At The Badger we sat down with multi-talented comic, three-time Chortle Award winner and Edinburgh Fringe favourite Joseph Morpurgo to discuss his show Hammerhead. Following a three-week sell-out run at London’s Soho Theatre, Hammerhead has embarked on a nationwide tour which will come to Hove’s The Old Market as a part of the jam-packed Brighton Fringe programme.
Hammerhead takes the form of a post-show Q&A following a fictitious nine-hour, one-man production of Frankenstein spanning 12 languages, 85 different characters and a performer with an outrageous ego. Morpurgo emerges onstage, all pomp and pretension, to embark on a ludicrous spiralling of audience immersion, musical theatre, multi-media tomfoolery and riotous comedy.
Here’s what Morpurgo had to say when he sat down with Theatre Editor Georgia Grace.
GG: It’s such a unique concept to have the performance in the style of a post-show Q&A. How did you get the idea and what convinced you that it was the way to go?
JM: I always liked the idea of building an elaborate stage show that you never actually saw. There’s something so interesting about crafting this richly detailed show that the audience only ever saw from the periphery – and for what I wanted to do, it just made sense.
GG: What about the significance of Frankenstein? What made you feel that it was the right stage show to juxtapose your performance against?
JM: Well the show is an adaption of Frankenstein in and of itself. It’s about a young, overambitious creative who produces a hybrid mess that comes back and destroys him. For me personally, I read the book when I was really young – maybe nine or ten. I was so scared I used to hide it under my bed; it was a real source of fear for me growing up. I think with books though – especially the classics – you tend to read them at different points in your life and they change with each reading. So I read it again as a teenager, again as an adult, and lots of course in the build up to the show. I think it’s interesting as well how Frankenstein is very different to how we think it is through popular media.
GG: It’s interesting you mention that because the same I think can be said for Jekyll & Hyde which our musical theatre society at Sussex recently put on. They’re quite similar in style and in the ideas they explore as well, I think.
JM: Yes, I can assure anyone who liked Sussex’s Jekyll & Hyde that they’ll find something to enjoy in Hammerhead! (laughs) There is a musical element to the show as well – although I don’t want to give too much away.
GG: There certainly seem to be a lot of elements coming together in the performance. You just mentioned music, but it’s also comedy, it’s got that grand one-man show vibe and it makes use of audience participation. Would you say any of those elements are more central than the others?
JM: I’m first and foremost a comic. My solo shows have always been comedy shows. Under than umbrella of comedy though, I like to play around with different genres and formats. While some of the themes are quite ghoulish and grizzly, Hammerhead is ultimately a fast-paced, funny, silly, surprising show.
GG: And central to the comedy of course is the fact that at its core this is a piece of satire. One of the major things you’re satirising is the performer’s vanity or hubris. Is this something you’ve had experience with in yourself or the people around you?
JM: Anyone who can produce something and go up on stage with it must have some component of self-importance – I’m as guilty as the next person. There is a long and rich history of parodying pompous actors, but what attracted me was the fun of the Q&A set up. I really want to subvert that dynamic: the pretentious questions you get, the performer going completely off topic in a very self-absorbed way…
GG: Would you say you’re satirising the audience as much as the performer then?
JM: Yes, definitely. It is a very immersive piece; the audience gets very involved. It’s very fun though – it’s not audience participation in a nerve-wracking way. It’s all very daft and the audience often comes of it feeling like they’ve really bonded.
GG: Another aspect your satirising is the chaotic funding process that’s allegedly taken place to bring Frankenstein to the stage. Is there an important point you’d like to make about the financial or societal state of theatre at the moment?
JM: Nah. (laughs) It’s just a fun trope. Right now in theatre, that is just the necessary route taken to get stuff made. In comedy, the process is so different – you don’t need to really worry so much about funding – so it’s not a world I’m familiar with.
GG: Lastly, obviously here at The Badger we’re coming from a student perspective. Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for students reading who may be interested in getting into comedy?
JM: I got started in comedy when I was at uni, and a lot of my friends came from a Sussex Uni background in particular. It’s an amazing time and you really should throw yourself into it. I got started aged 18 or 19 by going to an improv group and everything sprung from there. I’m amazed looking back at how I had the balls to put myself forward like that. If you are interested in comedy: do get stuck into the open mic scene; find improv groups; if you want to write something, you will find people who want to get involved. Plus you probably have more energy than I do! (laughs) Use it or lose it!
You can check out Joseph Morpurgo’s performance, Hammerhead, at The Old Market from Wednesday 30 May until Saturday 2 June.
Tickets: £12 standard / £10 concessions (including students)
Image Credit: Paul Blakemore