R&D with Disco Sweatpants and Blonde Wigs.

Producer Jennifer Alice Malarkey of Encounter theatre talks us through the early writing stages of I Heart Catherine Pistachio, coming to The Studio at The Lowry Fri 29 Jan.

Myself and writer, Lee Mattinson met when I ran a Lab at ARC, Stockton for dancers and actors. I’m obsessed by how these two very different and amazing artists can occupy a performance space together and asked Lee to get involved in our explorative process.
I wanted to work with Lee because he is basically as dark as I am. Maybe darker in fact. You should see some of the stuff he writes.
I think I had an instinct that if we mashed our heads together something really weird and wonderful might emerge. That what we could create together was nothing we could create apart. I asked Lee if he could observe the work we were exploring, both textual and choreographic and write in response to what he saw. I think he thought I was a bit weird at first, you know, like watch some dance and write…eh?
He wrote some in the studio, while everyone was lunging themselves about the space in their disco sweatpants and then went away and wrote up 12 short pieces. He came back surprised as how easy it was to write stuff just from watching Box Splits and Moon Walks, and how what he saw had inspired all kinds of new form within which his imagination could run riot.

We had decided that each piece for some kind of coherence should have a ‘Catherine’ in it. Basically because it’s a normal name, and normal is something we are both really into, whether its the suburbs, grandparents, pet dogs or otherwise.

Normal really gets us going.
I had been exploring the idea with the performers that life can and does sometimes just get worse and worse and not ever get better. That there were so many stories with happy endings or some level of moral redemption at the end that for me just didn’t reflect reality or maybe didn’t just let a shit moment be a shit moment.

And I loved the way that s**t things are also funny things, that the line can be really thin. I was excited by what happens for the audience when you take stories to their darkest extremes, the humor and absurdity in that but also the truth and basically how much we could get away with and still make a work for a mainstream or broad audience.
As a result of this, one piece stuck out for me: a story about a girl called Catherine whose parents were incredibly abusive towards her. I wondered if we could take the idea of the horror of abuse and push it further somehow. I also wondered what it might afford us if we had two Catherine’s. How that would open up what was possible to play with in the space and the story.

So, myself and Lee, armed with some blonde wigs took the ideas into an R&D with actor, Nick Blakeley and dancer, Andrew Gardiner. Together, through dance and text based exploration we came up with much more structure and story.
By the end of 2 weeks we had the bones of what we thought was a credible show. A comedy. With 2 grown men playing a young girl. About abuse.
We premiered the show in Berlin and then it ran a sold out week at Soho Theatre, followed by Paine’s Plough Roundabout, Edinburgh.
Reviews contained sentences like, “Crushing Sentimentality Through A Meat-Grinder”, “ Sick F**ks” And “ A Comic Atrocity Determined To Throw Its Audience Wildly Off Kilter”.
It’s worth noting that those quotes were from critics who loved the work.


Written by Jen Malarkey, Artistic Director at Encounter Theatre.