Louis Emmitt-Stern’s ‘uncanny and razor-sharp comedy’ comes to the Vault Festival nexf week.
I Fucked You In My Spaceship is also published in the anthology Plays from Vault Six which you can purchase from the merchandise stall at the festival (and e)sewhere).
We talked to Louis to find out a bit more about the play with possibly the most startling title this year!
Where: Cavern at The Vaults
When: 7-10 Feb at 6.40pm
What is the best thing about being part of Vault Festival, and particularly being chosen as one of the lucky five to be showcased in Plays from Vault 6?
The people. That’s what makes VAULT so special. A couple of weeks before the festival opened, I walked into The Glitch (The VAULT Festival-ran café on Lower Marsh), and the atmosphere was electric.
Every table had a different team of people from a different show, working and chatting and sharing ideas. I spent a chunk of time at the bar talking to the staff about what they are looking forward to seeing and what they’re mounting themselves.
I couldn’t get out the door without exchanging show flyers and Instagram handles with at least three other artists from other shows. Everyone wants you to succeed. You don’t get that all the time. There’s a camaraderie; a feeling that we’re all in this together.
The best thing about being one of the five plays published in Plays From Vault 6 is how accessible it makes the work. Lots of people are now going to be able to access this play (along with the four other brilliant plays included in this year’s volume) who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come and see it in London.
It is easy to forget how vital play publishing is for the accessibility and outreach of theatre. The Plays from Vault series, published by Nick Hern Books, is how I was introduced to the festival.
If you read all five plays in the anthology from start to finish, you’re experiencing a curated night at Vault Festival, but from your sofa. That’s really cool. It’s quite literally putting a snapshot of the festival in people’s hands.
I have to ask about the title of your show! Where did the inspiration come from?
I came up with the title about four years ago, before I knew anything about the play. I love titles. I am constantly inspired by other plays with fantastic titles: Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking, Tatty Hennessy’s A Great Big Wooly Mammoth Thawing From The Ice, Sam Steiner’s Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, Jasmine Lee-Jones’ Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner.
They spark your curiosity, and importantly, they make you want to go see the thing! As a writing exercise, I like to come up with titles that intrigue me and speculate around them: “If I saw this title on a poster, I wonder what that play would be about?” It’s a fun, low-pressure warm-up that isn’t intended to lead to anything, but this title clung to me.
So what does it all mean now in the context of the fully-written play? I think it’s twofold. There’s the face-value meaning, which is also a spin on a line a character says in the opening scene.
Aside from the more obvious sexual meaning, the title can also be interpreted as “I Fucked You [Over] in My Spaceship”. That implication of being “fucked over”, of being deceived or tricked or manipulated. Both are true of the play. Even the discrepancy is rather fitting. But whether you’re fucked up or being fucked, there’s the important commonality that both occur in a spaceship.
Vault Festival has over 500 exciting, original, and daring new shows that all deserve your time and money, let alone the other 250-odd theatres in London. I would be lying if I said we don’t want people to take notice. That’s the aim. If we have no audience, what are we making theatre for?
Capturing people’s attention before they’ve even bought a ticket communicates a level of investment in your audience. It’s our job to intrigue and entertain you. The title is a free taster of what’s to come. And if you like the flavour, then buy a ticket and buckle up!
Described as “an uncanny and razor-sharp comedy,” I Fucked You In My Spaceship reads very well on the page and made me laugh. It’s also clever and complex. Which character(s) came to mind first?
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And laughed! I think that’s the most important thing. I wrote the opening scene two and a half years ago to make a friend laugh in an online playwriting workshop. I am glad it still holds onto that.
I am equally happy you found it clever and complex. I think part of the play’s charm is its ability (or attempt) to find real truth and tenderness in even the silliest of set-ups.
I love characters that aren’t trying to be funny. The characters in this play probably don’t think they are particularly funny people at all. They’re just desperately trying to get on with their day, but have none of the tools to overcome the problems they face.
As a writer, you get to choose whether the result is devastatingly dramatic and tragic or hilariously cringe and comical. Sometimes it’s both at different moments. Sometimes it’s somewhere in between the two.
These characters have an absolute inability to articulate or communicate how they feel or what they want from each other. The consequence is hopefully as funny as it is heartbreaking.
This play has a relatively large number of characters for a show at a fringe festival. You get a lot of monologues, duologues, some three-handers. A cast of six is quite rare. I think it makes us a bit of a different offering.
As a writer, it’s an ambitious task to fulfil six character arcs in under sixty minutes. I was fortunate that they all fit together rather intrinsically. They’re all important bits of the jigsaw. You couldn’t remove a piece and still have a complete picture. I think that’s key.
You specify a completely bare stage with no furniture, mime, or props for the show – why is that?
This is a play about space. In every sense of the word. Outer-space. Our home and the space we chose to live in. The space between each other. Performing in an empty space speaks to the story thematically. It marries the form and content of the play in a really interesting way.
I Fucked You in My Spaceship invites an audience to come on an imaginative journey with the actors. We use the phrase “word gymnastics” a lot in rehearsal to describe how this play works. The actors have to step inside the words and hope the audience will do the same.
Together, actor and audience can collectively imagine where we are, what we are doing, what we are looking at, where we are in the timeline of the piece. It’s participatory.
For example, when a character comments on a coffee cup they are holding, the actor is not literally holding anything in their hands. They do not use mime to suggest they are holding a cup either. There is no light or sound or set to suggest they are in a café. It is the words alone, combined with an audience’s imagination, that fill in the blanks.
Something exciting happens when you get an audience to buy into a fictional world without it being physically or literally represented. They start to trust the mechanics of the play. Once you set up theatrical rules, and get an audience to participate in those rules, then there’s scope to bend the game.
Both our central characters, Leo and Anna, finish this play, unsure whether what has happened is objective truth or if they’ve talked themselves into a false belief. Hopefully, the audience is left conflicted as to what’s real and what’s not. That conflict is even more trippy when everything you’ve just watched lives mostly in your own imagination. Can you trust it?
Your ending (without spoilers) seems to point to a sequel – any plans for this in the future?
This is so interesting! I never thought about the ending in that way, but now that you mention it I do see what you mean.
I can’t say that I’ve got a sequel in mind, or that I have given it much thought before you asked. We leave this story open-ended, but I think that’s quite nice. An audience can go away and interpret what might happen next. I wouldn’t want to ruin that.
And as far as the characters are concerned, their arc is complete. They’ve learnt what they needed to learn. However, it’s been a joy unpacking these characters with fantastic and generous actors in rehearsal. The cast and I have had lots of conversations about what’s going on around the play, and what’s happened in the time between the scenes we see on stage.
I think it would be exciting to expand on the stories, possibly in a series format for TV (if we’re dreaming big). But for the time being, we’re very focused on bringing the best version of this story to our audience at Vault.