An Interview with Wonder Fools
At the end of September (27th-30th), Wonder Fools will be bringing THE COOLIDGE EFFECT to the Tron in Glasgow. The Mumble managed to catch a wee blether with the dynamic duo behind Wonder Fools; Jack Nurse & Robbie Gordon.
Hello guys, so where ya both from & where ya both at, geographically speaking?
ROBBIE : Geographically speaking I hail from Prestonpans, East Lothian and funnily enough, it’s where a lot of our work is born as well. The story of “549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War” starts in that town, which neighbours with Tranent, the setting for our other play, “McNeill of Tranent: Fastest Man in the World”. As a theatre-maker, I’ve always been motivated to bring to life rural and untold stories to life. Jack comes from Kirkcudbright and I’m sure there’s a treasure trove of stories that come from that town too and that’s what keeps us making work. New tales are the reason we keep going and we’re lucky Scotland has such a great culture for telling them.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
JACK : For me, a good piece of theatre is one that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Theatre should never be boring, it should be visceral and exciting and it should also have an intellectual element that makes you think.
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
ROBBIE : I actually started off as all most all young people in the arts do… by winning the P7 talent show singing Robbie William’s hit single Rock DJ. In all honesty, I came second but I think it was because I took off my vest like Robbie did in the video and it was deemed inappropriate. I had a passion for performing from a young age and pursued the standard youth theatre route until I went to see shows like Ontrorend Goed’s “Teenaged Riot”, Greyscale’s “Tonight… Sandy Grierson Will Lecture Dance And Box” and Grid Iron’s “Decky Does A Bronco”. These performances amongst others really shook things up for me. I started to really challenge and push my tastes and that’s what lead me to study Contemporary Performance Practice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
You’ve been washed up on a desert island with a solar-powered DVD player & three films. Which would they be?
JACK : I’ve always loved Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic. I think the lead performances in that are stunning and the music obviously very evocative. I love Inception. And I rewatched Casablanca recently and it’s the definition of a classic.
As an actor, what are the secrets to a good performance?
ROBBIE : I’m not sure I have any secrets but what I do believe in greatly is authenticity. Just standing up, being yourself and telling the story. Jack often says to me before a show “have fun and tell the story”, this has become somewhat of a mantra for me. It carried forward into performing as the narrator in Douglas Maxwell’s “Charlie Sonata”, Jack was with me, even then… I can’t get rid of him! I think I’d be gutted if I was on stage doing a show and I wasn’t having a good time.
What does Robbie Gordon like to do when he’s not being theatrical?
ROBBIE : I like a quiet pint (mainly Tennents), podcasts and music. I’m a human being of simple tastes. Currently, I’m a bit obsessed with podcasts. I’m a big fan of Radiolab and I’d like to thank Gary McNair for the introduction. It has made me laugh out loud, late for work and cry on public transport and it has often stopped me dead in my tracks, On the music front, right now, it has to be Four Tet, Bonobo and of course… Robbie Williams.
You are a member of Wonder Fools, can you tell us about the company?
JACK : Wonder Fools is made up of me and Robbie Gordon. We started making work together whilst we were still students at RCS. We create contemporary new work based on a diverse range of current and historical real-life stories. During our short history, we have sought unknown and forgotten stories lost in the evolving social landscape of modern Britain that we are able to reshape and make theatre from. From these stories we have taken theatre productions, performance installations and drama workshops to over 2000 people across Scotland. To date we have staged three full productions: McNeill of Tranent: Fastest Man in the World, a one man show performed by retired athlete George McNeill, who in 1972 was the fastest man in the world despite never being allowed to compete in the Olympic or Commonwealth Games; 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War, a verbatim account of the journeys of four miners from East Lothian who travelled among 549 Scots to fight against fascism in Spain; and The Coolidge Effect. Wonder Fools are one of six Graduate Emerging Companies on attachment at the New Diorama Theatre, London.
So Robbie, you have both written & are starring in The Coolidge Effect. What does it feel like to be so immersed in a piece of theatre?
ROBBIE : Jack and I have both been immersed in this piece of theatre for over two years now. It was devised from interviews with porn advocates, addicts, mental health experts and scientists. We spoke to so many incredible people and these conversations still float around in my brain. A part of the process that has always stuck with me was when we interviewed a Californian Digital Love Doctor, Robert Weiss. We found him through a VICE documentary and you can see why he’s such a spokes person for these issues The time he gave us over skype was enlightening in the extreme. He talked to us in depth about the correlation between addiction and trauma in one of the most engaging and simplistic ways possible. He called for a radical re-definition of trauma and asked us to consider how traumatic adolescence is for a young male who is expressly told to “man up” and “not cry”. This lead us to interrogate the toxic expectations young males are faced and how these might be interconnected with addiction in ways that we would never have considered otherwise.
So Jack, you are a rising star in the world of Theatre Direction, but what is it about being a Theatrical Director that makes you tick?
JACK : I’ve always loved telling stories and that’s the thing I like most about directing. Also, in 2017 I think theatre as an art form has become even more special because it’s one of the few places you can go and experience something live with a group of total strangers without a screen or social media distracting you. I think the opportunity for connection between audience and performer in 2017 is vital.
You will be bringing The Coolidge Effect to Edinburgh & Glasgow later this month, can you tell us about the play?
JACK : The Coolidge Effect explores society’s relationship with pornography. Specifically, we look at porn addiction and how porn affects our mental health, sexual experiences and relationships. It’s a complex subject matter but we have tried to tackle it in a fun and engaging way through intertwining narratives, poetry and a little bit of science.
What emotive responses do you expect from your audience?
ROBBIE : It’s really hard to gauge how an audience will think and feel. Above all, I want people to be present in the space with me and I want to tell them the story. A story I heard over the course of two years from all the people who talked with Jack and I. I would like for people to feel how I did when I first heard these words. It’s not a simple issue and it will be met with mixed responses but what I would love is for people to hang around at the end and talk. I think a big step to tackling a stigmatised issue is to start a conversation and I hope this performance begins an active dialogue.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Jack Nurse & Wonder Fools?
JACK : Next up for me and Wonder Fools is a production of Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten. It’s being staged by the Citizens Theatre in association with the company and I’ll be directing. It looks at the refugee crisis through two intertwining monologues and is the first time we will be working as a company with an existing text. We can’t wait.