Preview: Anything But
Abi Tedder talks to Tom Powell about minotaurs, auditions, and her upcoming return to the ADC stage
by Tom Powell
Friday 11th May 2012, 13:44 BST
Since graduating last year, former Footlights President Abi Tedder has been so busy she’s barely had time to draw breath. She’s been trying to break into the professional acting world, performing in the NLC’s Othello, is one of the directors of the Footlights’ International Tour Show, planning a London Smoker, and is currently previewing the entirely rewritten Anything But before it hits the Fringe. Pheeew.
Anything But (a one woman play) started its life in Cambridge, winning last year’s Harry Porter Prize, and received widespread acclaim for Abi’s role as Agnes, a good-natured, mildly batty character at her father’s funeral. As I speak to Abi over the phone, she’s at pains to make clear that “since then the whole show has been completely rewritten and restructured – Mark Fiddman and Lucien Young have been going all out to make the show not just a good ADC show, but one can stand up on the professional circuit, and I think they’ve done that.” It wasn’t an easy or straightforward process “some jokes which I loved to pieces have gone”, but it’s all ostensibly for the greater good.
Agnes was written with Abi in mind, and now she’s worked on the character for over a year, Agnes occupies a berth close to her heart. There are “so many bits of her that are basically me. Mark and me are very good friends and a couple of the things she’s said haven been taken verbatim. She’s got the same irrational, bumbling way I have sometimes.”
It’s a relief and a pleasure to have a part like this: one that’s atypical in modern drama. “When you’re a bigger girl, there are often only certain parts you get to play – the kind of part that is defined by how they look, whether they’re repulsive or large, or the unattractive friend. But Agnes isn’t like that. She’s a whole character. She’s sweet, she’s funny, she’s neither an idiot nor someone defined by their appearance.”
Perhaps regrettably, appearance is behind the most significant difference in the world of theatre between Cambridge and the proper stuff. In Cambridge, everyone who auditions is in a similar age bracket, but in the professional world, “if a part calls for a 55 year old Spanish man then they find a 55 year old Spanish man (or a 55 year old man with a talent for accents) and then audition them. I will never, alas, get the chance to play a 55 year old Spanish man.”
The differences manifest themselves in other ways too, “I’ve had to get used to auditioning in front of a camera. You become disgustingly aware of your face – and I have to remember to moisturise and reinforce my thick skin. I had an audition a few months ago for a part called ‘Weird Villager’ – when I saw the thing on TV the part I auditioned for was actually played by a little old man - you have to not think too much about these things. Hmmm... I can imagine them weighing up the decision: Abi Tedder, or the little old man, the little old man or Abi Tedder.”
Her advice to aspiring writers or comedians, and the source from which she draws her own success is “doing as much as possible. You’ll never get the opportunity you have to perform here. In my first year I didn’t get into anything. So I thought, ‘oh crap, I’ll do stand-up’ – it’s the only thing you can do without anyone else seeing it beforehand. I did everything you could do, about 40 gigs that year. A lot of people expect to get in, miss out, and then hate on the casters – they just need to practice. To audition until they’re blue in the face.”
There are rare occasions when a more lurid colour leaks out on to the stage. Abi recalls in excruciating detail a moment during the Footlights 2008 Pantomime (Theseus and the Minotaur), “I was the Minotaur - I always play half-man half-beast. My minotaur head was made of chicken wire and papier mache. The chicken wire wasn’t covered – it went chicken wire/Abi’s head. I was in charge of the audience song. I remember heading down in to the audience to try and get the audience to sing along, and I’m wandering along the front row and nobody wants to sing, they’re just looking at me. I point to one child, then the next. I reach the end of the row and I point the microphone towards a child sitting on his dad’s knee... ‘Come on, sing along... COME ON!’ They weren’t singing at all. Absolutely silent.
“I then realised that I was bleeding into my eyes. From the bull’s head. It’s very hard to get children to sing when there’s a woman wearing a bull head staring at them with blood dripping into her eyes.”
Anything But doesn’t contain any minotaurs. And there’s been no mention of blood. But Abi leaves the conversation with a reminder of why we’re talking. ‘It’s an entirely different show. Varsity gave it 5 stars last time, and I put in at least 20% more effort this time round.’ It promises to be a treat.
Anything But is next week’s ADC lateshow, running from the 16th-19th May at 11pm.