An Interview with Anna Harpin, co-writer and director of I Could’ve Been Better

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Before I Could’ve Been Better opened here at Bristol Old Vic we caught up with Anna Harpin, co-writer/director of the show and co-director of Idiot Child Theatre Company…

Could you sum up I Could’ve Been Better for us?
I Could’ve Been Better is a simple, if somewhat unusual, story of love, loneliness, and trying to get things right. It is a piece that explores feelings that are familiar to us all, but in a theatrical and playful way. We hope it is an engaging story of the beautiful failure of everyday life.

The production opens here at Bristol Old Vic next week, how are you feeling?
We are, predictably, a mixture of thrilled and entirely terrified! It is such a fantastic opportunity for us and we have had such generous support from Bristol Old Vic. In particular from Emma and Lina in Ferment, as well as everyone in the building, so we are keen to give it socks and make the most of the experience. I expect fear will overtake excitement as we edge closer to opening night.

What’s been the highlight of the rehearsal process?
Without question it has been getting back into the room with Jimmy. We had a bit of a pause in collaborating in the rehearsal room while he had a baby, so rediscovering our shared theatrical vocabulary and sense of humour has been a delight. There is a strange alchemy between us that means the rehearsal room is a really playful and exciting place to be. We also love James (the peculiar central character), so it has been great bringing him to life!

The play was devised and written by you and Jimmy Whiteaker – how did that partnership work?
Jimmy and I co-write all of Idiot Child’s work and we always use a mixture of devising, script writing, and improvisation to create the pieces. For this show it has just been Jimmy and I devising but ordinarily we collaborate with Susie Riddell (with whom we first set up the company). Over the past couple of years we’ve really learned how to bring out the different qualities in our three voices and meld them together into a single theatrical shape. It has, of course, had its stressful moments! But, at heart, we always make each other laugh like drains so that keeps the writing process a fundamentally happy one.

What was your inspiration?
Our inspiration for telling the story was probably, in part, the people we admire (HoiPolloi, Daniel Kitson, The League of Gentlemen to name but a few). The story itself came from our desire to tell a story about feeling inadequate and lonely! As a company we always start from autobiography and then distort our tales, and in this case we wanted to explore feelings that we felt were all too common but also all too commonly denied. James is, in some ways, a representation of how we all perhaps secretly feel inside.

Jimmy is the star of the show – how comfortable was he doing a photo shoot in his underwear?
Jimmy has a fantastic lack of vanity that means that he is able to be a clown. As such, while I don’t think public photos in his pants were his favourite moment in the process, he just took a deep breath and got on with it!

Tell us about the role that Bristol Old Vic Ferment has played in the development of I Could’ve Been Better.
We have had a fantastic relationship with Bristol Old Vic Ferment. The piece was initially shared back in July 2010 and Kate Yedigaroff and Sharon Clarke picked up the piece for development. Their creative and kind support has been continued by Emma Bettridge and Lina B Frank in the final realisation of the work. Collaborating with BOV, and supported by our producers Ruth and Susie, in this way has been a rich and rewarding experience. We feel very lucky. 

What makes Bristol different from the other places you’re touring the production – Exeter and London?
Bristol is the best city in the UK. It feels like a place where things happen. We love the city and the thirst for making and collaborating that exists here. It is our home and its theatres have been pivotal in the development of Idiot Child.

When in your life could you have been better?
Most days! I Could’ve Been Better really emerges from the experiences and oddities of mine and Jimmy’s lives and so, as you will see in the show, there is a deep sense that at many moments we have felt like we really could have been better. But I guess the show asks how far we all really feel like that and, therefore, it tries to embrace the odd and faltering beauty of everyday life.

We were sorry to see Idiot Child go last week after their production of I Could’ve Been Better. If you didn’t catch it, it’s at the Bike Shed in Exeter from Tue 30 Oct and we cannot recommend it enough!

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