Spotlight on: Idiot Child

Emerging South-West company Idiot Child has been making a name for itself over the past couple of years with a playful mix of movement, emotion and storytelling. With the support of Bristol Old Vic and accolades from the likes of Lyn Gardner behind them, it’s no cliché to say there’s nothing idiotic about co-producer and Susie Riddell and Jimmy Whiteaker, writer and performer of I could’ve been better, a show about swimming competitions and turning 30. Currently at the Pleasance Islington until Sunday, they tell AYT’s Laura Turner more about the show, working with friends and some unique dentistry dreams.

Who are Idiot Child?

Riddell: Idiot Child was born out of friendship. Jimmy had written a play, Nostalgia, which was being produced by Theatre West in Bristol and which Anna [Harpin] was directing. I was already friends with Jimmy and auditioned for the play and got the part. So the three of us worked together on that and had a great time and found that our senses of humour and attitudes to theatre were very similar. So we decided to form a company to enable us to work together more. Ruth [Richardson] came on board at the start of 2012 to help with our application to the Arts Council and to be a co-producer.

You each have different specialisms that you bring to the core team – do you stick to these strictly?

Riddell: Our roles have been quite defined for this show as doing a tour has increased the work load for all of us. We will mix about a bit for our next show but this process has helped define what each of us like doing and how we work together in fulfilling those roles. But we all do lots of other things as well as Idiot Child! Anna is a lecturer in drama at Exeter University and is about to publish her first book; Ruth is a participatory arts manager working across all art forms (not just theatre); Jimmy is a successful performer and writer outside of Idiot Child. I am a jobbing actress and have just finished working as a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company. So really it is quite amazing that we have all managed to juggle our other commitments with running a theatre company and to complicate matters further, we all live in different cities – Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham and London!

Things obviously mesh well though; you agreed on a striking name for the company. Where did “Idiot Child” come from?

Whiteaker: Idiot child is a term that was hurled at me a few times as a kid. It’s a term that’s funny and slightly harsh, which reflects our work: childlike and a bit bleak!

So is I could’ve been better typical of your work? What can audiences expect?

Whiteaker: A good story told in an interesting way. They can expect it to be theirs alone; a show that’ll never be repeated for any other audience. We make a point of celebrating the audience, using quite a bit of (very low risk) audience participation. They can expect to laugh and be moved and be taken on an unusual journey.

The production developed from a scratch performance as part of Bristol Old Vic Ferment in 2011.

Whiteaker: We put it together for that scratch in under a week and the Old Vic generously asked us to develop it for a three night run the next year. After that they gave us a bit of money for us to finish the show for a two week run in their studio this Autumn season. In many ways the show is the same show as the original scratch: primary images we had remain. First instincts (after going in different directions) have proved correct in many instances.

It sounds like the Old Vic has really nurtured you – and now you have support from the Arts Council too. How does it feel?

Riddell: Fantastic! The Ferment team at the Bristol Old Vic have been so helpful and encouraging as the piece has developed and a 12 performance run in the Bristol Old Vic Studio gave us the opportunity to test the piece and our ideas about theatre over a fortnight, with a constantly changing audience – some who knew us and most who didn’t. People want to come back and want to share their experience with us. That is absolutely invaluable.

What does the future hold?

Riddell: We’re aiming to tour I could’ve been better to a wider audience next year and to develop and tour You’re not doing it right, taking both shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and other arts festivals. But mostly, keep playing. Enjoying it. Wanting to do it, rather than slogging away at it. It should be a pleasure as much as hard work.

And in your wildest dreams?

Susie: To be one of the Arts Council’s portfolio organisations – to receive funding enabling Idiot Child to continue developing new work and to be able to work in different areas (such as education). In the current economic climate with so many organisations clamouring for funding, this would be amazing and quite an achievement. Fingers crossed…

Whiteaker: I’d like to reduce the size of my teeth as I look like a horse and there’s always some sort of joke about them in every show.

I could’ve been better plays at Pleasance Islington until 18 November. Find out more about the company at www.idiotchild.com or book tickets for the show at http://www.pleasance.co.uk/islington/events/i-couldve-been-better.

Image credit: Matt Collins, Crush Images. Lighting Design by Aaron J Dootson.