Wednesday, February 19

Interview: Joseph Morpurgo

- May 28, 2018


2015 Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee, three-time 2016 Chortle Award winner and BBC Radio 4 star Joseph Morpurgo presents Hammerhead – the Q&A after his boundary-smashing fictitious show about Frankenstein. He speaks with Victoria Nangle about this and more

I love the idea of the show. How do you get from Frankenstein to Hammerhead as a title?
Well I mean you’ll have to see it to find out. The title gets across a couple of different elements of the show, and hopefully the aggregate effect when you leave is like you’ll be: “Oh, I kind of understand what might be happening there!”

Does it help to have a working knowledge of the Mary Shelley text?
No, not at all. Frankenstein became the story that the show is about for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s a story that everyone has some handle on, even if all they do know is what the monster is you’ve got enough of a handle to appreciate the show. But if you know the text and you know the original story well there’ll be lots of implicit and explicit references to things that you’ll kind of enjoy. But it’s by no means a prerequisite.

And of course the show itself, without giving too much away, is kind of an adaptation of Frankenstein. In the sense that Frankenstein the book is about this young over ambitious creative, this scientist, who tries to make something life-changing – world-changing – and ends up creating this awful monster that destroys him. And there are some parallels with my story which is about this over-ambitious performer who tries to make this kind of world-changing piece of work that, as you’ll discover over the course of the show, maybe hasn’t gone quite as well as he thinks it has.

Are there any actors that you specifically had in mind when you created this character?
No, not especially. The fun of it for me was just me thinking what’s the maddest show I could make? What’s the most over ambitious, zeitgeist-busting show I could possibly make? And because in this post-show Q&A, we look at it from the margins, it means that I could be as imaginative as I wanted to be because the show wasn’t actually getting made. I think the character really spilled out of me developing this non-existent impossible show.

Would you ever consider trying to create the show itself, possibly as a follow on?
I think the budget to do it would require the GDP of a small African nation (laughs). So unless there’s a kind of sinister benefactor who really wants to make it happen for some bizarre reason I don’t think it’s especially viable. I mean what would their motive be? The show is nine hours long, it’s got 85 different characters in it, it’s got seven breeds of livestock – who would make this happen?

We haven’t Fleetwood Mac’d yet and all fallen out or started sleeping with each other

With yourself and Rachel Parris (The Mash Report) coming out of Austentatious (the Jane Austen-based improv show), it seems to be a very good base. Would you consider having a rolling cast?
I mean, we’re more like a band really. We set the group up – there’s eight of us in it now – we set up with six of us, some of whom we knew each other from uni and some of whom we met in London. And then we kind of added a few extra friends and close confidantes as we went.
You kind of touch on it – it’s got so many brilliant people in it. It’s so exciting, I think, for all of us. We all started when we were nobodies, as it were. And now there’s people like Cariad Lloyd who’s been in Peep Show and done a million things – QI, Have I Got News For You etcetera; Rachel Parris who obviously is super talented and has had this incredible moment recently; Andrew Hunter Murray, who does the QI podcast No Such Thing As A Fish which is inordinately successful. I think he’s selling out the Sydney Opera House with that next month.

Does it become more logistically difficult with the success that’s coming to all of you?
Yeah, I mean we have to manage each other’s schedules and that’s why we have a cast of eight but do shows with five or six. It gives us that little bit of wriggle room to see who’s available. Everyone’s getting busier and busier. But we still really enjoy doing it. I mean, maybe that’s why it’s not like a band. We haven’t Fleetwood Mac’d yet and all fallen out or started sleeping with each other, so it’s still really fun to just get in a room with those guys.

So what’s next for you?
So next for me – heading off on tour with Hammerhead and Austentatious. And then I’m just kind of working up a few things behind the scenes. Various different broadcasts, ideas, and – as ever – slowly nudging towards what might be the next show. So yes, stuff’s cooking but it’s all under wraps for the moment.

Joseph Morpurgo: Hammerhead, The Old Market, Wednesday 30 May, 8pm; Thursday 31 May – 2 June, 9.45pm, £12.50/10

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