test when Harry finds out that Mia is not who she says she is. It is about privilege, empathy, and how good-intentions don’t always lead to good deeds. It is also about David Attenborough documentaries, and how to flirt via KFC.
How did the idea for the play come about?
Billie Collins: I started writing the first draft when I was finishing my GCSEs, and going to writing workshops at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. They encouraged us to write a full-length play, so I gave it a crack, and was dead surprised that it made the Bruntwood Longlist in 2015. I’d found out about this thing called the Tarantula Hawk wasp. I thought, ‘that’s really sick, I need to write about that’. Eventually, the question became ‘what if someone is trying to get off with someone else, but they can’t stop talking about this wasp?’ And that became the first scene, and that’s kind of how Harry and Mia came about. As I kept writing, I worked out that was I was interested in was how these two people relate to each other when they have had such diametrically opposed experiences, and how wanting to help someone sometimes means ignoring your own problems.
What would you like for audiences to take away from ‘Spiders’?
Billie Collins: If they have a conversation going on the way home, I’m happy. One of the mentors at the workshops I used to go to said that as a playwright it’s not your job to have answers, it’s about asking questions, finding other people who are interested in asking those questions too, and then asking them together. That might sound like a bit of a cop out, but I guess I’d like people to leave thinking about how we understand our own problems in relation to others’. When writing the play, I was thinking about whether suffering is relative or not, about how when people are having a tough time, it’s easy to say, ‘oh well, there’s always someone who will have it worse than you’. And yeah, that’s probably true, but I wanted to write something that asks how helpful that approach is to anyone.
How have preparations been going for the production?
Billie Collins: This is the first time my work has been professionally staged, so it’s been dead exciting to see it happen. Rebecca is ace, so I feel like it’s in safe hands. It’s always weird when you put words down and suddenly there’s actual people with real faces and hands and stuff saying them. I’m also really chuffed that in lead up to and during the show we’re raising money for Crisis UK – it was something that we talked about from the very start, and I’m glad we’re able to support the fantastic work they do.
Rebecca Vaa: We’ve had a fantastic, if short, R&D (research and development) period, where myself and the actors got the chance to have an intimate introduction to the material in the company of its brilliant writer, all the while tapping into her invaluable insights and ideas behind the piece. Now rehearsals are kicking off, and I’m falling in love with the two characters that are fleshing out before my eyes. But ultimately, I’ve been beaming since we started. We have such a talented, warm and kind group working on this show, that I’m even excited to turn up to production team meetings.
How excited are you about presenting the show as part of the Camden Fringe?
Billie Collins: On a scale from one to excited I’d say I’m about an eleven. I’m based near Liverpool so I don’t have much experience of London fringe theatre, so it’s wicked to get to know and be a part of a programme of such vibrant and varied work.
Rebecca Vaa: Thrilled. So many people’s sights are set towards Edinburgh for new fringe theatre when the summer rolls around, but we have this incredibly diverse and sprawling celebration of fringe theatre on our own doorstep (for those of us who are London based). I am really looking forward to presenting this beautiful play in the city that I live and breath in, and start the journey for this piece here.
What can audiences expect if they come along to see the show?
Billie Collins: A few laughs, some dancing, the word ‘f*ck’ (lots), top-notch animal facts and something hopefully a bit touching.
By Emma Clarendon
Spiders will play as part of the Camden Fringe at the Tristan Bates Theatre from the 13th to the 18th August. For more information visit: https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/spiders