With another of Worklight Theatre’s shows heading out on tour, Daniel Perks caught up with writer and performer Joe Sellman-Leava, to discuss Monster’s examination of masculinity:
Joe Sellman-Leava has a work ethic that even the most diligent of theatre makers would find inspiring. His 2017 was packed with three shows – Labels, the work that his company Worklight Theatre are best known for, and two new pieces – Monster and Fix.
Monster is a one-man show that deals with our attitudes towards masculinity and particular our masculine behaviours towards women. It’s serendipitous that this has become one of the most relevant topics of 2017 with all of the recent sexual harassment scandals, as well as a certain President’s first year, that have come to light:
Major news stories happened since Edinburgh – Harvey Weinstein and everything that followed; we’re well within Trump’s first year, so there are ongoing elements too. You can’t help but view the show in a different light – even though its primary focus around male attitudes towards women is anger, there are other exhibited attitudes there as well.
There’s a storyline in the show about the central character’s partner challenging him on why he wants to play this horrible person in a ‘play within the play’
Is this exciting for you, to pretend to be a man like this?
It’s a question on everyone’s minds. Men who are protected, celebrated and produced by the system we are in – how could this come about, how could it go so unchallenged for so long.
I’ve been lucky enough to chart Monster‘s journey from the beginning of 2017 – an in-progress workshop at The Pleasance, London – up to receiving critical acclaim at The Pleasance, Edinburgh, during August. Not only that, but Joe brought back Labels, after its success in 2016, AND wrote and produced another show, Fix. Three different shows in one festival?! He must be mad!
Touring three plays, two of which were new, took it out of me a little bit. It wasn’t that we set out to take multiple shows to Edinburgh in one year, it was that Fix had been in the making for a while and so had Monster. To do it any other way would have meant leaving one of them for another year.
It was a tough Edinburgh – I think it was for a lot of people. I know a lot of shows that had good work and struggled to find audiences, or get the opportunities in terms of touring. With Fix, we already had the tour afterwards booked, so it was nine solid weeks of touring with Edinburgh.
With Monster, there’s a small tour this year. Alongside, I’m always doing a series of workshops with young men, 16-25, partly based on The Great initiative. They go into schools and run workshops on attitudes like consent and masculinity. It would be a missed opportunity not to run this alongside the show, to address some of the issues within the play.
Theatre is live, it’s about discussion
It’s amazing that you have essentially a mini-Edinburgh in London that’s much more accessible cost wise, yet still offers a lot that we want from this type of experience. That’s really valuable for the community. Londoners like things are ephemeral, things that might not be here next week; VAULT Festival manages to embrace that.
Seeing Labels for the first time in 2016, I was captivated by the honesty that Joe exudes in his performance, an innate ability to tell a story so personally and make himself so vulnerable. Is Monster another such autobiographical account?
Somewhat. There’s a line at the beginning of the play:
“Some of this is true. Some it’s not. I’m not going to tell you which is which.”
In that sense, you’re always guessing. In Labels, it’s all true – that was necessary for it to be the best story. There weren’t any events I needed to invent.
Part of this play is about the monster in all of us
With Monster, I’m playing What If? scenarios in my head. It was important for me to remain as myself, but spell out that change – I didn’t want to purely hide behind the character. Part of this play is about the monster in all of us. We all have a dark side and doing the right isn’t always the easiest, so it was important to acknowledge that.
I’m very proud to have covered all these shows, and humbled to know a man as unassuming and gracious as Joe. He is a theatre maker who I’m always excited to hear more from, I often find myself wondering piece of creativity intrigue will come next:
I want to write more this year – I’ve started writing about Oswald Mosley and British fascism, both then and now. While I’ve been researching that, The Darkest Hour film has come out – the urge there was for peace and what peace meant. He [Oswald] was pro-peace, pro-European and anti-war – a socialist! You say that now and people would cheer. Then you add in the other things…
I think he’s a really compelling character – I’d like to finish that and see where it may go.
One thing at a time this year
Monster is one of our top picks for the VAULT Festival 2018. To read what else are our must-sees, click here.