We’ve seen actor Iain Gibbons in many a fringe show now, from Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre to America’s No.1 Detective Agency off at the Drayton Arms Pub, and he’s always delighted us with his quirky sense of humour and ridiculously likable onstage presence.
Now, Gibbons is going to get the stage all to himself, as the Gaulier-trained actor stars in his very own devised piece – The Performance. Bringing it back for one night only at the Bread and Rose Theatre for the Clapham Fringe after rave reviews at both Wandsworth and Brighton Fringes, the comedic The Performance will see Gibbons take on the other side of watching theatre, playing an audience member, performer and theatre usher!
Iain has plenty of big theatre names to his credit that he’s trained with, including Denni Dennis Company Clowns, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Complicite, and No Fit State Circus. We can tell that this man has a pretty bright future ahead of him, and we spoke to him briefly before his stint at the Clapham Fringe. Check out the full interview below!
BCM: How did you come up with the idea for The Performance? Was there any comedian/actor’s work that you were particularly inspired by?
Originally, the idea came from a Charlie Chaplin quote that says, ‘Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot’. Also, after watching some of the later Jacques Tati films, where often you would see one eccentric figure in the giant canvas of the shot, I began to wonder what ‘giant canvas’ I could set a comic figure against. As I spend a lot of my time in theatre auditoriums, I decided to create a short experimental piece in 2012 where the audience sat on the stage and looked up at a lone figure eating his lunch in a sea of red seats. The idea was funny to me and remained in the back of my mind until I decided to develop it further late last year.”
I watched sketches from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, Rowan Atkinson, Fry and Laurie, Monty Python and Tommy Cooper, amongst others. I think you can see a lot of these influences in the mix of the show. They were particularly essential for working out the structure of the sketches and guiding my approach to the timing. However, this isn’t a comedy film. Timing will also be affected by the audience present on the night.
BCM: What made you decide to go into a career in the performing arts, and why did you choose to train at the Gaulier school?
Iain: I’ve always been attracted to making people laugh and have tried to pursue opportunities to get my next fix. I admire eccentric and characterful people, people that surprise and beguile, so emulating various characteristics I see around has been a hobby of mine. Another hobby is drawing, particularly portraits, but I found it such an insular and lonely activity, and missed receiving the praise once a project was finished. It was during a year of Foundation Fine Art that I made the decision that I needed to pursue a live audience.
As I studied theatre and made steps to work with different performers, I found that many people I admired around me had spent some time training at Ecole Philippe Gaulier. Lucy Hopkins, Trygve Wakenshaw and Dr Brown are all graduates that have since become huge on the Fringe circuits around the world. Gaulier also boasts Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter as previous students. It felt like a natural progression to use the support of Arts Council of Wales and clown company, Spymonkey, that I had started relationships with at that time, and go on a rollercoaster journey of tuning my performance skills.
BCM: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of putting up a solo show, and what drives you forward?
Iain: The challenge with any comedy show is ensuring that it’s funny. In a group, you have each other to rely on. If one person isn’t funny, the rest of the group can run in to save the flop. There’s a support network there. When you attempt to do this on you’re own, the pressure is on. It’s all up to you to hold the attention of the audience for the full duration. One cheat I’ve managed to incorporate is by playing three separate characters, so if one character isn’t succeeding, two others are just around the corner! There are various different rhythms and pace to the sketches. Sometimes a sketch may be gradual and precise, then it might get manic and exaggerated.
I use these techniques in everything I perform, whether part of an ensemble or alone, but when I create work for myself, I have the freedom to explore absolutely anything I wish. This creative control over my work is what keeps me returning to solo shows. If I have an idea, I know I can take it as far or not as I feel inclined and it’s up to the audience to decide if it works or not.
The Performance plays at the Bread and Rose Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6DZ on 8th October, 9pm. Tickets available here
You can find out more about Iain on his website here