From job interviews to sex, everything is different after having children, says Fingal Pollock. She is the director of Femme Natale, an adults-only sketch comedy show coming to Taranaki as part of the Right Royal Cabaret Fest. Stratford Press editor Ilona Hanne caught up with Fingal for a chat to find out what audiences can expect from the show, and why it's healthy to laugh at ourselves.
I feel before we start talking about breasts, sex and giant sanitary pads, I should know a bit more about you than just your name. So at the risk of sounding like dodgy blind date - tell me a bit about yourself.
I've been a professional actor and director for over 20 years now. I actually trained in India, in a little village in Hampi. I had already studied acting at university before that, and had been touring as an actress around New Zealand for a couple of years, saving money to travel, which is how I got to India. While I was there, in this small town, I heard someone talking with a Kiwi accent, which I hadn't heard for ages. We got talking and they told me they were living with a group of actors in Hampi and invited me to join them.
The actor running the group (Adil Hussain of Life of Pi fame) was really ahead of his time in the things he taught us, which came from a mix of Eastern and Western philosophies.
For actors, one of the hardest things to do is safely move in and out of the emotions they are playing on stage, it can be really hard ... he taught us how to find the silent, calm place within to hold on to, while the storm of emotions passed over you. Acting is a trade, and just like any tradie you have to look after your tools. The difference is, in acting your tool is your body and mind, so you have to learn how to care for them.
So is comedy a way you like to safely explore emotions and feelings?
Yes. I look for the humour in things that can be hard to talk about. The balance between funny and visceral truth is my happy place.
There is certainly nothing more raw and packed with emotion than the experience of motherhood is there?
No - I had never been really scared before I got pregnant. Suddenly there are all these fears, that emotion, that responsibility, really hit hard.
You've written over half the sketches in the show, and appear in some as well as directing the whole thing but the show also features parts written and performed by others. How did you find others with the same sense of humour and take on parenting?
It's the way the theatre world works. I had been in a sketch show called Hens' Teeth, which was an amazing experience. I got to know some of the others in the show, two of them did this hilarious skit about mammograms and we started talking about how funny it would be to do something about breastfeeding. When I had the idea for Femme Natale I called them and asked if they wanted to do it. The friend of a friend got in touch, and it when on from there. I have known Jeremy, who is our token male in the show, for ages, He and I were clown doctors together.
Obviously, a lot of this is personal experience, but is it all? Where do the ideas come from?
It really is just from being in that world. I will go through something, or have a thought come to me and it grows into a sketch. I remember sitting in a playground one day, so tired, bags under my eyes, and I looked around at all the other parents who were all the same, and I remember thinking 'she would have been so beautiful on her wedding day' and that line and idea turns up in one of the sketches. I don't write about what I haven't experienced, because you can't do that with comedy in a way that is respectful, so most of it comes from my own experience, or the experience of the others in the show.
Are men safe at this show? Will men in the audience find it funny or will they feel picked on?
Men in the audiences so far have loved it. I was flabbergasted actually by the response. We have had men who have never even had kids saying how funny it is. I think the point is, it's inclusive comedy, we are laughing at ourselves, not making jokes at other people's expense. If we don't laugh at ourselves, at the risk of sounding clichéd, we will cry.
There are some fantastic Kiwi performers in this show. If you could cast anyone in the world, though, who would you like to see in the show?
Dawn French, she would be brilliant. We also always cast one local actress in the show wherever we are performing. They play a character called Shanitary, who is dressed up as a giant sanitary pad, and come on to change the set between skits, while being really grumpy. In New Plymouth we have cast Julie Trigger in the role. I love the way we do this, the kaupapa of building connections with actors all over New Zealand. It's something I think women especially need to do, make connections with each other.
Need to know:
What: Femme Natale
When: Saturday, July 31, 6pm
Where: Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth.
Tickets: Via Ticketek
Content warning: Adults only, contains course language, sexual references.
WIN: Thanks to the wonderful team at TAFT (Taranaki Arts Festival Trust) we have a double pass to the show to give away to one lucky reader. To be in to win - simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with femme natale in the subject line. Include your name and contact number in the email. Competition closes at noon on Wednesday, July 7, and the winner will be contacted that day. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more ways to enter.