Interview: Joel Samuels

Interview (C) Amie Taylor (@spoonsparkle) 2015

Joel Samuels, of Fine Mess Theatre, has written (and performs in) Divas: a non-linear love story with a variety of twists and turns along the track – Adam and Damian recount their own versions of their relationship, perpetually underpinned by their mutual love of Divas.  It’s a brilliant show, you’ll be able to catch them up in Edinburgh this August, this week I spoke to Joel about the development of Divas and their journey to the Fringe

AT: Tell us a little about your inspiration to write Divas…

JS: It has sort of come together through a variety of things. I was at the Fringe last year and I saw Chris Thorpe in Confirmation which got me thinking about microphones on stage and what they mean: personal, private, political etc. At the same time I had been wanting to have a little play with time and reliability – Fine Mess predominantly work in direct-address and I loved the idea of a (***slight spoiler alert***) character lying to the audience directly. So lying and microphones was the starting point really. Everything else – a relationship, travelling forwards and backwards through time (a la The Last Five Years), a chorus, the music of the 1960s and 70s – came later.

AT: What were the key issues you wanted to address with the piece?

JS: I think the main issue now the piece is up and running is class and the way that it can inform aspects of our lives that we all politely assume it won’t. Secondary to that is an examination of a relationship between two deeply flawed individuals. But I think initially I wanted to try something narratively new that leaves people with more questions and bits of the puzzle then they would otherwise like. It certainly isn’t all tied up with a pretty bow that’s for sure!

AT: You’ve been working on it for sometime, could you share a little about the different stages it’s gone through as a piece?

JS: Yup – I started the very first draft in August 2014 and have been working on it ever since through the whole process that I tend to go through with all plays: scratch, redraft, informal reading in my kitchen with tea and cake, redraft, workshop, redraft, R&D, redraft, rehearsal, previews, redraft, previews and Edinburgh fringe.

Alongside all of that has been the growing presence of the chorus in the piece which has been organic – I never wrote anything other than “They sing.” From that stage direction a series of amazing musical arrangements by Sam Cable and Lydia Samuels (my sister) have emerged, but also a whole physical language has come about through working the piece over such a long time with great performers – three of whom have been involved since the very first scratch.

AT: What were the biggest challenges in bringing the piece to the stage?

JS: So many! Scraping, begging, borrowing (and definitely not stealing) the money to put it on for a start!

The main challenge and there are many different drafts which prove this – has been just how confused do the audience need to be? Our narrative is complex and tricky to follow at points and we love that – but you don’t want audiences to leave thinking they have missed something. Hopefully we have finally reached the right balance of intentional confusion and clarity…Also it has been difficult figuring out how three amazing singers can find nine different starting notes with stage-time in between each one, in order to sing extremely close, three-part harmony acapella and how to incorporate that theatrically.

AT: What were the most enjoyable things about making this piece?

JS: Listening to Divas! I have literally only listened to Dusty Springfield, Cher, The Ronettes, The Marvellettes, The Supremes, Dolly Parton etc etc for the last year! Heaven. Absolute heaven. Also the audience reactions so far in preview when they realise that things aren’t going the way that they had expected. That’s pretty blooming enjoyable.

AT: Is this your first time you’ve performed something you’ve written?  How do you find performing your own writing?

JS: It’s the third time. And it’s still awful! Who can you rail against as a performer when you hate a line you are forced to speak and you wrote the bloody thing?!? The challenge – and Paul (Smith, the director of Divas) will attest that I don’t always succeed in this – is to just be an actor in the room. You have to just give over complete control of your baby and that is difficult. However, there isn’t a better feeling than when another performer finds something in a line that you have written that you had no idea was ever there and that forces you as an actor to find something new as well. So it has its rewards.

AT: Where and when can we see you at Edinburgh?

JS: You can catch Divas at the Pleasance Dome at 2.40pm 5th August – 31st August (not 17th). And Fine Mess’ other show Islands is also at the Fringe at Underbelly Cowgate at 12.10pm 6th August – 30th August (not 18th).

AT: How can we keep up to date with your work?

JS: You can follow Fine Mess Theatre – @finemesstheatre – you can find us on facebook or you can join our mailing list via our website,


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