A couple of days after I got back from my 2017 Edinburgh Fringe adventure – in fact, the very day that my lengthy reviews and recommendations post went live – I got an email from a colleague at the day job.
It seems that I’m not the only one with dual identities, as she’s the artistic director of a theatre company that this year has brought five female-fronted solo shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.
In my defence, we’re a really big business?!
Anyway. You may have seen To The Moon’s shows appear as delayed-publication additions on my recommendations list because they all sound brilliant – but the reason I’ll be returning to the Fringe on the very last day, after tearfully seeing off my little sister at the airport, is to catch Bristol standup Ellen Waddell’s second Edinburgh show, the delightfully titled It’s Better to Lie Than to Tell the Truth and End Up Alone in a Ditch Crying.
Ellen spent most of her 20s playing bass in the indie-pop band Los Campesinos!, of which she was a founding member. In late 2012, she announced that she was leaving to “try something new” – a “something” which has, to date, consisted writing short stories and directing short films, starting and hosting nerd culture podcast Geek A&E and taking her first autobiographical one-woman show, Jean-Luc Picard and Me, to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015.
Ellen is a member of the BAFTA x Crew, a BAFTA and BFI hand-picked list for up and coming filmmakers in the UK, and her first feature film, which is based on her own short story The Photographic Memory Recalls the Highlights of the Year, is currently in development. This year’s Fringe show It’s Better To Lie… is based on a very tumultuous year in the life and deals with the necessity of lying in life, love, friendship and when applying for administrative jobs at truck logistics companies.
Basically, I want Ellen to be my best friend and if you don’t feel the same by the time you’ve read our recent interview then I don’t know what to say to you.
LAST YEAR’S GIRL: So, from what I can tell you’re a performer, director, musician, podcaster, filmmaker, semi-professional liar – is there anything you DON’T do? And should I believe you?
ELLEN WADDELL: I can’t whistle – which is something I like to demonstrate to people immediately upon telling them of this fact with a sad raspberry like noise because sometimes people don’t believe me/become incensed with rage. HOW CAN YOU NOT WHISTLE? I think I have a weird tongue. I think I am pretty much incompetent at anything that qualifies as practical or non-creative, like understanding how mortgages work and cooking. I am a terrible cook. I hate it, and my worst nightmare is cooking dinner for someone I want to impress or who has tastebuds. I can definitely prove this is true to you by inviting you around for some really sad food.
LYG: Give me the 20 second elevator pitch for the show.
EW: Its a riches to rags tale of how I went from being a 27-year rock star, to being a 27-year-old admin worker who had to move in with her mum, and how lying got me there. Also, it features time travel and kinder eggs.
Tell me about how this show came to be – and how it ended up in Edinburgh.
I was asked to perform 20 minutes on the theme of honesty at this arts charity event in Bristol, and so I started writing a segment of the show (actually the end of the show). Unfortunately, the night was held in a busy cafe/bar so no one could hear anything i was saying, and i was like “I must be heard!” So I found a few scratch theatre nights to perform the show at, and the response was really good, and so I kept building it and building it until it was a fully formed weird piece of work. And I thought Ed Fringe here we come! I also met To The Moon who are a production company who wanted to take it to the Fringe, and that gave me the kick up the bum/confidence I needed.
Both It’s Better To Lie and your previous Fringe outing, Jean-Luc Picard and Me, have been not just autobiographical, but focused on quite tumultuous periods of your life. What made you think: I should make this funny? And is there anything you wouldn’t write about?
My favourite kind of comedy or performance has always been confessional, where you glean insights into the performers states of mind or experiences, and it reflects back on you and how you have felt. It connects you to them, in that room, for an hour. Like a cheaper/weirder form of therapy. I wanted to perform the same kind of stuff, to take my personal experiences and try and turn them into something hopefully relatable, and also I find it difficult to share in real life, so weirdly it’s more comfortable for me to do it on stage. And I think situations where you have embarrassed yourself, or been a bit of an idiot, are something we should definitely talk about more because no one is perfect but we have to spend a lot of time in day to day life pretending to be.
I wouldn’t talk about a fair few things. Like politics for example, because I am too ill informed and not articulate enough. And maybe not something as specific as Star Trek again, because I upset some hard core fans with that show and my apparently inaccurate description of The Borg, and that was quite stressful!
It seems to me that performing solo standup couldn’t be more different from performing as part of a band, other than the fact you’re on stage. How big of an adjustment has it been? Is there anything you wish you had known before your first performance?
Huge terrifying adjustment. I use to just stand at the back sort of looking moody and weird, sort of humping my bass. But also I don’t feel the pressure now of letting other people down if I make a mistake, I only let myself down if I fuck up or have a bad show, and I much prefer that! I think I am still learning as a performer, how to perform and also how to relax on stage. I am working on being more ‘present’ rather than floating out of my own body and being like ‘is that person at the back yawning, oh god, is it because I suck.’ But the Fringe is great for that – you have different audiences, with different expectations and experiences for the show who laugh in different places, so it’s a good place to improve. The first time I performed I wish I had known to bring water on stage, and to take your time and slow down – the audience will trust you if you own your space. I am still learning that though!
You’re a long way from home to perform a one-hour show. What has a day in the life of Ellen in Edinburgh been like?
I am sharing a room with a mega babe called Fiona, who is brilliant – she is a very supportive and generous performer who keeps me sane on the rubbish days. I normally wake up and have a chat with her. I am in a house with a bunch of female solo performers, and some of us have breakfast together, talk about our plans and check in on each other. I am very grateful to have had them here for the fringe because it’s like a lovely support network. I then tend to flyer for a couple of hours on Potterrow, and flyering can be a bit tedious/tough sometimes but no one is outrightly rude, if they are not interested they do tend to say ‘no thanks.’ But then every day, about 3:30pm this silent disco dancing tour comes gyrating through Potterrow – on the first day I was like ‘all these dancing people, this is amazing.’ But now, a little more old and cynical, I am like ‘OH MY GOD STOP DANCING AT ME.’
Before my show I sometimes catch another show, for a little inspiration, a bit of food, not too much because I tend to feel sick before a gig, and I flyer outside my venue. It’s a bit of a way out, and foot traffic is minimal but I have to got to know the bar staff and locals in the pub who have been recommending my show to people, and they are brilliant and friendly. Then show! And then wine! And then after wine, I sometimes just want to go home due to tiredness and watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I am pretty sensible, to be honest. I have had one late night so far, and the next day I felt terrible so I have fulfilled my quota for being fun.
Have you managed to catch any shows that you would like to recommend?
I saw Trigger Warning by Zoe Coombs Marr, which is about a sexist male comedian finding their inner clown, who is a female stand up, and it was the most amazing and beautiful and touching and funny thing I have ever seen. I knew nothing about it, and it blew my socks right off. Also the other women in the house with me all have excellent shows. There is character comedian Fiona Sagar with Sagar Megadrive, Alice Devlin with Extra Curricular, Arna Spek with Museum Piece, and Lisa Maria Berg with The Love of Stationary.
You’ve got a few shows left here – then what’s your next project? And is there anything else you would like to plug?
A short film of mine has just been made called The Birthday Party, which should be coming to a short film festival near you soon! I also run a comedy fan fiction night in Bristol called Dear Harry/Spock, where comedians write tongue in cheek fan fiction which is very funny. It’s like my nerdy 13-year-old selfs dream. I am going to start working on my next show pretty soon, as I have an idea I really like for it, and I have a feature script I am finishing off, and then I am making the big move from Bristol to London in October, which is a bit terrifying to me.
And finally: what’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?
Ha. So many! Probably pretending not to love someone who I did love, who was not interested in me. Not the worst lie as it makes things less awkward, but it was very painful to pretend. Also I once pulled an emergency cord in a hospital bathroom by mistake, and pretended I didn’t.
It’s Better to Lie Than to Tell the Truth and End Up Alone in a Ditch Crying is on at Laughing Horse @ The Cellar Monkey, Argyle Place, at 7.30pm every night until Sunday, 27th August.