Interview: Amy Conachan

Scottish actor, Amy Conachan, talks about her role in Wendy Hoose. Described as an ‘outspoken comedy of bad manners’ by the critics, Johnny McKnight's play for Birds of Paradise and Random Accomplice Wendy Hoose has wowed the critics in Scotland (including Edfringe last year) and is about to open at Soho theatre (Apr 12th-May 7th). I talked to Amy Conachan who plays Laura in this two hander about what happens when things aren’t quite what they at first seem…

KS: What’s special about the show for you?

AC: It’s something different. I think the important thing is that is that’s it’s fully accessible, I know that’s kind of a standard thing that I’ve said time and time again but it’s important that people know that, because it’s not just one show a week that’s accessible, every single show is captioned with overhead surtitles, signed and audio described and it’s all part of the show, the audio description is kind of more like a third character.

KS: that’s something that all the reviews have mentioned…

AC: Yes, well, usually the whole audience doesn’t hear the audio description. My understanding of it is that if you need the audio description function then you use headphones or something like that so that the rest of the audience can’t hear it whereas everyone can hear ours. And usually I think it’s quite dead pan so the audio describer isn’t putting any opinion on top of what they are seeing so that the user can just get visually what’s happening and then they can make their own mind up and what they get from what’s happening. But ours, because it’s like a third character, she’s able to put a bit more opinion in.

And it really adds to the comedy and quite a lot of people have actually said to me that, the character is called Anna Maria, that that was one of their favourite parts, that she’s really really funny. She slags off James’ appearance; things like that which the audio describer wouldn’t normally do, or be allowed to do, because it has to be just exactly what happening on stage.

KS: How does it affect or influence your performance?

AC: It’s not live, it’s recorded so it’s always exactly the same. We have to allow space in the dialogue for that to happen so it does give some space, allow some breathing space, because the play is very fast paced. And it shows something that most people never hear, makes you think about how having someone mediate between you and the story on stage has an effect. We get to hear the audiences reaction as well, which really allows us to appreciate how accessibility doesn't hinder but enhances a performance.

KS: Tell me a bit about the way that the play and your role developed.

AC: Johnny McKnight who wrote the play approached me because he’d met me and got the idea for the play. We then had a week of development. I wasn't so much involved with any writing but more so Johnny could hear my voice and to find the things that didn’t work. And it helped him to have me in the room because I was able to tell him things that he would never even have thought about regarding disability and the first draft is very different from the script that we now do, not so much in terms of storyline but in terms of detail and how the characters deal with certain things.

KS: As a writer, it’s very encouraging to know that one’s first draft can travel so much further!

AC: Yes, and every time that we do it, and this is the fourth run, it changes or it feels different. I don’t know whether that’s just me as an actor getting more settled in the part and the script and stuff. But it does feel different every single time you do it as well. We’ve also got more settled into it – but knowing each other well now is a bit of a challenge, because when they first meet they are really awkward, and we’ve got to keep that edge, always remembering that every single night Laura and Jake are meeting for the first time. That can be difficult when you are so comfortable with each other as people.

KS: You’re addressing some challenging issues, about body image, how people present themselves alongside the central theme that having a disability doesn’t mean also having no interest in sex or a partner. How do you feel it is, or might be, influencing attitudes?

AC: I think the assumptions are still there. Usually people are surprised when the person on stage, who is very sexual, is in a wheelchair. It starts with a meeting for a 'hook up' but then it’s also about why they are online and why they choose to represent themselves in the way that they do. It’s different to meeting face to face, you build up a picture in your head, and it’s never quite like that when you meet. Everyone has, brings, some baggage even if it isn’t immediately visible. At drama school I had to go to a workshop to see how I would deal with certain things. Once I started it wasn’t an issue, if anything some of the hidden stuff e.g. anxiety that the others brought had more impact.

KS: Most of the reaction seems to have been really positive, have your parents seen it.

AC: My mum has – she loved it, she’s been several times but I haven’t allowed my dad to see it. And James won’t let his parents come. But thinking about your parents seeing it starts to bring in the issues that the play is addressing - about how we represent ourselves, and our sexuality whether able bodied or disabled.

KS: What comes next for you?

AC: We’re taking the show to Spain – with audio and surtitles in Spanish so that’s going to be fun to see how the different pace affects the show.

KS: And in the longer term?

AC: So far I’ve done specifically disabled parts –but people are starting to look beyond the fact that I use a wheelchair. I almost feel it’s brought more opportunities – some of the others I was at drama school with are still looking for any kind of work. At the same time I definitely want to be seen for parts/roles that aren’t just looking for disability because that’s the only way that things will change. I would encourage any aspiring actor with disabilities to apply to drama school, it’s important to have training. I don‘t know any others at drama school at the moment. You have to make it not an issue.

KS: thank you very much and I’m looking forward to seeing the show even more now that I’ve heard some of the background.

Tue 12 Apr - Sat 7 May 2016, 7.30pm. Thu & Sat matinees 3pm
Soho Theatre
£10 - £20
Wendy Hoose trailer:

Author's review: