At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Scarlett Stitt will be performing in her two-hander production Kissing A Fool alongside Dylan Aiello at the Frankenstein Bierkeller from August 4th to 13th. Kissing A Fool is a queer clown-cabaret about George Michael, which Scarlett started writing at RADA, and had a one man sold-out show at RADA’s GBS Theatre last year. Before taking the show to Edinburgh Fringe, Kissing A Fool will be at King’s Head Theatre in London on the 30th and 31st July as part of their Pride MT Season. Since graduating from RADA in 2022, this year, Scarlett has been in the cast of shows including Whiskey on the Rocks and Fifty Years, and during her time training, she performed in Babyclaws at the Bloomsbury Festival and as the titular role in Mother Courage, amongst other shows. Starting her acting career on screen, Scarlett played Moody Margaret in the 2011 feature film Horrid Henry: The Movie, alongside a cast including Theo Stevenson as Henry and Anjelica Huston as Miss Battle-Axe, and this upcoming year, she will be working on new projects and hoping to return to screen in the future alongside her theatre work. Catching up with Scarlett, she told us about taking Kissing A Fool to King’s Head Theatre and Edinburgh Fringe, her time training at RADA and playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry: The Movie.
You will be taking your production Kissing A Fool to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, can you tell us about the show?
Kissing A Fool is a queer clown-cabaret about George Michael, which focuses on his creative recovery following the loss of Anselmo Feleppa – George’s first love – to AIDS, and losing a public court battle with Sony. The show is set between two of his albums, and as he grapples with grief by confronting it, he is led through a whirlwind journey through his music and begins to write his album Older. Creativity triumphs over grief as we shine a new light on this pop legend’s iconic life and legacy. This project started at RADA and I am developing it with a fellow RADA grad and friend Dylan Aiello for a run at King’s Head Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe. The production showcases so many of our combined skills, as well as a tonne of our ideas when it comes to making theatre in new and exciting ways. George Michael’s story is inspirational, and we want to present it to our audiences like it’s never been seen before. I’m keen to present a character that is vulnerable as well as iconic, as he battles public pressure, media scrutiny and loss to triumph with love, talent and creativity.
How have you found the experience writing the show and what has it been like working on it with Dylan Aiello?
Dylan and I are a wicked pairing because we both like to work hard. Dylan brings all sorts of interesting skills other than his talent as an actor to the table. He’s insanely strong, and can lift our only prop (an 80 kilogram table) above his head, and he also worked as a musician for years, meaning the sound design for the show has been off the charts. It’s great to take a project like this and really dive deep into an icon’s psyche, and I feel that Dylan has approached it with total love and respect. I was raised on music from this period, whether it’s George Michael or the Spice Girls or Take That, so it’s been a really nostalgic journey for me. It’s also interesting to explore the ways in which the media preyed on pop stars before social media; it feels like things haven’t changed as much as they should have by now, and it’s sad to be making a queer celebration of a show when the times George was living through in 1993 were far less tolerant. Dylan and I hope to honour him with the final product, and are really getting the show on its feet. We have my favourite drag artist Wet Mess coming into rehearsals next week to do movement direction, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table!
Where did the idea come about and how long has it been in the making?
The idea began at RADA, and it was performed as a one man show in December in RADA’s GBS Theatre which sold out and received great feedback. I knew I wanted to take a show to the Fringe this year, and my ideas kept changing. Initially I was going to take a show about female friendship groups up with my childhood friends Helena Barlow, who was in Horrid Henry with me, and Georgia Lowe, who I went to primary school with and who is now an amazing pop star! But things change all the time when you’re living the creative life, and so eventually I called Dylan on the phone and suggested it. He was thrilled, and we’ve been going for it ever since! It feels like we’ve been thinking about it for years because so much of the work you do before you even start rehearsals, like marketing, getting a team together, booking and liaising with venues, fundraising, has to happen first. Nobody said it was easy!
The production will be performed by you and Dylan, how is it performing a two-hander piece?
The piece is very interesting, because it draws on more clown-like, musical elements to try and articulate grief and what it feels like. We wanted to emphasise the difficulty involved in the creative process, but also show that creativity can often be the only way through a moment of world ending, earth-shattering change. It’s a really hopeful show, and we hope that people take the message away that you should never, ever give up. I’m kind of playing ten characters, but my main function is as a shapeshifting grief figure, who leads George through the stages of grief and encourages him to write a song, oftentimes by using surprising and not always sympathetic tactics. I think this is one of the most abstract roles I’ve played, so it is a challenge, but we have such precise choreography now that actually it just becomes a question of meeting all of our marks and cues.
Ahead of the run at Edinburgh, Kissing A Fool will be playing at King’s Head Theatre in London on 30th and 31st July, how are you preparing for the London dates?
We are happy that we have another month to work on the show, and King’s Head have been really great about bringing us on board as part of their Pride MT Season. King’s Head is a theatre I’ve grown up going to, and it’s such a privilege to be able to perform there. I just want to make sure those shows are super exciting and really launch us into the Fringe. We’re having a GALA performance on the Monday evening and hope to sell the shows out in order to reach as many people in London as possible. There are so many fans that we really want to attract.
What are you looking forward to for performing the show at Edinburgh Fringe and what is it like having Kissing A Fool feature there?
I haven’t performed there in years and I can’t wait to be back there in a Fringe context. This year really feels like the Fringe is back after a lull post-COVID, and it’s great to be part of that energy around this summer. I think there are about 3000 productions heading up, so it’s daunting, but I believe in our show and think Frankenstein’s is the perfect venue for it. It’s at 6pm every day so we just need to make sure we catch the pre-dinner wave! I’m such a fan of so many shows heading up, and can’t wait to connect with creatives up there. I have huge nostalgia for the Fringe as I performed with Young Pleasance as a teenager, so will almost definitely bump into familiar faces.
Who do you think Kissing A Fool will appeal to and why would you recommend booking tickets?
Kissing A Fool is definitely a show for anyone currently struggling with grief or queer isolation. We want to reach as many of George Michael’s fans as possible, but also tell his story to people who might not know that much about him. This is a queer celebration of George Michael’s iconic legacy and we want to encourage as many LGBTQ+ audience members to rock up and have fun with us: this show is for you.
We understand you’ve been part of other productions this year including Whiskey on the Rocks and Fifty Years, can you tell us about some of them?
Yes, it seems that theatre is all I’ve been thinking about since I graduated! It’s early days still, I’m finding my feet, but performing at the Pleasance and receiving an Audience Choice Award was really exciting. The Pleasance is a place I feel a real connection to because I was involved with them at an early age, so it’s nice to go back there as an adult actor and perform.
You graduated from RADA in 2022, was there anything that encouraged you to train there and how was your time as a student?
I loved my time at RADA and think it has solidified acting as a craft for me. I gained so many skills and ways of entering into a role from the wonderful teaching staff there, and made lots of friends across other courses. It’s definitely the best learning environment I’ve ever been in, and would encourage anyone thinking of applying to go for it! There are so few courses which mean that there is an incredibly high standard across the board, and you get above and beyond from the teachers and working environment. I’d been acting in film and TV since the age of 11, but was obsessed with RADA after seeing a news segment about it on the TV, so when I decided to train formally it was an obvious first choice for me. The actors on the TV special were training in the exact same room I did most of my classes in! And the shows I’ve watched there are examples of some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen. No wonder it’s got such a legacy in the industry and has produced so many fiercely talented performers and stage crew.
Whilst at RADA, you performed in Babyclaws at the Bloomsbury Festival, how was this?
Babyclaws was written by my cousin Philippa Lawford, who is an incredible director and writer and who has great work coming up! We had a fun time putting it on its feet in less than two weeks. I loved the chance to perform at the festival with something so feral and surprising; the character was a twin who felt incestuous jealousy at her brother’s perfect life and fiancé. Part of the show’s requirements was that I had to do some animal work as a tiger, so it meant I got to go to London Zoo and watch the new tiger cubs playing!
Can you say about some of the other shows you performed in as a student and what did you enjoy most about training at RADA?
We performed lots of shows at RADA. Two highlights were performing as the titular Mother Courage in Brecht’s Mother Courage, directed by my favourite teacher and amazing friend Lesley Ewen. Lesley was fantastic during that process, and let’s just say our working relationship is continuing to take new shapes. I also loved a production we did called What If Birds, which was made in collaboration with Athens-based performance artist Euripides Laskaridis. Euripides’s work is some of the most surprising and innovative performance I’ve seen recently; he has wild aesthetics and blends drag, clown, bouffon, experimentation and many other elements to create something vibrant and new. We were lucky enough to work with him for a whole month. We started in an empty theatre with a trap door in the middle of the floor. As the show progressed, we ended up involving about 150 objects and costumes, all of which emerged from the trap door and, after vast eruptive worlds were created, everything vanished down the trap door at the end of the show, leaving a blank stage. The show involved tremendous discipline, and I remember some members of the cast finding it incredibly challenging, or really disliking it. The process cemented a real work ethic in my mind, and Dylan and I bonded over the shared experience of being part of that show. And it turned out great!
As a child actor, you had your first major role in 2011, when you played Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry: The Movie, do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and what was Moody Margaret like to play?
I was actually a really shy child, so when I got a lead role in the school play in year six my parents thought it would be a good idea to send me along to local drama classes. The Young Actors Theatre was where so many great actors started as kids, and we did regular classes as well as being part of the agency. So when I showed up to my first class, I didn’t know until afterwards that the casting director Suzanne Smith had been sitting in the back watching us play games. I got called in for a photo and a chat, and after that somehow I kept getting recalled until I landed the role. It genuinely felt like it had fallen out of the sky and I had been given this incredible gift. Watching the film I’m always surprised by how much I went for it as Moody Margaret, totally unrefined of course but with no inhibition whatsoever. That role felt super natural and kind of like an extension of my personality. It was a dream to play, and I think she’s such a cool, no nonsense kind of character, one that I’d grown up with! Being on that set was absolutely riotous; I don’t quite know how the tutors and chaperones dealt with it, there were like 20 kids having the time of their life. And there were some wonderful well-known actors in the cast too! It was the best fun ever, I still can’t believe that 11-year-old me got to have those experiences. I’m still in touch with lots of the cast members, and it’s nice to know that many of us are still acting.
Do you have any favourite memories from your time on set of the film and working alongside the rest of the cast?
There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to land on one! I remember being told by a makeup artist that Anjelica Houston, who is one of my favourite actors and a total icon for me, had watched a take I’d done and said “That one’s going to be a star”, which was a brilliant feeling aged 11! For the party scene at the end we all got to wear funky pink tutus and I got to wave a sparkly wand as we did a massive dance number to Sister Sledge, that scene was epic – and extremely hard to film. And, of course, I can’t talk about that film without mentioning the water bomb. I remember the first take they didn’t tell me they were going to drop it, to catch the ‘element of surprise’ but I was so shocked that I ducked out of shot, so we had to dry all of my clothes with a hairdryer and go again!
Where does your love of acting and writing come from and how did you get into both?
My love of acting comes from my early experiences on the Horrid Henry set and the countless classes I took as part of my training as a teenager and young adult. I have so many teachers to thank who taught me at YATI, NYT, Lecoq, RADA, as they breathed a new sense of possibility into my experiences growing up. The possibility for art as a genuine force for change, the possibility for an unconditionally loving and supportive community, the possibility to question and deep dive and challenge oneself to overcome barriers and blockages. I feel I have such a deep and profound love of acting as a result of the people I’ve met during my time training and performing. There is an incredible community out there that I’m fortunate to be a part of, even though I have so much to learn and am only just getting started as an adult actor. As for writing, I find it really hard as I often prefer to be on my feet doing things, but I’m coming around to it and there are some wonderful ways of bringing writing into your work as an actor. I’m in awe of people that can write good plays, it’s really hard! But what I’m noticing is that these hard distinctions between acting and writing are becoming blurred, as the definition of a play in a traditional sense becomes looser and new disciplines gain popularity. I think the current hybrid performance modes across the London theatre scene like live art and experimental clowning are really exciting and something to keep an eye on.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your free time?
I go and see theatre incredibly regularly as I consider it to be part of my job. If you aren’t regularly witnessing the culture, how can you be up to speed with changes and developments? I’m really into feminist and experimental theatre too, so have been seeing lots at Soho Theatre and the Yard as well as bigger shows at the National or the West End. My favourite show that I saw this year was Kim Noble’s production A Lullaby For Scavengers; it just went all the way past anything you’d expect! Michaela Coel is my TV icon, I’m obsessed with I May Destroy You and even wrote my dissertation on it. Films have always been a big part of my life, some of my favourites include Some Like It Hot, Withnail & I, La Piscine, After Hours, all of Steve McQueen and Celine Sciamma and Ruben Ostlund’s movies, the list goes on. I watched Kes by Ken Loach last night, which was a perfect but saddening portrayal of a young boy’s life, it really makes you question how much has really changed under the Tories. In my free time, I’m honestly either thinking about theatre or watching shows or movies or TV. I’m a bit of an obsessive, but luckily that’s my job!
Have you been given any advice from your time in the industry so far that has stuck with you?
Two pieces of advice that have stuck with me are “focus on the work” and “some people decide to be old”. The first was from an amazing playwright friend, and really helped me to stop comparing my journey to other people’s, particularly as a woman when so much of the pressure is about how you look and come across. The second one seems a little obscure, but it came from a teacher I had at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, when I trained there in the summer of 2018. I think that the way we think about our bodies has the potential to change the way we see life itself. If you are physically tuned, and your voice is properly worked, and you’re oiled and ready to move, acting becomes embodied and authentic, because you are no longer stuck. I believe all of us have everything we need within the frame of our own bodies. It’s empowering to discover that looking after your health and body as an actor brings you superpowers.
Are you currently working on any projects other than Kissing A Fool and what are you hoping 2023 brings for your career?
I have lots of ideas for the next year of my life, and about five projects that I really want to work on. The good thing is that a lot of those are collaborations with artists and friends that I really love, so I hope to shoot for the stars with these ideas and go for them. I know I’m doing a lot of theatre right now as well, but I’d love to get seriously back into TV and film, as that’s where I started and where I really want to work.
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