Interview (Part II): Francesca Forristal Talks Inspirations & the Importance of New Work

In Part I of my interview with Francesca Forristal we talked serious business alongside comedy and drag (get caught up here). Here we look at the lighter side of things from comedy stage inspirations to a life-changing discovery of one Ms. Bernadette Peters. Here’s Part II with Forristal – writer/singer/performer/comic combined…

Onwards we go! We’re now heading into the lighter questions now. As a comedy performer, I want to know what makes you belly laugh?

Oh, easy – I love character comedy. When I’m by myself and I’m on YouTube, what do I watch? Character comedy. I like seeing someone really live and inhabit a character – to just say things that that character would say and then watching people be funny as human beings – to be that person. You know when you see a character coming in and you just KNOW that person? And you’re like oh my God that is SO that person and it’s so quick and funny. I found one the other day and I was just on the floor belly laughing!

Who inspires you most in theatre/ performance/ the arts?

(Silent look of utter dismay here…) Oh! Can I do a writing trio? Sheep Soup. Sheep Soup are a musical theatre writing trio who are very new – they’re from up north. They are making a musical about hoarding, about a woman who’s a hoarder. And they are so funny.

They have the same thing as me, you know when I was saying we need to make eating disorders funny so that people can understand it without being patronising? They make this woman’s condition so completely relatable, so that I, someone who’s never had experience of hoarding, can watch it and understand how she got there. It’s so funny; it’s surreal, it’s witty, it’s musical gorgeousness…and they’re quite good performers too! When they perform their own music you can see the joy in it and I’m just completely obsessed with them and I want to see what they do…forever. They are genuinely I think gonna be one of the cool people in five year’s time – when everyone’s like ‘yeah, Sheep Soup!’

And you’ll be able to say you called it.

I need to spread this now so that when they get famous they’ll be like ‘Cesca was always an advocate’ and I can be like ‘yes – be my friend!’ (much laughter here – Cesca is all of us at this point).

Is there a particular show or performance that has had a lasting impact on you? You can say the same trio if you like here…

Oh so many… (more silent dismay). Okay, YES. A formative impact. Bernadette Peters singing Not a Day Goes By at the Sondheim Birthday Celebrations. When I was younger, I found it on YouTube and there was something about the way she did the line (sings) ‘I’ll die day after day after day after day after day after day’. Each ‘day’ was different and the decisions she made with it in terms of how she acted that song and how she really prioritised the acting over the singing – when I was 14 watching this I was just like ‘shit, music isn’t just pretty singing, it’s acting and if I can just act everything I sing then I’ll be a happy bunny’. The journey she took me on in that song…I think about it all the time!

You’re going to go and watch that again straight after this, aren’t you? I can tell...

Yes, yes I am – legit!

If you could create real change in the arts, what would you beeline for? Because there’s so much to choose from…

I would want to bridge the gap and educate. There is a massive gap between shows which get produced to commercial level – West End, high level theatres etc, and then there’s new writing. And unless you are someone who has connections quite early on, or you’re quite rich – ie you can afford to not work at the same time, or you know, your dad knows someone who can explain to you how producing works – a lot of new writers get to a certain fringe level and have no idea how to make it go any further. They don’t really know anything about production or producing or how to contact people – they don’t even really know how to write the emails.

There’s just so much lack of knowledge that we have this gap. I’d love to find some way of linking theatres (the New Diorama is doing it a bit) to emerging new writers and getting stuff out there, connecting it with good, young producers who want to make a difference so that I can look at the West End or look at commercial theatre and see theatre that I’m proud of and that I want to be watching, rather than something that will sell tickets because it’s a safe choice.

Do you have a good ‘the show must go on’ story?

Yes! Okay…I’m torn… So, ‘show must go on’ story one: me and my drag partner Ed Scrivens had just done a gig in Oxford and we’re travelling down to London for another gig that same night. We need to get into drag because we’ve just done this comedy gig that wasn’t drag, and we get on the Oxford Tube (which is like a megabus) and we sit opposite each other at a table and we get out all our make-up.

We’ve got about an hour to get into drag before we get to London – easy peasy. Sit down and start…and the announcement comes on ‘welcome to the Oxford Tube’… the lights go down. There are no lights on the bus. Because everyone’s going to sleep because it’s after the time when normal people sleep, so the bus is trying to put everyone to sleep and we’re sat there in pitch black holding this make-up like, we’re literally going to arrive at the venue five minutes before we go on stage, we have to be in drag… we can’t just go on stage without drag! We’re going to have to do this in the dark… There was no light in the toilet so we had to put on full drag in a dark Megabus with a tiny cracked mirror and muscle memory, just hoping that the make-up would go on right. We actually looked quite good! (laughs)

So the end result wasn’t a disaster at least?

It wasn’t a disaster – I mean, my colouration was slightly off…my flicks were less than on fleek, BUT I was in drag and that’s all that mattered.

Well it was comedy so you can get away with that!

Exactly – I could be like ‘my face is the comedy tonight guys’! The only thing I would say though, from ‘the show must go on’ perspective is that personally I really hate that phrase because it encourages performers to go on stage when they’re sick and I think that’s really bad. No really it does – it’s this idea that no matter how bad your mental health is, no matter how bad your throat is, you just need to take those lozenges girl and get on stage. I think that’s the worst thing ever. I got Strep the other week and I was crying because we had a sold out show in Oxford with 150 tickets sold and I was like, I can’t speak, how am I supposed to do this show? And we had to cancel the show. I remember bawling at Ed and he was like ‘look, sometimes the show doesn’t need to go on. Your health comes first’.

Wise parting words there… So, when lockdown is over and the industry get back up and running, you’ll be able to find Forristal performing her Dragprov show and various other projects. For now, you can head to Forristal’s Website, Twitter Page, Dragprov page and Forristal & Clarke page for links to some fabulous content and show information. And don’t forget to catch up on Part I of this gossipy chinwag!

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