This summer we are very lucky to see some of life return to normal and one of the things that is coming back with a bang this year is Camden Fringe! We have spoke to a number of acts that you can go and see on the actual stage, so if you have missed comedy and theatre then this is a great time for you! If you are planning on going to the festival though please pre-book your tickets to avoid disappointment. Today we are talking to Steph of Steph Hartland Productions about the show – Existential Fish and Dread
Date: 12th, 13th, 14th & 15th August 2021
Location: The Cockpit Theatre
Hello! Tell us about yourself and the show Existential Fish and Dread that you are bringing to Camden fringe?
Hi! I’m Steph, of Steph Hartland Productions, the producer of Existential Fish and Dread. I launched my company in 2019 with Ex Fish — it’s the first show I ever produced on my own, so it’s very exciting that it’s now taking on the Camden Fringe. Fish is a comedy drama that tackles the Universe’s biggest questions, guiding audiences through the journey of two strangers making an unlikely human connection as they support each other through existential crisis. Taking a piece that champions regional voices to regional audiences, this play explores gender and class stereotypes, and leaves lasting messages about mental health, loneliness, stereotypes and human connection.
How did you come up with the name of your show that you’re taking to the Camden fringe?
Once upon a time, our writer was sat on the banks of a river with a friend of hers. He was talking about the universe and whether it means anything. Martha — who had stopped listening — was looking at the river and wondering if there were any fish in there. When he asked what she thought, Martha had to confess that she’d drifted off across the galaxy and started wondering about the fish in the river instead. Her friend laughed and said ‘well there we have it, existential fish and dread’ — a slip of the tongue that became the title of our show; perfectly encapsulating a play set in an aquarium that’s all about who we are, why we’re here and what it all means.
Tell us a little bit about your style of show?
Ex Fish is a two-hander, with no breaks, effectively one long scene. It’s honestly just a conversation between two normal human beings about worries and anxieties that everyone can relate to, as they’ve probably had the same thoughts and feelings. It’s funny and heart-warming, bringing a lightness to these thoughts.
What will your set be about?
Our set is very simple, and if anything simply acts to support and reinforce the messages of the script. The actors spend the show orbiting a bench in the centre of the stage, like electrons around an atom, going around and around as they search for the answer. We’ve got some beautiful wire fish designed by the wonderful Susan Bain, and the action takes place against a projected watery backdrop. We want it to be an immersive experience for the audience, taking them into the quiet, pensive space of the aquarium.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at the fringe?
There are so many incredible artists appearing at Camden Fringe, and with the pared down Edinburgh Festival happening this year, and after 18 months of darkness in theatre, there are so many shows we’d love to see. The shows we’re most looking forward to include Sarah Roberts and Jess Durand: Do You Know Who I Am?, SixteenSixty’s In Bad Taste, Giggle Riots Juliet and Romeo, Henry: Queen of Squats and Joe Thomas: Trying Not To Panic.
Have you done the fringe before? What have been some of your favourite shows to date and why?
We have sadly not participated in the fringe before, but have all spent many evenings watching shows that have featured. My personal favourite show I’ve seen at the Fringe was Scatterjam’s When It Happens — it was a revelation, and genuinely one of the best shows I’ve seen on or off the fringe.
How has the last year in lockdown been for you?
In a word, trying. I think anyone who works in the entertainment industry, especially in theatre, has had their heart broken multiple times during lockdown, not least because of COVID, but also the politics surrounding the pandemic. Picking apart the work I did to prepare for 2020, specifically on a tour for Ex Fish, and desperately attempting to put it back together amidst the panic of every other producer was the most challenging task of my career thus far, but I have learnt an awful lot, and am so relieved to see the Camden Fringe bringing fringe theatre back in full force.
Have you managed to do many online shows?
Our director, producer and writer have been lucky enough to work on a few online shows over the course of the lockdowns, but we haven’t taken Ex Fish online. Ex Fish is fairly specific to a theatrical space, because of the intimacy of the script, so we made the choice to keep the show offline.
And now you are returning to the stage!!! How exciting! What are you looking forward to the most?
Watching the mic drop moments of the script land on the audience. The best part of theatre, in my opinion, is the collective experience of seeing and understanding a narrative, and the characters within it, and there are so many moments of connection between the cast and audience in Fish, so I’m really excited to watch that unfold.
What advice would you give to others who want to perform at Camden Fringe next year?
Start marketing as early as possible, don’t rush into choosing a venue and take the time to actually enjoy yourself. It feels so wonderful and exciting to be amongst so many incredible shows, so I’d definitely recommend taking a second to appreciate and enjoy that.
What is the best thing about performing at the Camden fringe?
Being amongst friends — the London fringe theatre scene is a very small world, which means we know several of the companies and artists performing. It’s also a very supportive environment, for the most part, which feels great.
What are your three favourite things about Camden?
- The food market in Camden Town
- The massive amount of variety in the cultural offerings
- The completely unpredictable eccentricities
Favourite one liner you have done in a show and why?
If we’re taking Fish, a definite favourite (particularly of our director Gwenan) is “Oh dear, oppressive existentialism something that bothers you often, is it?” Because it’s such a completely out of this world concept, but for most people the answer is yes, and Ellie delivers it with such hilarity and bluntness that it makes me chuckle every time.
In terms of any production, there’s a line in another of the shows I’m producing, Petticoat Council, that gives me goosebumps every time, and that is “And where do revolutions begin? Like everything, they begin with a mother…”
Who would be your ultimate dream audience member?
Stephen Hawking! I think he’d find the way we deal with his theories and the concepts behind them quite amusing. I’d also love Samuel Beckett, because Martha’s writing is so incredible, I’d love him to see it, love it and rave about her as she deserves.
The iconic image of the Camden Fringe is the Pigeon – if you could call this years pigeon a name to represent its style what would it be and why?
Klaus. I don’t know why, but they look like a Klaus. Like someone so laid back they’re practically horizontal, with loads of really cool and casual anecdotes and stories.
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
We have accounts specifically for this show on Twitter (@exfishanddread) and Instagram (@existentialfishanddread), as well as for the production company on Instagram (@stephhartlandproductions) and Facebook (Steph Hartland Productions).
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
3 describing words: Funny, universal and heartwarming.
3 words why: You’ll feel connected.