Edinburgh Fringe preview: Three plays by Gail Louw

Multi-award winning playwright Gail Louw has three shows at the Edinburgh Fringe this month, all monologues.

She tells us a bit more about all of them and her working practices below.

The Mitfords: The Space @ Surgeons Hall, 4-12, 14-19 Aug, 6.40pm

Ticket link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mitfords

And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel: Pleasance Courtyard Upstairs, 2-15, 17-28 Aug, 11.20am

Ticket link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/and-this-is-my-friend-mr-laurel

The Good Dad (A Love Story): The Space @ Surgeons Hall, 4-12, 14-26 Aug, 9.15pm

Ticket link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/good-dad-a-love-story#:~:text=Based%20on%20real%20events%20from,of%20the%20charity%20Victim%20Support.

What’s the best thing about going to Fringe?

Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s platform for presenting your work. There is the possibility of being seen by theatre makers who may wish to take your work further afield.

Of course, you may be seen by three people who come in for a nap, but the potential is always there!

You have written three one-person shows appearing in Edinburgh this year, which is quite an achievement, with two based on real characters (The Mitford sisters, and Laurel & Hardy). Was this always the plan for 2023?

It was certainly the plan for the Laurel play and The Good Dad to come to Edinburgh, but The Mitfords was very much a last minute, but fortuitous thing.

The Laurel play is an old-timer at Edinburgh. Jeff Holland has brought it here for three years, selling out each time for the whole month’s run.

By the way, The Good Dad is also based on a real story as told to me by the family’s clinical psychologist. But I had to conceal the identity of the family by changing quite a bit of it.

Monologues can be tricky to get right – what attracts you to writing them?

I have written a lot of monologues, and indeed some of my most successful work are monologues; Blonde Poison has had eight productions worldwide including at the Sydney Opera House, and Shackleton’s Carpenter has been all around the UK and Ireland, including a crossing on the Queen Mary 2 Cunard Line last year.

But to answer your question rather than just promote myself (!) monologues are really challenging for the playwright – as long as you are not simply telling a story. There is nothing wrong with storytelling, but I believe this form of drama takes things further.

I am a bit pedantic about this, and I apologise to anyone who might find this irritating, but I believe the character must be speaking to someone. And it is not the audience. (Unless it is the audience, but there must be a reason for that.)

Once you know who the character is speaking to, and it could be a multitude of different people, you have to ensure the audience understands who these people are, why they are speaking to them, what the dynamics and circumstances are, and what is their motivation.

It is challenging to do this right and requires both skill and truthfulness.

Promotional image for The Mitfords

The Mitfords focuses on the rivalries between Nancy, Diana, Unity and Jessica (Deborah always seems to be the one with least drama!). Why do you think these women are still remembered?

Actually Pam is the one with least drama, even more so than Deborah! But the other four make up for it in spades.

They are incredibly complex, nuanced women, with extraordinary ideological beliefs and commitments and passionate natures that resulted in very interesting lives.

And it is these extreme experiences, and their interwoven relationships as sisters, both loving and hating, that still fascinate people.

Surprisingly (for me), The Mitfords is the play, more than any other, that has always completely sold out. As the box office manager of one theatre once said, ‘we could have sold out four times over.’

Promotional image for Mr Laurel

And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel has an ageing Stan Laurel visiting his partner Oliver Hardy on his sickbed. What should audiences expect from this piece?

This is so much Jeff Holland’s play. He added all the little skits that Laurel used, and added a couple of his own. He has been performing this for many years and it is always incredibly well received and loved.

Once again, see above, Laurel is speaking to Hardy who is in bed having suffered a severe stroke. He is asleep or semi-conscious and Laurel talks to him about what they’ve done, what life has been like for both of them, their successes and their troubles.

It is a very gentle, lovely piece that celebrates the life of Stan Laurel – a great hero of Jeff Holland’s.

Promotional image for The Good Dad

The Good Dad feels like a more traumatic family drama, supporting the charity Victim Support. It’s based on real events and showcases three female characters – where did the idea come from to structure the show in this way?

This was a very interesting process. I started off writing just about the protagonist, Donna. And as I was writing it, I thought I needed to really see all these events and happenings through the eyes of others in the family who were also deeply affected.

I wanted to see how the mother – the wronged woman – felt about it all, particularly as it involved her own daughter. And then I thought, what if there was a twin, who was not picked, not seen as special, how would that work.

And suddenly there were three characters, all played by the same actor. It makes it particularly interesting as the different perspectives emerge.