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Interview: We Promised To Call Back, Honest We Did

Ponder Productions’ Can I Call You Back at Peckham Fringe

We have to apologise to Emily Rennie and Phoebe White, who make up Ponder Productions. We asked them if they would like to do an interview back in April, then someone in our team misplaced the email. We won’t mention names, but they have been severely reprimanded and forced to watch a West Musical as punishment. Ironically, the show in question is called Can I Call You Back?, something we failed to do originally!

But having finally got back in touch, we were delighted to sit down with them and find out more about their show that is playing at Peckham Fringe 18 & 19 May.

Can I Call You Back?

It’s August 2016, one of the hottest summers on record, and Steph hasn’t left her room in two weeks. For the seventh time in eight years, her medication has stopped working. With University looming and big plans to become THE It Girl, Steph has limited time for contemplation. How did she get back to this place? Who CARES about psoriasis, anyway? And will that constant Skype call ever stop ringing? This coming-of-age comedy explores visible auto-immune disorders, female body image, and overcoming all kinds of grief. 

The show focuses on a woman with psoriasis, an auto-immune disorder. What made you decide to follow that route?

Emily: I’ve had severe psoriasis for over a decade – it genuinely seemed to happen to me overnight. To suddenly have a demanding auto-immune disorder that affects so many aspects of your life at age ten was tough, and at times extremely isolating. I’ve been a theatre-lover for as long as I can remember, and have always been writing things down. The idea of making a show where an awkward teenager was coping with her illness – amongst other things – was something I’d wanted to do for years but never really had the courage. Then one day I just thought: who else is going to do it but me? So I bit the bullet, and here we are!

On top of auto-immune disorder, there are themes of female body image. How important is it to tackle this subject and hopefully show an audience that there isn’t one size fits all?

Phoebe: The debate on how the female body should or shouldn’t look feels like an ever-changing argument I’ve heard throughout my life. I think especially for young people, the pressure to fit in, and be liked, can feel all-encompassing and when you add on the pressure to look a certain way in order to achieve that it can become a dangerous road to go down. I think a show like this one allows the audience to empathise with the character Steph as we see her buy into the beauty standards, however as she begins to deconstruct them it creates the space for audience members to allow that same empathy for themselves.

Emily: When I first got diagnosed, I was aware I looked and felt very different to all my friends. I’d rake through all these beauty magazines desperately looking for somebody like me. It can really have such a massive impact on you, this idea of ‘perfect’ skin. There’s no such thing! Even now that I’m on medication and look relatively clear-skinned, those things can stick with you. Embracing imperfection is tough in today’s society, but it’s so important, which is something that Steph unpacks during her journey. 

Is the play aimed at a younger audience due to those central themes or do you feel it will resonate with any audience?

Phoebe: I believe that the play is able to resonate with most audiences. We tackle grief and body issues throughout the show as well as issues around self esteem. I believe it’s one of those shows that you will be able to relate to on some foundation either having experienced some of these themes yourself or knowing someone that has. To me the show feels very bitter-sweet and nostalgic as it reminds me of all those awkward phases I went through in school trying to figure out who I really was. We wanted to hone in on that tone and include humour and nostalgia to offset the more serious moments. 

Is Peckham Fringe the show’s debut?

Phoebe: So we were lucky enough to show it in the Golden Goose Theatre for a two day run back in February, which was very nerve-wracking as it was not only the first time an audience saw it, but the first time we ourselves were able to view it on a stage rather than a living room which had been our working rehearsal space. It was great to see such a warm and positive reaction from the audience and then be given this second opportunity. 

And this festival is rather new, how important are the opportunities they provide to new theatre companies such as Ponder Productions?

Phoebe: I believe that opportunities like this are the foundations of the theatre world. When you take a chance on a smaller show with a lesser known company I believe it always feels like a slightly more intimate experience. I myself have loved going to see work of new companies, writers, or actors and watched their show grow and blossom. It provides opportunities to get your work out there and a platform to network and to do what it is all us creatives love to do: create. 

Emily, you write and perform the piece, but hand the directing duties over to Phoebe White – is it important to have someone else add a creative eye that way?

Emily: It’s absolutely so important! This play wouldn’t be what it is without Phoebe’s incredible insight and input – I couldn’t do this without her! Of course it helps that we’re such close friends already, so Phoebe knows all about the challenges that come with this auto-immune condition, and how important it felt to showcase on the stage. On a practical side I think it’s also so important to have another creative eye on the project, especially if it’s a piece you’ve written. It’s easy to become blase – or even bored – with your own work. Just because we’re so used to it ourselves doesn’t mean it’ll make sense to everyone! 

You are doing two nights, does that allow you the chance to put on a new show and test it out first before you decide where to take it next?

Phoebe: The wonderful thing with theatre is no show will be exactly the same. As soon as the audience sits down they become as much a part of the show as the acting and directing. So much of this show is a conversation with the audience so it is imperative to find that rapport with each audience and let them into the world much like you would find the same relationship in a stand up performance. Having done this show before we were able to see any scenes that needed tweaking and it’s been a pleasure to watch Emily feed off audience reactions and try new things on the night that suit that audience.

Emily: Audience interaction is so fun, especially in the more surreal scenes. On our last performance I ad-libbed…a lot. I’m going to have to actually stick to the script this time around.

Thanks again to Emily and Phoebe for both their patience in waiting for us to get back to them and for the time to chat to us finally.

Can I Call You Back plays at Peckham Fringe 18 and 19 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.

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