Interview: Ryan Penny & Simon Godfrey on Falling Pennies’ Beyond the Grave

Falling Pennies Theatre are returning to the Camden Fringe this year with their new show Beyond the Grave – a comic piece which spoofs the spooky with glee. The show plays at the Etcetera Theatre 10th – 14th of August so I caught up with writer Simon Godfrey and founder Ryan Penny to get the inside scoop on Falling Pennies’ new venture…
Tell us a little about Falling Pennies Theatre Company – you’ve been around since late 2015 and have a fair few successful shows to your name, but who are you, how did it all begin and what’s the story behind the name?
    RYAN – Falling Pennies came completely out of the blue, It was one crazy day that literally changed my outlook on life. My father called me up and told me he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Having lost my Grandfather to that very cause 10 years previous, the feelings and emotions all came flooding back and I was instantly in a numb head space.  Not wanting to sit around feeling sorry for myself, I was spontaneously charged to make and create something to help and try and do something positive with his news. I wanted to create a show about prostate cancer that would raise awareness for the disease and help charities raise money – as well as try and entertain people (not easy with a subject such as that) I was fortunate enough to have trained with a very close friend James Hartnell who I approached to come on board and go on this voyage with me.
We trained as Actors together but James path was going down the literacy route,  he is a extremely talented Writer. He accepted my request and starting writing away, coming up with various drafts and ideas. Then after various meetings with fantastic creative mentors and advisers – John-Jackson Almond & Chris Grady to name a few – Falling Pennies was born. The name is a funny one. My surname is Penny, but it’s not a ego thing a swear. The thing was, I saw the situation with my dad as when the penny finally drops. Everyone waits for their moment and that was mine. Being surrounded by creatively starved theatre friends, I see we’re all waiting for our moment, our chance..for something to happen or change. So instead of sitting around I wanted Falling Pennies to hopefully open up doors for others to allow for their penny to drop so to speak. Our ethos, “Don’t wait for opportunity to drop, make it!”

This is a return trip to the Camden Fringe for you as a company – what exactly does the Camden Fringe mean to you as creators of new work?

SIMON – It was a lot of fun last year, which I think is very important. A fun environment for us to try and make people laugh is a best case scenario. The vibe created by the Fringe also helps a great deal and makes it a lot easier for an audience to try something new.
RYAN – Couldn’t agree more. The fringe is the perfect playground to try new material and attract new audiences. It also gives companies and creatives a great platform to showcase their work.
You are a company which ‘champions new writing’ – why is that? What draws you to performing new work as opposed to producing existing works either in adaptation or otherwise?
RYAN – there’s certainly nothing wrong with a good Shakespeare or a exciting new take on a classic. But for me, new writing keeps things fresh and current in the theatre world. Like the world itself, that is constantly evolving and changing, theatre must do the same. New writing keeps it relevant and exciting and there’s SO many great new pieces of work out there we’re spoiled for choice. Also, I wanted Falling Pennies to support new upcoming Actors/Directors/Writers.. after producing our new writing evenings ‘On The Night’ over the past few years, there’s so many talented Writers out there itching for a platform. Lets support them.

What would you say the goal or vision of Falling Pennies Theatre is when it comes to the work you produce – do you see yourself as a company for comedies specifically for instance?

Ryan – Originally we were looking at subjects that fall under the radar. Hence us producing a play about prostate cancer and I was toying with the idea we just produce work of that nature and help support charities at the same time. After that first play, we as a company needed some humor. James had written another classic in Remedial Remedies and it just felt so great to laugh. Don’t get me wrong Remedial had a great message and there were moving parts, as all great stories do, but it just wasn’t so serious. Also, as a producer, selling a play about cancer isn’t an easy pitch – no matter how great the story! All in all, I like us to keep our options open. Not single out a certain genre to promote, but new writing as a whole.

In brief, what can you tell us about your new show Beyond the Grave?

SIMON – The play is a farcical ghost story about a self-important sceptic who is hellbent on proving he’s not being haunted. It’s very silly. Very, very silly. And enormous fun.

How did award winning writer and comedian Simon Godfrey come to be on board the Falling Pennies ship?
RYAN – Every few months or so since we were formed, we host new writing nights ‘On The Night’. We put a open call out to writers for new work. Simon’s Doomed Resistance came in and he stole my heart. It was so funny and brilliant we had to produce it. Since then our relationship has gone from strength to strength and now he’s a proud member of the Falling Pennies family. He regrets every second 😛

When I read the premise for this show, I had visions of the couple from One Foot in the Grave out in a graveyard with Victor Meldrew shaking a Ouija board crying his catch phrase ‘I don’t believe it!’ What can you tell us about the protagonists as a couple? Are they a dotty pair of classic bickering oldies or are they younger and feistier?

SIMON – As big a comedy nerd as I am, I’m not really familiar with One Foot in the Grave. In an attempt to catch up I just googled it and watched a video where Victor finds a palm tree planted in his toilet. Didn’t really give me enough of an idea, so I’ll let Ryan answer that one.
But I’d say the couple in Beyond the Grave are young and bickering. They’re a fun duo to watch as they’re both completely deluded. Mr. Benson is so obsessed with making people think he’s respectable that he doesn’t let anyone use his first name, making everyone refer to him as Mr. Benson. And he’s the saner of the two. Katerina fancies herself a spiritualist, though she couldn’t tell the difference between a Ouija board and a Scrabble board.
This show makes big promises: it’s ‘a brand new spook-tacular comedy’ filled with ‘side-splitting supernatural silliness’ – now, I’ve seen how well writer Godfrey can craft comedy around a somber setting and narrative, but does Beyond the Grave ever attempt to be truly spooky or is it only ever a spoof of the spooky by design?

SIMON – Does it attempt to be truly spooky? Good Lord, no. Everything is played for laughs. Though, I don’t really think of it as a parody. It’s a comedy ghost story, with lots of twists and turns. There’s also a creepy groundskeeper… alright, maybe there’s a bit of parodying going on. Our gravestones are made of cardboard and our eerie fog is a cloud of talcum powder, so I can’t see anyone being genuinely frightened.
Your ethos is ‘Don’t wait for opportunity to drop. Make it’ – what specific advice would you give to new and up and coming companies looking to make opportunities for themselves? How can such a thing be done?
RYAN – You can’t be afraid to make a nonsense of yourself and ask lots of questions. If you generally want it enough, you’ll make it happen. Make sure the project you’re attempting is something you REALLY want to do. You have to believe in it and the team around you. Your team is vital too. I was always told to surround myself with those better than me. People who will test you and help you improve. Each of our team offers something to the company that I feel I lack, I constantly feel like the dumbest person in the room – No violin needed, I love it. They make me better! You learn from each other.
Also, we’re fortunate enough to have so many great fringe festival which offer companies of any background an opportunity to showcase. It’s also more affordable to do the fringe – money is a huge obstacle too, but we all know that! Make a budget. Start small but always dream big.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing Beyond the Grave, what would you like that to be?

“That was bloody funny.”
Finally, sell your show to readers in just one sentence!
The graveyard is dark, the laughs are plenty and the owls are angry…
So there you have it! Remember: Beyond the Grave plays the Camden Fringe at Etcetera Theatre 10th – 14th August and you can find tickets here.

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