From the pioneering production company, Ramps on the Moon, a new comedy is briefly touring before taking residence at the Theatre Royal Stratford East next month. Village Idiot is a cultural awakening for the community that is facing the building of a new high-speed railway... unless your focus is elsewhere, like romance or family affairs. Trying to put their differences aside is said to prove a hilarious challenge.
Playing Harry in the show, Maximilian Fairley discusses how the piece comes together, and what we can expect from it.
What is Village Idiot all about, and what is your role?
Village Idiot is about two families (The Honeybones and The Mahoneys) whose lives have been upended thanks to HS2's compulsory purchase orders. The head of the Mahoneys, Kevin, is using the money to start a new life in Thailand with his Thai bride and taking his daughter Debbie along with him. Barbara (Head of The Honeybones) however, is adamant that she will not leave. Even though her grandson Peter, who is now employed by HS2, is trying everything he can to persuade her while simultaneously reconnecting with his childhood friend, Liam, who is Kevin's son. In the background, the final ever Syresham Village Fair goes on.
My character is Harry, Barbara's other grandson and Peter's younger brother. Peter intends for Harry to move in with him in Milton Keynes when the purchase is complete. Harry is conducting a secret romance with Debbie Mahoney and the two are trying to figure out how the impending move to Thailand and Milton Keynes is going to affect their relationship. He is also busy hosting the Village Fair and presenting the awards show.
Which elements of the piece made you want to be involved with the show?
I have always enjoyed comedy and when first reading the script it was clear that it was very, very funny. But along with that, there's a genuine heart in the story too. The characters all felt very real and despite the outrageousness that is present throughout the play, it only contributes to a story which is genuinely affecting many people and places in the process of HS2's construction. The way Samson has managed to do this without the messaging being too aggressive is truly a testament to his writing.
How does it feel to be part of the first new original play staged by Ramps on the Moon?
It's my first professional job since graduating drama school so I feel very lucky that I've been selected to be part of the wild ride! New writing is always exciting but the aims of Ramps on the Moon to normalise D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse creatives on stage is incredibly important and I hope that this play proves and demonstrates how actors who fit under these umbrellas are just as capable on stage as any other creative.
Why does it appeal to you to be involved with a production that champions accessibility in the arts, and what impact does having inclusive support such as captioning in place for every performance have?
I guess I partially answered this in the previous question. Being an actor with High-Functioning Autism as well as partially deaf often left me worried that I would always be put into a box in this industry in order to help with diversity checklists. However, Harry is so much more than just his Autism and the way he is written fleshes out those other aspects of him which are sometimes neglected when I see characters that are supposed to reflect people like me on stage and screen. I hope productions like Village Idiot can help open up much more opportunities for other disabled and neurodiverse actors and allow them to play roles that aren't solely defined by their disability and neurodiversity.
In regard to the ways in which accessible features have been incorporated into the show, I believe this show proves that it really doesn't have to take away from the purity of what's happening onstage. Most people use subtitles nowadays when watching TV shows and film; having captions for theatre isn't much different and only opens it up to more audience members.
As a comedy about family feuds, how does the show use humour that is said to be 'outrageous' and potentially offensive?
I think the writing is genuinely reflective of the ways in which people in rural communities speak. Yes, there's lots of swearing and the language isn't necessarily politically correct and I can see how some audiences may struggle with it. However, I think it adds to the authenticity of the characters and it's always used in context. One line in particular summarises it brilliantly "Townies might not call you the wrong words but that's because they won't talk to you". The people in the play aren't bothered about race, disability, gender, neurodiversity or sexuality. They care about the core of who the person is and whether or not that individual is willing to muck in. I think the language really serves the arc of the story and the individual characters’ journeys incredibly well. I also believe that comedy is a wonderful unifier and seeing that take place in the audience when performing has been really special to be part of.
How does it touch on a range of themes through the plot, and what is the overall message?
Though the primary driver of action is the impending construction of the HS2, it mainly takes more of a backseat in the dialogue in the play. Instead, we see the personal effects on these people and their family and romantic connections. All of these themes are addressed through the individual scenes and even the bizarre village fair moments that take place in between the action. In regard to what the overall message is, I believe it's about the differences between City mentality and Country mentality and how cities can often forget the impact that their decisions have on real people.
If you could change one thing about the theatre industry, what would it be and why?
I would like the theatre to be a bigger force of unity. The country is very divided right now and I think the arts is a brilliant place to bring people together from various different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences.
Many thanks to Maximilian for his insightful answers about the show, and I look forward to seeing it soon!
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Additional thanks to Tom Kershaw-Green and James Lever for coordinating this interview.
NB: Although many people in the autistic community are now straying away from functioning labels, this is the way Maximilian has chosen to describe himself, and therefore this must be respected.