Interview with Natasha Sutton-Williams, award-winning queer, disabled writer and actor

Natasha's new show, 'Clown Sex', will be at Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. 

Interview with Natasha Sutton-Williams, award-winning queer, disabled writer and actor

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I'm an award-winning queer, disabled writer and actor. I’m most excited when writing darkly comic, provocative work that spotlights subversive female-driven narratives. I showcase female protagonists who unashamedly speak their truths, desires and contradictions aloud. Through humour I give voice to taboo subject matter. I tackle internalised misogyny, the ubiquitous male gaze, and the difficulty of expressing female lust when society seeks to simultaneously commodify and shame women. My work has been described by critics as a ‘veritable tour-de-force’, ‘fearless’ and ‘filthy, bold and frighteningly recognisable’. My LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy drives all my work. 

How would you describe your show?

Gary Strange has moved into the London sewers due to the cost-of-living crisis. One benefit of living in London’s innards is that Gary can listen to his high-rise neighbours through drainpipes and plugholes, overhearing stories of bad sex, sad sex and even clown sex. He recounts a day in the life of a failed teacher and party animal, a journalist’s enlightening sexual encounter with a feline friend, and Gary’s personal experience of getting jiggy with a kink-positive clown. From garlic flavoured nipples to cat cunnilingus, it’s funny, grotesque and surprisingly relatable. 

What is your favourite part of your show?

I find it particularly satisfying when, as Gary Strange, I spit out the clown’s nipple into the audience and hear their surprise/shock/disgust. It’s in fact a pink rubber thimble. Who knew browsing in a sewing shop could prove so useful?  

If your show had a theme song, what would it be and why?

It does indeed have a theme song which I wrote! You can hear it at the start of the show when I make my first entrance. But if you would like a sneak peek of what it sounds like, you can listen to it as it is also the theme song for the Clown Sex podcast.  

Clown Sex podcast you ask? Let me tell you more. During the pandemic I adapted the stage show into a 6-part comedy drama podcast. It has much more material in it than I am able to illustrate in an hour-long show, and I am able to delve more deeply into the world of the characters. You can listen to the Clown Sex podcast wherever you get your pods! Here is a link to it on Spotify:

 https://open.spotify.com/show/3oCmcBVAsFhqCQnOmNsoRi

What is one thing you hope audiences will take away from your show?

Clown Sex is designed to entertain, provoke and titillate in equal measure. It’s freaky, funny and at times a little disturbing. But the message of the show is to invite people to lean into their secret desires, and seek out new experiences, even if society deems them to be unsavoury. As long as it’s consensual, this play is saying ‘Be free!’ Clown Sex is trying to promote not just a liberation of sexual freedom, but a liberation of thought, particularly when it comes to society’s judgements on individuals. You’ll have to come and experience the show to see if it delivers.  

If you could add a surprise celebrity cameo to your show, who would it be and why?

Richard O’Brien who wrote Rocky Horror Picture Show and hosted The Crystal Maze. I love everything about him, and his vibe perfectly fits Clown Sex. I’ve heard urban myths he will turn up and perform at a gig as long as you pay him in weed. 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I’m really excited to perform to an audience who likely doesn’t know my work and is taking a punt on the title of the show or the poster.   

What differentiates it from other festivals?

It’s the biggest performance arts festival in the world, and potentially the longest running as it was first set up in 1947. Whatever your taste is you’re going to find something that whets your cultural appetite. When you’re up there you know you are going to see some terrible shows alongside some amazing ones, and that it’s all part of the fun.

What is one thing you would change about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I would make it affordable for everyone involved. Many people in the industry say that the festival has become unethical, and severely unfair to performers, who have now become the customer.  

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

When people first meet me, many of them think I’m from America, when in fact I have a Canadian accent but have lived most of my life in the UK and was born in London. I am always perceived as ‘other’, whether I am in the UK or Canada. I’ve always been a bit different, and that comes through in the shows I make. You just need to look at the title of my show to understand I’m unconventional both personally and artistically.  

What is your favourite thing about performing for a live audience?

The immediacy of their response. Especially with comedy, as you can tell instantly whether the audience are enjoying the show or not. It’s like the crack cocaine of live performance. 

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you while performing?

This wasn’t when I was performing on stage per se, but one time I had to give an announcement to a movie theatre during a mother and babies screening, and as I was speaking to the crowd a toddler kept heckling me! I was surprisingly flummoxed and became tongue-tied. Luckily now I’ve faced my fear and some of my best friends are toddlers. 

What's the most challenging or unconventional venue you've ever performed in, and how did it impact the overall experience?

VAULT Festival in London is a pretty unconventional venue as it is essentially a series of interconnected underground tunnels. I’ve performed there multiple times, and it really is not ideal for performers (or audiences) as there is no fresh air, and the walls drip with water (at least what you think is water). However, as Clown Sex is set in the London sewers, the venue was actually the perfect place for creating an authentic atmosphere!   

Is there a piece of feedback you've received from an audience member or critic after a performance that’s stuck with you?

I’ve had people say, “This is the best piece of theatre I’ve ever seen in my life,” which is more than flattering and of course I am humble bragging here. 

On a more critical note, one of the directors I work with who is an amazing dancer (as well as actor and singer) said I wave my hands around unnecessarily while performing. This is perhaps because of nerves. So, I am now very aware of my hands when I am performing!

What is your favourite thing to do in Edinburgh when you're not performing? How do you relax and look after your mental health?

I love going to museums so I will definitely be heading to the freaky deaky Surgeon’s Hall Museums which have a great collection of anatomical body parts in jars and ‘natural and artificial curiosities’ that they used for scientific research during the 19th Century. 

Is there a show you’re excited to see when you’re up there?

Last year when I went up to the Fringe as a punter, I saw the queer, burlesque clown show Trash Salad devised and performed by Rosa Garland. It has gained quite a following since last year and is on for the first two weeks of Fringe at the Pleasance. It is a truly original show, so if you like your burlesque queer and freaky with a dash of vinaigrette on the side, be sure to check it out! 

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone thinking about taking a show up to Edinburgh? If you’ve never been before, what would you say has been (potentially) the most useful?

I think you need to keep your expectations realistic. A lot of people go up hoping to be the next Fleabag without realising the massive ‘behind the scenes’ support Phoebe Waller-Bridge had. Some really famous comedians like Eddie Izzard went up to the Fringe countless times before they were discovered. Going up to the Fringe with a positive attitude and thinking that you are going to have an interesting, exciting time whatever happens means that hopefully you will enjoy the experience whatever the outcome. 


Clown Sex will be performed at 1.45pm in Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Two)from2nd – 27th August (Not 16th, 21st or 28th)

Booking link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/clown-sex

Header Image Credit: Rowan Spray

Author

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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