An Interview with Matthew Gouldesbrough
There is a certain sublime genius to the works of Elegy Theatre, & they are bringing something fresh to the Edinburgh Fringe
Hello Matthew, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from Bedford originally, but I’ve been in South London ever since drama school!
When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
Never. I still deny it to this day!
You’ve trained as an actor at Italia Conti Acting in London, can you tell us about the experience?
Conti was great, it’s a real family atmosphere there, and I was a fantastic safe space to spend 3 years working out who I was and what I stood for. Drama school for me was more about the life experience than anything else; technique is great and gets you so far, but for me acting is just about constantly expanding your capacity for empathy – which only comes with time and the experiences that life provides. Also they really encouraged my writing, and I’m not sure I’d be writing now if I hadn’t had the support that I received there. More and more the industry is shifting to the idea of producing your own work, so I think I was very lucky to train at a place that has it’s finger on the pulse of the industry, so-to-speak.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
A huge lie-in… followed by a nap… followed by regretting my life choices, and then I’ll probably meet up with some friends and play some Warhammer! I’m a massive nerd, and a big tabletop war-gamer – so I try and fit it in around running Elegy when I can. Eat some good food, play some games, spend time with friends.
Can you tell us about ELEGY & your personal role?
So Elegy formed in 2018 whilst I was at Conti, as a platform for small intimate shows, about huge sprawling ideas. We want to champion new writing that tackles those fundamental questions that affect everyone regardless of race, creed or culture. I’m the artistic director, so I generally decide what projects we tackle and what our future plans are likely to be. However we like to work as an ensemble, so when we’ve started working on a project my role is rather organic, and tends to float towards whatever the needs of the project demand of me; it’s different every project. We’re currently floating several ideas for new projects and I’ve got different roles in developing each of them. It’s rather exciting!
You’re bringing a play to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
It’s a deep dive into the world of gory, horrific viral content on the dark web, framed around the lives of three individuals – but really it’s much more than that. At its core it’s a human story, asking big questions about fate, possibility and control. The characters are all wrestling with these ideas: Kate’s trying to break out of her small town, Jon is trying to cope with his daughter’s death, Tim is trying to reconcile his past decisions with his new lifestyle; and we bounce between these narratives and timelines as they gradually reveal a darker picture…
Your first major production, ‘ Faith & Heresy,’ played to sell out houses at several London Fringe venues in 2018 – so why try something new for Edinburgh?
Faith & Heresy was an absolute beast of and show, technically and creatively – it had a huge cast, and just didn’t sit well with the logistics of touring. Taking a show to Edinburgh is a mammoth task and Faith & Heresy is a show that needs a lot of time to set-up, which is hard to do when most places only let you have a 5 minute get-in! We’d love to bring Faith & Heresy to the fringe, it’s the sort of show that audiences would love to see at the fringe, it’s tender, ambitious and visually stunning, but it would have to be somewhere down the line when we can take it to a spacer that would really allow us to give it the time and love to deliver the quality show that Edinburgh audiences deserve. Also creatively who wants to do the same thing forever? We wanted to evolve, explore new ideas and forge our craft onwards! Holy Land is a definite step up for us, and we’re very excited to share it.
Where, when & how did the idea for Holy Land originate?
I started writing the show more than a year ago as I was coming to the close of my time at Drama School. It’s a time in your life where you don’t have a lot of control over your life or decisions and that’s really what sits at the core of the play – How did we get to be here? How little control do we have? How much of it can we take? It went through a lot of iterations, but it wasn’t really sitting right for a long time – until one day I was talking to an old friend from home and she told me she’d found a video of herself online, on a less-than-ideal website… and that just struck me as horrific. Imagine finding a video of a terrible incident you went through posted online for millions to see, and then discuss, joke over, and be able to do nothing about it. It was brimming with all the same ideas I was eager to discuss, and so I started doing some research and digging into these websites. The things on there I’ve seen have honestly shaken me to my core, and no one is really talking about it. So I took it straight back to my writing desk, and in a few months there was a finished draft.
If your writing style was a soup, what would be the key ingredients?
Lyrical dialogue, vast ideas, a fragile hope.
How is the dual-role of writer & actor coming to you, – is it natural or a struggle?
They’re constantly clashing, especially with as we are constantly refining our work; cutting, changing the script. Pat has to remind me to just be an actor sometimes,
You are currently touring Holy Land about the UK – is the production still being tweaked?
Oh definitely! It’s part of our company ethos, we always are tweaking, night to night! You can only really tell if something truly works when it’s infant of an audience. What we’re tweaking changes though, the script is pretty solid right now, but we still like to dabble with the technical elements and try things out… it’s slightly different every night!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
A father’s revenge, a young girl’s dream, a young man’s regret – Holy Land is an odyssey into the Dark Web told through interweaving, explosive monologues and stunning audio visual projection.