Things can only get BETTE
Frank Woodley tells Mark Fisher why Optimism is the feelgood hit of the summer
T his time last year Frank Woodley was mucking in with the Fringe’s finest as he brought his solo show Possessed to the Assembly Rooms. It was much the same as it had been for the best part of 20 years for the rubber-limbed Australian comic, a Fringe veteran, who romped home with the Perrier Award as one half of Lano and Woodley in 1994. This year, however, Woodley is in altogether more august company as he arrives with Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre for a run at the Edinburgh International Festival.
‘I’m intending to go up and hand out leaflets anyway – just for old time’s sake,’ says Woodley. ‘I’m expecting I’ll be met at the airport by trumpets and people throwing rose petals in front of my feet as I walk off the plane. That’s the sort of thing when you’re in
the main Festival, isn’t it?’
In a stroke of inspired casting, Woodley is taking the lead role in Optimism, an adaptation of Voltaire’s satirical 18th century novel, Candide. It’s the story of a young man brought up to believe that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’, a philosophy that sustains him through the most horrific torments and still manages to come out smiling. He is, in short, an incurable optimist, well at home in the ‘no-worries’ Ozzie culture in which Tom Wright’s modern-day retelling is set, with oblique references to the credit bubble and global warming thrown in for good measure. With a prestigious cast that includes David Woods of the brilliant British company Ridiculusmus, the show may be in the EIF
Festival Theatre Bourne to be wild
The life of a flamboyant gay theatre icon is perfect fodder for Fringe innovator Mark Ravenhill. Mark Fisher meets the playwright
Mark Ravenhill is making a habit of ºredefining what a Fringe play can be. Two years ago, his Ravenhill for Breakfast offered ever growing crowds a chance to see a daily changing programme of short plays written almost as fast as they could be performed, tuning into world events as they happened. The format is being copied in this year’s The World is Too Much by a succession of Traverse playwrights such as David Greig and Zinnie Harris. Ravenhill, meanwhile, is moving on to something new again.
A Life in Three Acts is as much interview as play, a three-part series of conversations between the playwright and the flamboyant gay theatre icon Bette Bourne. Ravenhill talked to the 70-year-old about his experience of coming out at a time when homosexuality was illegal, risking beatings during the early days of gay liberation, founding the extravagant Bloolips Theatre Troupe in 1977 and pursuing a successful stage career, including his OBIE award- winning portrayal of Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien. He then edited the transcription – hesitations, repetitions and all – into three instalments which he and Bourne will perform as if speaking them for the first time.
‘The closest I can think of is My Dinner
with André, a series of conversations in restaurants,’ says Ravenhill, who is planning to vary the format by introducing guest actors to play the parts of interviewer and interviewee. ‘On stage we’ll try to recreate the conversation as much as possible. It’s amazing as a personal story, but also as a historical journey of a whole group of people. Bette grew up during the war in a working- class family in Hackney, then in the repressive 1950s, followed by an almost evangelical discovery when he first went to a gay lib meeting and decided to change everything about his life.’ ■ A Life in Three Acts, Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, 18–30 Aug (not 24), times vary, £14–£16 (£10–£11).
60 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 13–20 Aug 2009