Linus Karp has created the show How to Live a Jellicle Life, which runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town, from 1-5 June, following a successful run last October.
Together with his partner Joseph Martin, Linus has founded Awkward Productions, and this show is their second following Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F*cked. Their work is “fun, exciting, and slightly uncomfortable”.
I chatted to Linus about the show, the past year and plans for the company going forward.
How’s the prep going for the show?
LK: This week I started going through it and changing a few things; updating it slightly. It’s nice because I’m reminded of it as a project. I just, personally, find it fun. I
’ve been laughing a lot going through it. It’s like, I forgot this joke! It’s been fun to look through it again because it’s been a while. I did it briefly in October, and then was going to do it in December again when Tier 4 happened.
This is the first show you’ve written and performed, isn’t it? You had Awkward Conversations, and then you’ve got this, which you’ve written and performed. How has it been for you doing both things?
LK: When I first did it in October, I was quite scared because I hadn’t written anything before. Then I thought it was very ‘me’. Everyone, sadly, wasn’t a fan of the wonderful film of Cats. I thought the whole thing was amazing.
When the reaction to the show was so positive, it gave me a big boost and really increased my confidence as a writer. Now I feel I can do this, and I’ve been working on more writing as well.
Yes, I’m not a fan of the film! Why do you like it so much – what is it that draws you to it?
LK: I think it is just unlike anything else. It’s such a unique experience. The combination of it being amazing and terrible simultaneously. I liked the visual effects. There are some amazing dancers, so much talent, combined with a terrible script and some very questionable choices. I
was just blown away when I saw it. I had to go back and watch it a couple of days after because I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. A project with a huge budget of millions and all those big-name stars to be so weird.
OK, if you were to be a particular Jellicle cat, which one would you be?
LK: I’d be Mr Mistoffelees because he’s a queer icon. It’s odd that in the film they got rid of his queerness, which was a great shame. But I love that about him and his magical powers.
Your earlier show, Awkward Conversations, was a bit controversial. Should audiences expect much of the same from Jellicle Life?
LK: I think if you liked Awkward, you would enjoy this as well. Both are very much my sense of humour. Jellicle Life is a lot lighter and sillier I’d say. Although Awkward is hysterically funny, I find it is also like a sad play as well. There is no sadness in this; it is just silly. A silly hour of Jellicle fun.
Do you like cats as animals?
LK: Yes, but I prefer dogs – the big scoop! I’ve always been a dog person; we had a family dog. I’ve always liked cats as well, but I just fell in love with the film.
You don’t dance at all in Jellicle Life?
LK: Well, I try and dance in the show! I try my best but I’m not a dancer or trained in musical theatre. It’s never been my specialist area. One of the sad things about watching Cats was realising I would never get to be in it. So, I created this show so I could! With this show, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in Cats.
What was your background at drama school? What did you enjoy the most?
LK: I trained back in Sweden, where I was born. It was very method acting based, but I’ve always loved comedy. I love the combination of comedy and tragedy, like in Awkward Conversations. I find you can use comedy to ‘laugh through the sadness’ or to tell some important or darker stories and themes. That is what I really enjoy.
What is the main selling point of Jellicle Life?
LK: I think it is fun. Especially with the year we have had, with all the theatre closures, I wanted this show to just be silly, fun, and escapism from everything we’ve gone through. I think that’s what it is. Obviously, there are moments you can relate to as well but overall, I wanted to create something where you could sit in a room together and just laugh again.
This is another solo show for you. Do you enjoy being alone on the stage?
LK: Yes, I do. When I finished off Awkward Conversations, I said the next thing I do, I’ll definitely work with other people. Then I got the idea for this show, and with Covid happening, a solo show was the easiest way. It makes financial sense as I produce my own shows.
I don’t have the budget for other people, and I don’t want to include others if I can’t pay them. I very much love working with other people. It’s been a great experience doing solo shows. I never thought I would do it as much, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m really enjoying it as well.
Your partner works with you, doesn’t he?
LK: Yes, he’s the stage manager. He’s really helped me; I try a lot of the material on him all the time. In a solo show, it is hard to know what works and what doesn’t. It’s always extremely useful to have his input because he’s a creative and performer as well.
What about the Lion and Unicorn as a venue? What’s it like to work in?
LK: I really enjoyed it. I think the space is really nice; it’s where I did Awkward for the first time as well. And David [Brady] had run it for the past couple of years, doing it in a way that’s really good for visiting companies. It’s expensive, putting on theatres. I feel that a lot of venues charge extremely high sums, whether you get an audience or not.
At the Lion and Unicorn, you don’t have to pay anything in advance. It’s very fair, so it is possible to produce shows even if you don’t have a big production company or a lot of money. That’s one of the key things. Now David’s made us associate artists for this year, which is really nice.
I like the venue and I’m not too far away from Kentish Town, so it’s convenient. It’s a great venue for many reasons.
How was lockdown for you? Has it been a struggle, or have you been able to find the positives in it?
LK: It’s been in waves. Everyone’s had a really tough time. I was in Sweden for a lot of it last year. When it all started, work dried up and everything closed, so I decided to go to stay with my parents for a while in the Swedish countryside. If I’m not working, I don’t really have a reason to stay here.
So, we were in Sweden for five months, with so much more freedom there. The worst thing was the unknown; how did Covid spread and how bad was it going to get? It felt better to be somewhere safe. Since being locked down in London in our little flat, that’s a lot tougher.
It’s boring, more than anything, and it’s hard to keep motivated and not know what to do. Then you have the shows opening and closing. You get excited about something, and it doesn’t work out. But you must keep trying.
I’ve been part of a play reading group, weekly readings on Zoom. I’ve made so many friends through it. I’m part of an online improv group as well. It’s nice to escape into something and do something. And obviously, I love Cats.
What’s next after Jellicle?
LK: We’re doing a little tour of it in the summer. Fingers crossed. But I feel if the theatres can open, even if it is with restrictions, the show’s fine. I don’t mind playing to smaller audiences.
I’ve been working on a couple of projects I hope I’ll be able to do after Jellicle. Everything still feels uncertain, though. I don’t want to look forward too much.
Do you think that theatres will be open as planned?
LK: I am feeling positive because of the vaccinations going well. But you never know. Having had the show taken away with no notice in December, I’m never relaxed about it, but I do think things will be able to go ahead.
Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?
LK: I think it might be worth saying that Jellicle isn’t just for Cats fans. A lot of people who really enjoyed it hadn’t seen the film or hated it as you do. You don’t have to love it like I do!
You can book for How to Live a Jellicle Life here.
My thanks to Linus for his time. Images by Dave Bird.