Alistair Hall is Walking Tall

You will remember lockdown. It wasn't much fun. Like many other artists, Alistair Hall adapted quickly, writing and performing his play Declan for the new online theatre audience.

A strange, complex, and surreal little piece

The audience took the play to their hearts. The Guardian called it a “compelling account of loss and sexual discovery.”

I caught up with Alistair and discussed nerves and dreams as he prepares to make not only the play’s, but his own debut at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Before we talk about the play, how are you feeling about finally losing your Edinburgh Festival Fringe metaphorical virginity?

It changes day to day. When I wake up, I’m driven by either excitement or fear.

I’ve never even been to the Edinburgh Fringe as a punter, so there’s an unfamiliarity that makes me slightly nervous. That feeling of not knowing how it’s all going to go is tough to reckon with.

But I also know that I’m going to have a lot of fun. It’s a bit of a dream come true really.

And I wouldn’t be able to present the work at all if it wasn’t for the Keep it Fringe award (lead by the Edinburgh Fringe Society and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to whom I am so grateful).

As a self-producing artist, I just didn’t have the financials or the fundraising skills needed to put on my first play. The fund has helped cover some vital expenses. It’s also made me feel confident that my work is worth receiving support like this.

For those who haven't yet heard the raves about Declan, can you summarise the play in a sentence.

Declan is a queer surreal thriller - performed solo - that sees childlike outsider Jimbo  recall the disappearance of his best friend Declan.

Excellent one sentence summary there.

You’ve said that while the character of Declan isn’t based on you, writing the play was inspired by your own experiences of childhood. How does this impact you when performing?

I think it’s important to clarify that this show isn’t autobiographical. Declan is inspired by the homophobia and isolation I experienced growing up in rural England in the late 90s/early 00s, but the character and story are all totally fictional.

Writing it felt cathartic in many ways but performing it feels different. When I play Jimbo, I am navigating circumstances that aren’t my own. The world of Declan exists in its own surreal space.

It’s an incredibly intense piece to perform. There’s a minute-to-minute change of emotion or intention and in many ways it’s just as much of a roller coaster for me as it is for the audience.

I love performing this play and I’d love it to find its audience at the Fringe.

Do you think society today is more accepting of "otherness" than it was 20 years ago? Have things changed from when you grew up at the turn of the millennium?

It’s difficult to acknowledge that although the play is set over 20 years ago, the homophobic themes it homes in on feel ever-present right now.

The queer community is facing a new wave of backlash in the form of debates over trans-rights in the UK, censorious laws in the US, and a crackdown on gay parenting in Italy. The list goes on.

Having originally performed Declan for an online audience, have you had to make any changes for the version you will perform at the Underbelly Cowgate in Edinburgh?

It feels like a totally different piece now to what I presented online during the pandemic. I’ve been able to go back into the script, identify what I was trying to say with the character, and flesh out the story.

As a performer, I’ve relaxed into it more, working with the director Billy Barrett to craft the narrative and pace. It’s now exactly how I had always envisioned it: nightmarish, detailed, emotional, and atmospheric.

Finally, give us your 50-word pitch.

In exactly 50 words, tell our readers why they should book to see Declan when it comes to the Underbelly Cowgate in Edinburgh at 14:35 from 15th – 27th August?

Declan may have some heavy themes, but it doesn’t wallow. The central character’s eccentricities create much laughter from the audience.

I really believe in Declan and its message. It’s a strange, complex, and surreal little piece but it's wrapped up in so much truth around aspects of the queer experience.

Since you’re here…

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Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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