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Interview: Stuck at Reception for Camden Fringe

The Camden Fringe Interviews

Holly Gow discusses How Can(t) I Help?

They say write what you know, and that’s just what Holly Gow has done in her one-woman show How Can(t) I Help?, which will be playing at Lion and Unicorn Theatre as part of Camden Fringe. Because what Holly knows is life as a receptionist, something she found herself working as for the NHS. And as anyone who has worked in customer facing roles knows, you do come across some, shall we say, interesting characters!

So we managed to get ourselves an appointment with Holly inbetween rehearsals to ask her more about the show, and find out who she wants to play her when the ineviatable film of her life is made!

Lovely to chat, why don’t we kick things of with who you are.

My name is Holly Gow and I’ve written, produced and will be performing in the show. 

What can audiences expect from the show? 

How Can(t) I Help? is a one woman show, about a GP receptionist. An NHS GP receptionist. I know you hate them too, but hopefully this show will change your mind. The receptionist takes you along with her, for a day in the life at the surgery. From smelly  patients to endless phone calls, come meet the characters registered at Flowerbank  Surgery. 

Where are you playing, and why that venue? 

I’m performing two nights at Lion & Unicorn Theatre. I chose this venue as I felt like the  theatre welcomes one person shows. The intimate space and end-on seating allows the  audience to come into that world that I’m creating and means I can speak to each audience member directly.  

What was the inspiration behind the show?  

I wrote the play when I was working as a receptionist and had no acting gigs or anything creative going on. By that point, I’d worked in similar jobs within the NHS for almost five years and felt like my brain was melting a little. The script started as a concoction of my thoughts, feelings, rants and was a creative outlet during this difficult time. I had so many stories about things patients would do and say, so writing them down and sharing them just made sense. Especially following the pandemic, when the NHS was such a  hot topic of conversation, and everyone had their own experience and opinion.  

What is it about your character that you most enjoy? 

Being in on the joke with the audience. The receptionist knows she has to be nice as pie  to the patients but can share her inner monologue of disgust and outrage with them. Think Jim from The US Office and his looks to camera.  

What is it you hope the audience think after watching the show? 

I hope the audience have a little more sympathy for NHS workers and think twice before  they speak. It’s so easy to take your frustration out on that person behind the desk, or over the phone but we’re only human! Of course you get the meanies, but no one can be nice all the time. Maybe they’ve had a bad morning. Maybe the person before you called them every name under the sun. Maybe they’re paid minimum wage and hate their job. 

I hope the audience enjoy the show and have a laugh, but I also hope they go out into the  world and make an effort to spread a little kindness over hate.

Is Camden Fringe going to be the show’s first time on stage? If not, has much changed since its  original outing? 

This will be my third performance of the show! It debuted at Clapham Fringe Festival and I then brought it to The Golden Goose Theatre. The show constantly changes, even  during the run, due to audience reaction and how I’m feeling on the day! I’ve learnt that  with a one person show, you have the capacity to read the audience and make decisions on the night, which is really exciting and keeps it fresh. Some nights jokes don’t land and other nights people crack up at random bits! Letting the script, the audience and I breathe, has become important and such an enjoyable part of the  performance.  

What made you decide to be part of Camden Fringe this year? 

Having performed the show twice in South West London, I wanted to bring it to a new  audience. Also, I love being part of a festival. The support and comradery, which with a  one person show you don’t always get, is great.  

Who is going to play you when your autobiography is snapped up by Hollywood in the not too distant future? 

For some reason, the person I instantly thought of was Will Ferrell… Not sure why but I  do love Elf and we have the same hair.  

Will you be frequenting the bar after your show, and should we stop to ask you questions if we see you?

I will indeed and be ordering a large glass of house white (oh yeah, I’m proper classy  me). I hope people ask if the stories are real! I love that question as every single moment  in the show happened to me at some point over those five years, except spoiler – it  wasn’t infected bum plants … it was infected boobs. 

If you had to describe your show as a colour, what would it be?

Blue of course, for the NHS. 

If budget was not an issue, what’s the one piece of scenery/ set you’d love to have in your  show? 

A blood pressure machine, how amazing would that be! As much as I enjoy miming the  machine, offering people live blood pressure readings would be a great way to market the show. They’re extremely heavy and have the capacity to break security guards’  toes … you’ll have to come and see the show if you want to know more about that story!

How Can(t) I Help plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre on 2 and 3 August as part of this year’s Camden Fringe. Further information and bookings can be found here.

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