EDINBURGH 2019: LEAVE A MESSAGE Q&A
Comedian and actor Ed Coleman (as seen in Steptoe & Son and SPY) is taking a true story theatre piece to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. LEAVE A MESSAGE is a powerfully poignant and candid comedy about the detritus of a life, death, family secrets, alcoholism, our legacies and loneliness, set in Ed's recently deceased alcoholic father's wretched bedsit. He tells us about the collaborative process of creating the show.
Tell us a bit about Leave A Message
Leave A Message is a play about two friends, Ed and Sarah, who arrive to clear out the flat where Ed's semi-estranged father passed away a few days earlier. As they set about the unenviable task of sorting through the mess, they begin to piece together fragments of the life that ended there.
It's a picture of solitude, eccentricity, secrecy and addiction. As revelations unfold about both father and son it becomes increasingly clear that they may have been more similar than Ed would care to admit.
What was the inspiration for the show?
It's based on a true story. About 18 months ago my father died, losing a thirty-year (though never openly admitted) battle with alcohol. He died alone in a tiny flat and it was the best part of a week before his body was found. I'm an only child and he had no other family to speak of, so the responsibility of dealing with the aftermath fell to me. The subsequent torrent of emotion - grief, relief, anger, guilt - was tempered by the incredible support of my friends, including Sarah, who volunteered to go with me to the scene of his demise.
In the following months I thought a lot about what had transpired: what I had discovered there, what I had learned about my father and myself and the questions it had raised as well as answered. I realised I wanted to write about it all, but wasn't sure how. Then a chance meeting and late-night conversation with James (Mitchell, the co-writer) at a party, led to him offering to help crystallise my thoughts into something tangible.
Was it di?cult to write?
Had I been left to my own devices I'm not sure it would have been written at all. Or, at the very best, it would have been a Crimewatch-esque reconstruction of events as they occurred. The real challenge for me was to slowly let go of the accuracy of my memories, to let them be adapted, moulded, embellished and diluted with fiction, in order to shape them into a play. Working with James, and then subsequently Jessica (Rose McVay, the director) was instrumental in enabling me to do this. It was a delicate journey, but incredibly rewarding, both in terms of catharsis but also in discovering the levity of it all.
It may not sound like it from what I have described, but a great deal of the play is comedy - both in the embarrassment of rummaging through private possessions and the humour that close friends can find with each other, even in the grimmest of circumstances. That truth was just as important as the sadness. There's also a dance number, but I don't want to give too much away.
Why is it an important story to tell?
Well it is obviously of personal importance: as a statement of grief, an ongoing conversation with myself about my own weaknesses and as a love-letter to my friends. But it's not just my story, it is infused with elements of James' life as well. And in broader terms the themes of family dynamics, pain, loss and addiction are important to explore. Then there is solitude. The more I think about it the more I'm convinced loneliness was just as destructive to my father as the drinking, though of course they symbiotically fed into each other. The paradox of feeling more and more isolated in an increasingly interconnected world is something we are only beginning to come to terms with. And in amongst all this there is friendship and love and hope and it is always worth reminding ourselves that such things exist.
Who would you recommend come see the show?
I think there's something in there for everyone. It has emotional honesty infused with comedy and a touch of magical realism. There are people for whom the events will resonate personally and those for whom it will be a gentle reminder that maybe they should give their mum a call. Also, did I mention there's a dance number?
Ed Coleman performs in 'Leave a Message' which is at Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 31st July - 26th August (not 12th). Tickets and more information: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/leave-a-message
Photo credit: Ali Wright