Delving into the world of parasocial relationships, Eleanor Higgins is writer and performer of her solo show, In PurSUEt. Soon to be at the VAULT Festival, her character journeys through her overzealous affection for Sue Perkins, with a touch of alcoholism on the side.
Eleanor has told us some more about the creation of the piece, so keep reading for this...
Please may you tell us a bit about the show, and how it came about? The show is about an obsessive Sue Perkins fan sent to a therapist to get help with that and her (not so secret) drinking problem. It came about in late 2018. I was doing a Master's degree and part of my dissertation was to write a project that involved research and development. I’d had an idea about celebrity obsession - that I feel is on the increase in modern times - but from a female perspective. And so, the first 20-minute version of In PurSUEt was born, and well received by the audience. People who saw that encouraged me to develop it and take it to Edinburgh Fringe and the rest is history!
Why was Sue Perkins your subject of choice? That’s something I asked myself a lot in the rehearsal and writing process. I wanted to use a figure that felt loveable yet inoffensive. In modern times, we sometimes feel we know much more about celebrities' private lives, what with the huge rise of social media in the last decade. There can be preconceptions attached to certain celebrities. Sue Perkins just felt relatively harmless to us. At one point we were going use Moira Stuart and have the News At Ten as a theme tune throughout! However, we kept coming back to Sue. We just felt she has a down-to-earth personality that holds a special place in the British public's heart.
What made you decide to leave the character unnamed, and what impact do you intend this to have? Sometimes, during a writing process, I feel names can dictate personalities before I’ve decided what that personality will be. So, when I was writing In PurSUEt I wanted to keep her blank. I felt it could be really funny to have this intense infatuation for somebody with absolutely no explanation. I’m really intrigued by theatre and art that evokes a certain level of mystery. I enjoyed the concept that we don’t know this woman’s name, we don’t really know much about her private life (at first). All we know is that she is obsessed with Sue Perkins, and I find that really entertaining. I left her nameless to fuel that intrigue even further.
How have you mixed humour with the darker concept of alcoholism to create the right balance of both? That’s been an ongoing journey, and is actually sometimes dictated on the night by the audience's energy. The show is generally balanced with both, but each audience member connects differently, based on their life experiences. Some respond to really serious bits laughing their heads off. At other times, when it’s something the director and I find hilarious, they find it disturbing or shocking. Because the show is both. I love that about theatre and live art. The special unique relationship between the people on stage and the people observing. It can always change on the night!
What about the show draws audiences in and keeps them invested? I think the premise of the show is what audiences find intriguing. From the offset it can seem like this woman is a little crazy and unhinged, yet deep down I think we can all relate to having celebrity crushes, so I think that universal theme speaks to a lot of people. I think audiences enjoy the spectacle of this particular character taking that crush just a little too far. We keep it realistic though, and hope they become invested by allowing them to root for this character, whilst also not condoning her behaviour. She reflects back the good, the bad and the ugly!
How was the process of developing a show to star in yourself? It’s been an interesting process. I think one of the challenges is that when you write something, and then also star it, people often end up associating you with the central character. Which is understandable as we talk a lot about the show having been drawn from true life experiences, however we explore several different themes within the piece and used many aspects of different lives during development. Another interesting prospect is acting lines you’ve written yourself. You sometimes feel, during the writing process, a certain idea of how they should be delivered. Yet when you get an outside director and perspective on it, it changes the way you see your own material and that can be a really humbling and deeply rewarding experience. It’s a reminder to myself to separate the material from my own perceptions of how it should be.
If you could write a piece for anyone to perform, who would it be for and why? I’d have to say Kristin Scott Thomas. She’s one of my absolute favourite actresses. I find her depth of expression truly mesmerising. I’d love to see where she goes with the material. I’ve seen her in a few London plays over the years and she always manages to make some of the most stylistic dialogue utterly truthful, present and breathtakingly raw. She’s a master of execution. It would be dream come true to work with her.
Big thanks to Eleanor for some fantastic answers here- I am definitely looking forward to seeing the product soon. All the best for the run!
Get tickets to the show here:
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