The city company, comprising playwright Robert Farquhar and actors Matt Rutter and Tim Lynskey, come back to the Unity with The Art of Falling Apart next week. It might be the start of the year, but it could be one of the best things you’ll see over the next 12 months (see last year’s review and the show’s appearance in this site’s best of 2012).
The 2013 version of the show, which they first performed last year, will be Big Wow’s ninth January gig at the theatre; a symbiotic theatrical relationship which has given the company an opportunity to keep working and creating together that they say probably wouldn’t have been possible any other way.
With their MO of “turning pissing around into an art form”, the three had got in the habit of premiering a show one January, taking it to the Edinburgh fringe in the summer, and returning to the Unity with a tweaked and perfected version for a second time exactly a year later. This time, personal circumstances meant Edinburgh wasn’t possible, and so they are currently working flat out to sharpen up and add to the piece ahead of its opening on January 9.
The Art of Falling Apart blends the company’s much-loved and impressive comedic talents with a more realistic, dramatic plot aimed at touching as well as tickling its audience, so to speak. It follows the story of lead character Callum (played by Rutter), forced to deal with his own personal demons as well as the madness surrounding him (basically everybody else he comes across, played with convincing skill by Lynskey).
“The last show we did [The Friendship Experiment] had some genuine moments of emotional honesty, and we wanted to see what we could do with that,” explains Tim. “We’d been trying to find a home for the character of Callum, and had used him in a lot of sketch performances before.”
“The Art of Falling Apart still has all our normal trademarks, the storytelling and that high level of jokes,” says Robert.
“But it’s that emotional pull of it, people really connected with it,” adds Matt. “We just felt he was a character audiences could engage with. People wanted to listen to him. Especially middle-aged blokes, who really identified with some of that.”
It was a concerted effort on the part of Big Wow to appeal to a more straight up theatre audience rather than the comedy crowd. Despite comedy still being their passion, they are aware that the art of making people laugh is, somewhat wrongly, often not seen as much of a skill as creating serious drama.
It was time for a bit of an image change, with a campaign for The Art of Falling Apart that was deliberately inspired by the photography of Gillian Wearing, for starters.
“We’d been watching films like Magnolia,” says Robert on their change of pace. “Those films with interweaving, modern cityscapes. And wanted to do something a bit more…”
“Arty,” interrupts Matt with a laugh. “The Friendship Experiment had been so silly, we wanted to pull back on that a bit. We always try to react to the show we have done before, just to push ourselves.”
“This time it’s been about the journey,” continues Robert. “What we have learnt in terms of this show is that we wanted to lift people, emotionally.”
With the three company members all playing an equal role in the creative process, it has had a knock-on effect of not only benefiting what happens within Big Wow, but also in their day jobs and on other projects. It has afforded Tim and Matt a chance to stretch themselves as performers in a way jobbing actors don’t get to experience; and as both also teach (Tim at Liverpool Community College, Matt as artistic director of Young Everyman and Playhouse), it has enabled them to better spot talent in others.
With the support they receive along the way from the Unity and the arts council, Big Wow’s way of working (in Liverpool, at least) has so far not been limited or reduced as a result of cuts. As for what comes next, they are toying with the idea of creating a larger scale show in future.
Tim said: “A lot of people assume we improvise, but everything we do is meticulously rehearsed and scripted. We always had the theme of me playing loads of characters quickly [see trailer below], but we just got better at knowing where to place that, and how to make each group scene work.”
“We work in such a specific way,” adds Matt. “We are such good friends we can say things to each other you can’t say to other actors. It’s just great fun making theatre with friends. We’ve never had an argument and it’s just a really positive way of working. This time, we have found what we do and have applied it to a story that works really well. We just know how we fit together.”
Catch The Art of Falling Apart at the Unity from January 9 to 26.
In addition, the new season from YEP launches next month; and watch out for Robert Farquhar’s involvement in the upcoming shows from Spike Theatre, Spymonkey, and the European Opera Centre. His one man play Di is Dead, will be performed at the Playhouse Studio by Francis Tucker in April.
Photos by Brian Roberts