What is PDA all about?
Fri 6 Feb 12PM
Ahead of the opening next week, we sat down with Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky & Mannish) to find out more about his debut solo show Psychodermabrasion.
Time to get to the bottom of this, Matthew...
What does Psychodermabrasion mean?
Choosing a title is the hardest part of the job, honestly. And I know I shouldn't have made it extra difficult by going with a COMPLETELY MADE-UP word, but in my defence, it is actually two real words shmushed together. "Psychodermatology" is the study of the complex relationship between skin and mind, and how the state of one can severely affect the other.
"Dermabrasion" is the process of carefully removing topmost layers of skin to correct underlying damage. The process of making this show has been a bit like performing dermabrasion on my mind, and so it seemed to just make perfect sense. Jacksons Lane's marketing manager wasn't best pleased with me though. "Just think of the hashtag, Matthew!" she wailed at me over coffee. Love her.
What is the show all about?
Aside from the obvious three themes - which are skin, sex and the problem of direct address - I could give about a hundred answers to that, including but not limited to: astrology, numbers, addiction, co-dependency, monogamy, Noel's House Party, obligation, self-deception, toilets and defecation, lavender, concealment, confession, rape, and snakes. But I can sum it all up in one word. This show is about me.
What inspired you to make a solo show about yourself?
I received a text from someone calling me a "scarfaced cunt." And my immediate thought was, "That's a show." It's changed massively since then. The first concept was a loose Christmas Carol reworking with me as a Scrooge-esque miser visited by apparitions.
But working with Dickie Beau is not like that. You can't turn up to the rehearsal room with pages of draft script saying "Ok so I think there's going to be, like, mirrors everywhere, on every surface, and I'm going to have this huge canvas at the back of the room that I'm always talking about painting but never start, and then I'm going to fall face-first onto a lit stove..." (All things I did write.) If you turn up with that many arbitrary and superficial decisions already made, Dickie will just smile sweetly and say "That's lovely, but could you tell me about the guy who sent you this text? Who is he? Why did he say that? How did you feel?" And then before you know it you have a show that is so truthful it's embarrassing.
How will the audience feel, or how do you hope they will feel, once they’ve seen the show?
I think, despite some of the more visceral bits, they will come out feeling surprisingly tender and warm. I've put a hell of a lot of bleak stuff in this show, but even so I still think of it as an uplifting comedy! Then again, I thought the recent production of Electra at the Old Vic with Kristin Scott Thomas was a laugh-a-minute riot, to the horror of my friends, so perhaps I don't think in conventional genres.
I think the important thing for me has always been to keep sight of the fact that I'm asking the audience to take part in my own personal therapy session - I've got to repay them somehow. And my preferred currency is big splashy overtures, dance breaks, showtunes, and other fun stuff to ease them into my bleak world.
How did Dickie Beau input into the process? What was it like working together?
Dickie is the reason it's happening, really. I met him about seven years ago backstage at a cabaret show but he seemed very stand-offish (later I learned that this is just him being focused and preparing to do a performance.) Then I met him again two years ago in Australia, and we had a long friendly chat, during which I said I was unsure what I would be doing when I got back to England. Luckily, he remembered that and asked me about working on a project with him that turned into last year's Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award-winning show Camera Lucida at the Barbican.
During that process (which was a really different way of working that totally expanded my vision), I received the aforementioned "scarfaced cunt" text, and after the show was over, I met Dickie for coffee in Bethnal Green and said "Can I tell you something?" Two hours later, after I'd told him all about my skin problems and sex hang-ups, he said "That's a show, it sounds incredible, I'd love to see it, you should apply for funding, and I'd be honoured to be involved." And here we are. Working with him is like swimming underwater for ages until you can't see the surface anymore, and then finding a palace at the bottom of the sea.
What is the most significant thing you’ve learnt from making the show?
That the big awful things I blame myself for are only partly my fault, and there are many worse things I do every day on a miniature scale that never occur to me. I don't know myself. No one does. Self-deception is the only shield against knowledge that would otherwise cripple us.
You’re one half of the hugely successful cabaret act Frisky & Mannish. How do you feel about going solo this time?
I've never thought of myself as not solo, to be honest. My work with Laura (Frisky) has always been, to my mind, an incredibly fruitful collaboration of two VERY different types of artist. People often comment on the wonderful chemistry we have - I don't think you can possibly have that if you don't challenge, undercut and pull away from each other the way we do, while always remaining respectful of each other's styles and decisions.
I also don't think this show is any more "solo" than F&M really. Yes, I'll be alone onstage, but the whole project is a collaboration with some of my favourite people in the world. Alongside Dickie, I've got Kit my lighting designer, who is an old friend from college, Baz my sound designer, who is F&M's production manager, and Yaya my set designer, who cuts my hair all the time and drinks wine with me. Nothing is really solo. (Obviously I'm saying this so I can blame other people if it goes badly.)
Why is there a content warning on the show? Will we be offended?
The content is certainly explicit. I don't think it's anything that isn't going on in most people's everyday existence, but it's the stuff that isn't generally openly talked about. Whether it will offend you depends entirely on you! Some things that cause offence really shouldn't, whereas some things that don't should. I think a One Direction concert should come with a content warning. I think the people that would be offended by my personality and behaviour are probably also people who would complain that kids shouldn't be taught about homosexuality in school, and same-sex marriage shouldn't be considered the same as "normal" marriage, and that kind of thing... You know, people who say "I'm fine with it, just as long as you don't rub it in my face, and flaunt it, because then I have to admit that I'm not fine with it."
We’ve heard rumours of show tune numbers? So it’s not all doom and gloom?
The rumours are true. But remember, a showtune could be about a very doomful, gloomful subject. This entire show has been one big experiment in making a musical work under the most unhelpful constraints. No big cast backed by kicking chorus line, no orchestra in the pit, no leading man and lady falling in love, no comedy supporting characters, no sequinned flapper dresses or sailor suits... But there is a musical in everything. I believe that. I really do.
You can find out more about Psychodermabrasion here.