Interview with Kathy Maniura and Derek Mitchell, Horseplay

"The pandemic was unequivocally awful for the arts, and not being able to perform or rehearse in the same room was a real struggle. That said, I think it's taught us to give creative processes the time they need, because time is the one thing we did have."

Interview with Kathy Maniura and Derek Mitchell, Horseplay

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Hiya, we're Kathy Maniura and Derek Mitchell - the members of queer character comedy duo Horseplay. We've been writing and performing comedy together since we met at uni in 2015 and these days, we live together in Hoxton with a wardrobe full of wigs in the living room. We love writing absurd, elaborate shows full of big characters and original musical numbers that highlight the contradictions of modern life. 

How would you describe your show?

Bareback is an absurd, narrative character comedy. It's set in the afterlife and it's all about sex and performance. Full of big characters, music and wigs, you'll meet a failed actress, a celebrity sex therapist, an artisanal dildo maker, Timothee Chalamet and a talking anus and vagina. It's a wild ride for anyone who loves silly absurdity and big stories with heart.

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Bareback is an absurd character comedy that sits somewhere between comedy and theatre - there's no better place for it than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Performing every day is the ultimate boot camp for a show, and for performers. We're excited to see what new things we learn about the characters and ourselves in that time. There's such a wealth of creative people in Edinburgh - both other performers and audience members, and we can't wait to meet and share our show with as many as possible. It also gives us a chance for a daily pre-show Irn Bru. 

What differentiates it from other festivals?

It's so rare to have the opportunity to perform a show every day for a full month, and we're so excited to get to know all our characters better than ever before. It's also an amazing coming together of creative people from all over the world who transform the city. Where else can you go and see a comedy show at 3am, then have a sit-down meal? You also see things you'd never see anywhere else. I have a friend who says you haven't experienced the Fringe each year until you've seen something terrible, something unexpectedly incredible, and something completely baffling. We endeavour to be in the second category... 

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

We just love entertaining and making people laugh. It started young - Kathy is on video conducting people singing Happy Birthday at my own party aged 10 (a sign of what was to come) and at a similar age, Derek attended Bible camp and pretended he'd seen Jesus walking on a lake. Everyone believed him - his first five-star performance. We grew up loving big character performers on TV - Catherine Tate, Tracey Ullman, SNL greats like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, and sketch geniuses like the Mighty Boosh, Mortimer and Whitehouse. Ultimately, spending our days coming up with silly ideas and trying them out together is all we want to do. 

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?

We are both very lucky to have supportive families who (misguidedly?) encouraged our creative pursuits - driving us to rehearsals, filming us making teenage sketches, exposing us to the wonders (and horrors) of local community theatre. We were lucky to grow up in culturally rich cities - Derek in Chicago, Kathy in London - and didn't have to go out of our way to see great theatre and comedy, or take part in it ourselves. It's important to say we also both come from financially comfortable backgrounds, which unfortunately still makes everything easier in an artistic career. Having that safety net when taking creative risks is a privilege, and the industry needs to do a lot better supporting early career creatives who cannot rely on that support. 

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

Kathy has a blur of English primary school art memories - potato cutter paintings, dried pasta necklaces, nativity plays, weird songs one can never forget ('conkers, I'm collecting conkers, I'm trying hard to find the biggest and the best'). Derek assembled a diaper bag out of paper and staples at age three, when his sibling was born.

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

Kathy used to work in advertising, so probably that - working in an ad agency, schmoozing clients at boozy lunches, preparing elaborate pitches for shampoo/chocolate/banks, feeling somewhat empty inside (sorry advertising execs). Derek used to want to be an Egyptologist, so there's a good chance he'd be poking around a pyramid right now.

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now?

The pandemic was unequivocally awful for the arts, and not being able to perform or rehearse in the same room was a real struggle. That said, I think it's taught us to give creative processes the time they need, because time is the one thing we did have. We fully rewrote our show over Zoom, meticulously pulling it apart, interrogating the characters and the narrative arcs, squeezing in as many jokes as possible. It was a novelty to have this amount of time to dedicate to the process, and it's almost certain we wouldn't have made that time otherwise, and the script would be much worse for it. So yes, we now approach writing processes with more patience, having seen the benefits that a focused period of development can bring. We also don't take it for granted and approach every opportunity to perform and collaborate with gratitude and joy. Having been deprived of it for so long, we've fallen in love with performing all over again. 

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Brutal, destabilizing, chaotic, isolated, puss 

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’?

I think 'cancel culture' as a phrase has taken on a slightly nebulous and often unhelpful meaning. Do I think art should be exempt from criticism? Absolutely not. At its best, art is an expression of human experience which is inherently subjective and can provoke important and fascinating discussion. That said, because of the vulnerability involved in creating art, I think it's reasonable to expect that to be done sensitively, and without deliberate intent to cause harm. Where creators are not receptive to feedback and are wilfully causing harm - especially to the most vulnerable groups in society - I do believe that it's up to individual institutions and, indeed, audiences, to decide whether or not to platform them. And I would add, this has always been the case. If you're saying things that hurt people, don't expect many invites. 

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

It would be so amazing to get to see improv comedy (as we know it) being invented and developed in Chicago in the 1960s. It'd also be cool to hang with Jane Austen, though the jury's out as to whether she'd actually be much fun/funny IRL.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Expect the unexpected, give yourself more time than you think you need for everything, eat some vegetables, don't lose sight of the fun of it and pace yourself!

When and where can people see your show?

Underbelly (Belly Dancer), 4-28 August (not 16) 22.30

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

@hrsplay on Instagram and Twitter

Horseplay: Bareback, Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Dancer), 10.30pm, 4-28 August (not 16). For tickets, visit: 

Header Image Credit: Skye Baker


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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