Eleanor Higgins: In PurSUEt
Can one become a fan of a superfan…
I caught a play the other day called In PurSUEt. The subject had intrigued me, a one-woman Fringe piece about celebrity stalking – Sue Perkins of all people, who I’m a fan of myself. I went along out of curiosity, & found myself being regaled by a charming young female actress, Eleanor Higgins, in total command of her chosen arena. Her play in its purest form is a contemporary conversation concerning mental health & addiction – something all of us can identify with somewhere in this fractured & difficult century.
Passion leads to obsession, from which often comes confused delusion. ‘I am fun, I am crazy, I light up a room… I am fine,’ Eleanor tells us, but she is clearly not fine. ‘Sue Perkins will be glad to have somebody like me as a girlfriend, thank you very much,‘ but of course she never will. Then Eleanor’s justifies her actions by comparing herself to Nancy Spungen, who bagged herself a Sex Pistol, before being (probably) killed by him in a New York hotel. Its not gonna end well really, is it?
We also witness Eleanor’s battle with substance misuse & her subsequent coping mechanisms, & thus we have a tender soul bared open to the world, emerging from the fabric of Eleanor’s night-fringed past as a massive monologue & memorial missive to the human maelstrom that flew desperately into her life. She had been brought near to the ultimate breakdown, but came back from the brink to a place where her energy seems calm. I wanted to get to know xxx a little more in person, so with pen & pad in hand I flagged her down after the play to answer a few questions about her personal paean to perkinsaphilia, & her subsequent personal redemption.
Hello Eleanor, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Ha – well there’s an interesting one… We moved all over the country when I was a kid. I was born on the Isle of Wight, which I absolutely love. It’s gorgeous, peaceful and historical, full of dinosaur bones, beautiful beaches and archaeological treats. I am defiantly an island girl at heart. But moved to Suffolk when I was about seven and then up to Lancashire at 13 and then back down south in my late teens. I lived in New York for my early twenties. So I say home is where ever I lay my hat. But – for the last 10 years I’ve been in London, which is where I live currently.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
I’ve always been fascinated by human stories and relationships. Growing up I would watch films over and over, analysing every relationship, learning the lines of the characters and acting the parts out on my own. As a kid I’d force my family to watch me perform some random things I’d just come up with. I remember me and my brother created our own circus double act where we pranced about in leotards copying really dangerous acrobatics off the TV, we thought we were incredible. My first life-changing theatrical moment came when my mother took me to see Phantom of the Opera when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I sat in the audience being utterly transfixed, I couldn’t believe that people could do this as a job. I knew in my heart of hearts: this was what I was meant to be doing for the rest of my life. As soon as I was able to leave school and train in the profession I did. So at 16 I was out! Some might call this a bit of a risk – but my parents could see my commitment, I knew that theatre was where I belonged. It’s in my blood. My great grandmother was an opera singer and trained at the Royal Academy of Music – where I went on to train myself. I grew up on stage and around creators. When I moved to London at 18 to continue my training it really evolved. I was exposed to the wealth of theatre we have in our capital.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Theatre is always so special. It’s live and unpredictable. You have the added dynamic of the audience, and no two audiences are ever the same. The relationship between you and them is always something that fills me creatively. We are human, whether we are having a good day or a bad day – and how we are feeling affects the performance you give and the ways it’s received. Theatre art becomes far more tangible. I’ve found I never give the same performance twice. It’s always developing as the character grows and I find different colours and nuances to improve on each day. And these are all based on my relationship with the audience at each performance. How they are, the energy in room on that particular day, in that particular moment – these things mould and modulate each time: To me, that is the ultimate joy of all theatre. That direct relationship you are able to have.
What is it about being performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
That’s a hard one as I guess as it’s kind of just always been an innate desire. As pretentious as that may sound! I guess performing in front of other people is always where I’ve felt most comfortable. Sometimes even more comfortable than I do in real life. I can be still on stage, where as life can sometimes be chaotic. I feel my most alive when doing a live show. Especially theatre because it’s a communal thing – you share that moment and that always leaves me buzzing. You get to feel and gauge how the story is landing, how the words are being met. The atmosphere in the room, the sound of their responses, the laughter, the shock, the horror, the encouragement, the support. Even down to the smell of the theatre and the dressing rooms. I love it all! As weird as it may sound it almost feels like I’ve never really had a choice, it’s always just been who I am.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Right now, not waking up to the screech of my alarm clock and a backlog of emails would be a dream! I love to wake up slowly, climb onto my bike and cycle to my yoga class, then a leisurely walk with the dog round the Hackney marshes – there’s so much greenery in London if you know where to look! Then it would have to be a Sunday roast at my local followed by an evening bingeing on Game of Thrones. I need to watch each season about three times over until I’m satisfied!
I have just seen your play at the Fringe, can you tell our readers more about it?
Of course! My new show, In PurSUEt, is inspired by a true story: A woman sent to treatment to deal with her drinking, relays her adventures pursuing Sue Perkins. She’s in deep denial over the realities of her own life. You follow her internal monologue as she relays her adventures pursing Sue, all the while finding coping mechanisms to function in a dysfunctional world. A world that’s focused on social media, celebrity image and Brexit! It’s set in a Therapists office so also covers the important topics of mental health and addiction. All told with a dash of humour along the way! Think Fleabag meets Miranda kind of vibe, with some fierce, heartfelt, honesty thrown in for good measure. Ultimately It’s central message is of hope and redemption; that by facing of our demons, we overcome them.
Where, when & why did you get the idea for turning your experiences into a play?
Well! Sue had always been on my radar. We worked in similar industries so I circulated around the fringes of her world. We met at various events and I developed a bit of a crush on her. We had a few funny encounters where I did some fairly ridiculous and embarrassing things. Often due to the free bar. Whenever I told my friends the stories of my shenanigans, they all said I should write it down. It was also becoming increasingly clear that I was drinking too much. So while on one hand I was finding myself in these funny and ridiculous situations I was also getting myself into quite tricky ones. In PurSUEt felt like an opportunity to tell a story using strands from my own life, while also telling a tale of resilience, obviously dramatised with artist license. I also felt I wanted to reflect on things that are personal to me. I wrote a 20 minute scratch performance of it for my MA last year. The response from the audience was so strong. It encouraged me to develop it. I was strongly advised to take it to the Edinburgh fringe, so I wrote some more and here I am.
Have people approached you at all, identifying with the problems you portray?
This has been the most rewarding part of the whole process. When you start to write something down, especially something so personable, you never really know how people are going to relate to the inner workings of your own mind. When nobody had seen it – I sat there in my living room thinking; oh my God, what are people going to think? This is crazy! I am revealing some pretty personal things about myself. I’m going to look like a lunatic! I was not prepared for the response that I have got. People have been coming up after the show saying how they know someone who’s suffered the same issues, they relate to what the character has gone through, they have friends, family and loved ones who’ve all had similar experiences. It’s been overwhelming and so moving. I can’t tell you how touched I have been the last few days with the responses….I’m very grateful. To me this is what creativity is all about. Sparking the conversations about the central issues in life we all face.
What have been the biggest challenges about telling your story in such a dramtic(al) fashion?
Well I delve into some pretty personal aspects of my life, so some of the biggest challenges have been keeping myself safe mentally – while I go to a pretty tough place from my past. Luckily, a lot of the things that happen in the play happened about three years ago and I’ve had a lot of time to process those things. Also, our past is what makes us who we are. I embrace what’s happened, how I was and who I have become. I believe the difficult challenges we face in life can be some of our most growing times. I don’t shut the door on them or regret the past. It’s put me where I am today. And if my story can benefit others, then it would have all been worth it. Gosh this is all getting rather deep isn’t it! Mainly after the show, I make sure I have downtime to recharge and get in touch with things like meditation – that I find really helpful.
You are a few days into your run, how has it all been going so far?
We have done four shows so far and Edinburgh Fringe is living up to everything we had hoped it could be and more. It’s insane! My feet haven’t touched the ground. I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the craziness that is the fringe. But I love it. We’ve had the most incredible reactions from our audiences so far – it’s such a boost. It solidifies how we feel about what we are doing and spurs me on to try and get the word out as much as possible. It’s been a complete whirlwind! We’ve already had one offer of a London transfer and are in discussions with several others about touring the work. All by day four! I t’s been unbelievable and I am so very grateful.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell In PurSUEt to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh?
Sure! A young woman fancies Sue Perkins. Most people would have the good sense to do nothing about this, but not her! She won’t take no for an answer and she wants a date. So she blags her way into anything and everything she can, to try and get near her celebrity crush. All the while she’s stealing her nerves with a few too many glasses of anything alcoholic. As you can imagine – things don’t go too well. The show opens in therapists office, where she has been sent to deal with her alcoholism. But she’s not an alcoholic and she doesn’t need therapy – she needs Sue Perkins! If only Sue could see that too, everything would be ok. Or will it? A dark comedy with real heart. If you don’t shed a tear or have a lump in your throat by the end, then you’d better check your pulse!
Aug 4-10: theSpace on North Bridge (12:20)
Aug 12-17: theSpace @ Niddry St (12:10)