Sue Bevan presents her magical-realist show, An Audience with Shurl, at Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall. Alexander Woolley caught up with her to chat about working with her own life-story in different media, how to market a one-person show at the Fringe, and what’s next for An Audience with Shurl.
The character I've created here is both funny and tragic, reflecting the complexities of a woman who spends her life looking for her sense of self through another
Tell us about the show.
The show takes us from Shurl's dressing room to her birthplace in the impoverished Welsh Valleys of the 50s. Without giving away the reveal, when she hits her first crisis she embarks on a surreal journey under the wing of Shirley Bassey. Her hero then saves her repeatedly through the traumas she's forced to endure as she grows to womanhood.
Your life-story, on which much of An Audience with Shurl is based, was also the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary and will be the subject of a BBC Wales TV documentary. How much do you have to change and rearrange the story to make it fit the different media of stage, radio, and TV?
That's an interesting one. They're all totally different, as is my memoir. When I was fifteen I had a child – in secret, two hundred miles from home. That was a defining moment in my life. The radio documentary was a straight-forward telling of the later consequences of that, and it was awarded the Silver in the Sony Radio Awards in 1994. (They're like the Brits for radio.) The TV documentary will go out as Wales In The Seventies, made by Testimony Films, and my input looks at the events leading up to the birth of my daughter. My memoir (That Picture of You) covers both.
But the show is something altogether different. It's a little-known fact that many women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after losing a child to adoption. Depression is very common. So the character I've created here is both funny and tragic, reflecting the complexities of a woman who spends her life looking for her sense of self through another – in Shurl's case, through the great Welsh diva born very close to her, and who was herself an unmarried mother in her teens.
How difficult is it to market a one-person show at the Fringe? Have you had to use any particularly quirky methods?
Jesus! Just about impossible! Once the wind stops, I'm up on that bungee trampoline thing on Princes Street in my best chiffon frock and feather boa, you wait! I thought I'd do a Julie Andrews bit running up and over Arthur's Seat, but was told photo calls are a waste of time. I've done a stint on Waverley Concourse for a week. Great way to clear a public area – I'm available for a national emergency!
What are your plans now for An Audience with Shurl?
I would love to get it on the road. Have frocks, will travel! Wales is the obvious place. Patagonia has lots of Welsh, I gather. I'm taking it to Cape Town next year for the Women Playwrights' International Conference. Welsh miners went there, too. But this piece is universal. In telling one woman's story, it speaks to everyone's experience. It went down a wow at an international conference for academic medievalists at University of Wales, and was nominated for the Outstanding Performance Award at Prague Fringe. So all I need is a production company. Or an agent. Or an angel. Or someone somewhere to tell me how to go from being an Economics teacher to getting this show on the road!