Following a critically acclaimed run at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2018 and an even successful UK tour Tom Ratcliffe’s award winning play has found a new home at Above The Stag Theatre.
Set against the events that took place when he was performing at the Fringe in 2017, Velvet is a play that examines sexual harassment against a young gay man, and with #MeToo gaining attention at the same time, he knew his play, and his story, had to be part of that movement.
Hi Tom, tell us a little bit about your show and what inspired you to write it? VELVET is a one person show about the complex realities of harassment within the entertainment industry. The play isn’t solely about the abuse of power but looks at our need for recognition as a society and how the struggles of being in a highly competitive industry can lead someone down a path they would not expect to take.; how far is someone willing to go in order to achieve their dreams.
I would be lying if I sat here and said that the show wasn’t derived from some of my personal experiences I’ve had whilst working within the industry. Of course, the prospect of turning something I’m essentially incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of into a huge positive and fantastic opportunity for my career was a significant part of what empowered me to write VELVET. Turning negative experiences into positive influences is a philosophy I like to think I go by and I’ve really enjoyed writing and performing this play.
What do you hope that the audience will experience when watching this show?
I think they will be very uncomfortable (in the best possible way) as they should be! It isn’t a subject matter that is in any way comfortable and the show reflects that (although there certainly are lots of elements of humour in the show). The audience will hopefully take away a broader understanding of how these situations arise; with much more depth and colour than simply good and evil or victim and perpetrator. As well as this, I hope they’ll empathise with the emotional and psychological damage that impacts those directly involved. Finally, I’d like to think that their perception as the general public will be challenged in the way different people, depending on their standing (i.e. celebrity or unknown trying to make it) are perceived in situations such as these when all is revealed.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
I think performance is the BEST place for a public discussion of ideas. For me, the best way to reach the hearts of people is through stories, whether based on a true story or not. There is only so much depth you can get out of a two-minute TV news package or words on a screen. The theatre has historically been a place to be outspoken and to generate discussion and I certainly believe it still serves this purpose and I hope so more than ever.
Obviously, the way to reach a greater number of people is through film, TV or web series these days but that is still performance; and that doesn’t take anything away from live performance either.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I think the funniest, and definitely most embarrassing, thing that has ever happened to me on stage occurred during the run of Sketat the Park Theatre. I was playing JC who was a volatile, if not misunderstood, teenager and I had a scene where I grabbed one of the other actors and threw them around the stage. The play was in a 90-seat space and was very intimate. So one night I grabbed the other actor ready to throw, and as I did I let out a very loud (plastic chair in school style) fart – and as I felt this happening I just shouted over it! It was very embarrassing (and let’s face it; hilarious). I had to carry on being angry for the rest of the scene. That was really hard.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
As an actor and writer, especially as someone with a one-person show, it’s hard to look past the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunities and she is an exceptionally talented example of what it’s possible to achieve.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Nothing fancy here. I always make sure I do some sort of warm up before I go on. I don’t tend to take things too seriously before I get on stage as I’m trying to keep as playful as possible! However, that’s going to be far less fun being the only actor this time around.
Lastly, who would you recommend comes to see the show?
I always find these questions hard as a writer because I always feel that there is something different for everyone to take away. Maybe that’s because subconsciously I want bums on seats, but I do think it’s true! I think those that have taken an interest in the events and revelations of the couple of years (in reference to the #metoo movement) should certainly come. Those that work within the theatre/television/film industry will connect to the material, but the play certainly does not exclude those outside of that realm and it is a story everyone can follow. I think those that have been in similar situations or have a close personal relationship with the #MeToo movement should do what is best for them mentally.
On a simpler level if you love a piece of theatre that will make you laugh before emotionally challenging you, this is one for you!
Velvet will run at Above The Stage Theatre from October 2nduntil 27th. Tickets and more information at the website: http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/velvet/