Charlotte Josephine is back and taking their new play, Pops to Edinburgh. Emma Bentley sits down with them to chat about being stupidly busy and that when it comes to our mental health, we’re never alone.
2019 will be the first year that Charlotte Josephine goes to the fringe without performing in their own work. This year their new play, Pops, will show at Assembly Roxy Downstairs, which is coincidently the venue that held their first ever play, Perffection in 2011. After that was landmark play Bitch Boxer, about a boxer training to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, dancing around her family and relationships. Blush, which they also performed in, then explored stories of sexual abuse. Now there is Pops, the story of a dad and daughter facing their addictions, together.
Pops has been a unique project for Josephine in many ways. Firstly, being solely responsible for the writing, hasn’t always been easy: “I’m quite an active person, I’m dyslexic so I really feel things in my body, I’m not like really logical in like a cerebral thinking way, so if the actors ask me a question I can’t help but move my body when I’m answering it. And I don’t know how useful that is. It’s just been new learning to be a writer in the rehearsal room, it’s all just new, it feels like a brand-new job basically.”
Then there’s the fact that this wasn’t exactly a play that they set out to write. In fact, they tell me how they were “dreaming about this dad and this daughter, and they were like pestering me.” After clearing a day in their diary, they finally sat down to get it all out. “It really has written itself, like I didn’t want to make this piece of work, cos I was supposed to be doing other things.” Josephine is currently part of the Old Vic 12 and has had other commissions to work on. “I haven’t had time for this project, and I haven’t really even had the desire to make it. But it’s wanted to get made and it’s somehow pushed through and I’ve like fallen in love with it along the way.”
We talk about how grateful they are that “theatre is a collaborative art form. Cos ultimately a room full of people’s smart brains are better than me on my own.” Those smart brains comprise of Ali Pidsley of Barrel Organ who’s been a supporter of the show ever since he was sent “the biggest weird pile of like weird jigsaw puzzle pieces.” Then there are the actors Sophie Melville (Wolfie, Theatre 503) and Nigel Barrett (The Mysteries, Royal Exchange). “We’ve got this amazing team,” Josephine beams over the phone, “they’ve made it into something quite beautiful, like it’s quite a weird play, it’s quite abstract but it’s something beautiful out of the mess.”
As with all of Josephine’s work, I knew there would be an interesting and probably personal jumping off point for the play: “Well I had an argument, well not really”, they correct themselves, “no yeah, I had an argument with my Dad in real life. And I left the house in a bit of a huff and it was like really stormy weather – a bit like today, and I was walking and doing a bit of a movement version in my head of the argument. And then I kept having this image in my head, of a son and daughter doing like a dance of all the things that were not said.”
They go on: “so I was really interested in that idea of when we don’t say something, it doesn’t like just disappear, it like sits in your body, like if you have an urge to say something and you don’t say it, where does it go? Like where does that energy go? And I feel like in families there’s quite a lot of that. And so I was thinking of a physicalisation of all of that, love and pain and shame, like all of the squirmy dirty gross bits that we don’t mention.”
It’s familiar for any fan of Josephine’s work to recognise these feelings oozing from the writing, but in Pops, they will appear structurally very differently from Bitch Boxer and Blush. This is part of the reason why they are such an interesting artist to talk to. Even after just thirty minutes on the phone I feel like my mind has been opened to how I’ll approach making my own work. They predict that, “theatres are getting braver at accepting scripts that look like a scrap book of ideas rather than something neat. I think script submissions soon are gonna be more like videos.” I really hope you’re right, I tell them. “You should just do it!” They reply.
Not only is Josephine ground-breaking in the way they approach the creation of the work, but in the way they passionately portray these messy, sweaty, uncomfortable stories and all while still maintaining a very human sense of humour along the way. I ask them why the marketing of Pops doesn’t pinpoint exactly what kind of addiction either the daughter or Dad is facing. They tell me: “it’s an attempt to allow as many people as possible to connect to the work. I like to leave space for people to fill in the gaps – you’re allowed to have your own individual reaction to the work. Like, you might be laughing and the person sat next you might be crying.”
I suspect this is partly because there is a deeper, caring thoughtfulness about the play, to allow its audience to take stock, if needed. Josephine understands it. They get it. “Mental illness makes you behave in ugly ways, but addicts are not bad people. Truth is – there’s always help if you need it. If you’re struggling with addiction or worrying about someone who is, there’s people who can help. We don’t have to do it alone; we were never meant to.”
Pops is playing Edinburgh from the 31 July to the 25 August (not 12) at 18:35. For more information or to book tickets, visit the venue’s website,
Assembly Roxy (Downstairs)