LEXI: The Debrief
Putting on a fringe show can feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants! Hauling your set up a flight of stairs that would make the likes of Sisyphus weep, tech rehearsals that are over before you’ve even switched on the lighting desk, last minute script changes, stressed actors, that desperate final push to get bums on seats - it’s a whirlwind! So it’s no wonder theatre makers get a bit tongue tied when they’re asked “How’d it go?” They genuinely don’t know! They were too busy in the eye of the storm, sailing a sinking ship through the formidable waters of DIY theatre!
And it’s for this reason we’ve waited a month before talking to the creators of our Camden Fringe show ‘LEXI’. I mean jeez, give the guys a day off! But now, the dust has settled, the nerves have vaporised, and we’re finally ready to talk about what really happened when The Bohemians went to the Camden Fringe in the summer of 2021.
So join our resident scribe as he sits down with Elliot Mackenzie & Sophie Bevan to find out how they survived the chaos and created the live gig-theatre experience that was LEXI!
Warning: Contains some strong language.
Sophie (left) and Elliot (right) pretending they're on the front page of NME. Photo by Jimmy O'Shea.
Hi Sophie and Elliot! Could you briefly sum up what LEXI is about?
Elliot: Yeah, LEXI is a one-person gig-theatre piece…whatever that means?! It deals with the themes of loneliness, our relationship with technology and the responsibility that tech companies have…and this is all shown through the narrative of a guy getting over a break up, basically? We see him form a romantic relationship with the Virtual Assistant on his Smart Speaker.
You describe the show as a piece of ‘gig-theatre’. What drew you to this particular style of theatre making?
Elliot: From the moment the idea was conceived I wanted it to feel like an amalgamation of art forms, rather than going to see a play or a gig. I wanted you to feel, as an audience member, that you were watching a piece of live music - as you would in a club or gig venue - and there just happened to be a narrative, and I was onstage playing a character that wasn’t me.
And I think I found that interesting because a question we often ask ourselves as a theatre company is ‘How do we expand our audience? And how do we get the audience to see stuff they wouldn’t necessarily see to stop theatre from being this elitist thing?’ And it’s not a new idea - the foundation of actor-musicianship is exactly that - the idea that live music can really be accessible to lots of different people. And I was quite passionate that it would feel accessible and interesting even if you weren’t that big on going to the theatre and seeing plays.
Elliot as Alex in LEXI. Photo by Joel Nash.
Tell us a bit about how the initial concept of LEXI was conceived?
Elliot: I guess it started in the first lockdown when my housemate got a Smart Speaker… and I suddenly thought, ‘It’s really strange how we interact with these objects like they’re human beings?’ And I think I’d just finished a series of ‘Black Mirror’ - and what that show does really well is take a concept to its extreme. So I just wondered ‘What was the extreme of our relationships with Smart Speakers?’ And I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if a guy fell in love with one?’ So I pitched it to The Bohemians and they were happy to exploit my madness! But although I had the music covered I knew I needed someone to write the script…and the person I wanted said yes and that person was Sophie!
Sophie: Yeah, the idea sounded really interesting and gig-theatre is where I naturally sit with writing so I was really excited to work with Elliot. We met up and discussed what could push someone to fall in love with a Smart Speaker? We decided a person must feel quite isolated to have to do that. I knew a lot of people who became newly single throughout lockdown and eventually the idea of a ‘break up story’ came to the forefront.
What did it feel like to flex your theatre-making muscles after this long year of zoom calls and overpriced craft beer subscriptions?
Sophie: When we started writing the lockdowns kept happening. So I think we had one meeting in person and then for the rest of the writing process we were on Zoom all the way up to the start of rehearsals! So it was quite nice to be doing something creative again and fuse brains, but it did have its limits with music. And we found it so much quicker to create once we got into the room together.
Elliot: Yeah, once we got into rehearsal I felt really really grateful to be in a room with people who knew what they were talking about. And I also felt really out of practice to be honest! I think if you ask creatives in a lot of different fields, they’ll all say that same thing. And then in terms of performing, I don’t think I really appreciated how much I enjoy it until the first show. I suddenly remembered the beautiful experience of playing music for other people. And the nature of the show means the audience feel like they’re sat in the flat with the character, and that was a lovely thing as well - especially having sat in a room on my own for year writing it! And Sophie had written some brilliantly funny text…and hearing an audience laugh at her words was a genuinely magical thing! It was one of those moments of ‘That’s why we do it!’
Sophie: Yeah, and everyone’s felt lonely this year. So sharing our play about isolation with an audience that’s gone through it was like a nice big brain hug for all of us!
Smiling through the chaos. Sophie in rehearsals for LEXI. Photo by Jimmy O'Shea.
Could you tell us a bit about the rehearsal process for the show?
Elliot: So on day one of rehearsals we met with our awesome director Holly and we basically decided to rewrite the whole show. We had a script, but some of the overarching concepts weren’t really working so Holly became much more of a dramaturg, deviser, facilitator. All the text changed, Sophie wrote an entirely new play in four days! Haha! I wrote two new songs, I’d say about 80% of the lyrics changed, Sophie wrote a rap that I had to learn…but it was good fun. Stressful fun, but it was quite good fun.
Sophie: Very crazy wasn’t it! And also, a lot of the time we’d be rehearsing or having deep thoughts and the train would be going over the top of the room! And a drummer would start up next door! It was very “Bohemian”.
(For those who don’t know - rehearsals for LEXI took place in a music studio directly under the London Overground!)
Elliot thinking of food. Photo by Jimmy O'Shea
I love how ‘Bohemian’ has become synonymous with ‘chaos’! Elliot, could you give us an insight into what it was like to perform the piece? What were the challenges? What were the joys? Were there ever any bum-clenching moments?
Elliot: It was interesting…after not being onstage for 18 months, I then did what was probably the most exposing piece of work that was possible to do creatively! Haha! I conceptualised the thing, most of the lyrics were mine, all of the music was mine and it was just me on stage. That’s just about as exposing as it gets really? And I definitely felt that. Particularly in the first couple of run throughs in front of the creative team. Because I’d just been doing it in my room for a year!
Sophie: And it was only finally learnt on the day of the show.
Elliot: Yeah, there was a lot of stuff to learn last minute. But once I got in the flow I found it really enjoyable. And also, the flip side of all that was because I’d done so much repetition in my room I found I was quite fluid with the kit I was using. And there’s a lot of live-looping and quite technical patch changes and all that sort of stuff. One of the tracks did a cumulative total of the number of times I’d played something, and there was one song where I’d played the keyboard part 687 times! So I’d got it under my fingers! Which was quite a nice feeling. And if something went wrong I felt like I knew what to do about it.
But on the subject of things going wrong, the biggest bum clenching moment onstage was when I got to the final song during the last performance. It’s quite an acoustic number, but it’s also live-looped. So I laid down the rhythm guitar part, then I play a sort of guitar percussion part…and I’m playing, I kick the loop pedal and then…nothing happens? So I erase it, try again…nothing happens? I try a third time, click, play it and I just get a ‘jink, jink, jink, jink, jink’ of the guitar repeating over on itself. And it’s quite scary when your entire arrangement is all based around one piece of kit that has decided to stop working! So in the end I just gave up and played the piece live. And people told me afterwards it was quite an interesting thing to watch anyway!
Dropping in at the venue. Photo by Benji Mowbray
Looking back at the project - from its inception to the last performance - what are your biggest takeaways? (I’m not talking about food)
Sophie: I think…to not take ‘being in a room’ for granted. And a lot of the process was quite stressful, but it mainly worked when I stopped panicking about it. So I think my biggest takeaway was to be present in the room,
trust the process and enjoy the ride. Haha! To talk in cliches!
Elliot: Haha! Yeah, I hope one of the main takeaways for you Sophie is that you can work way better and way quicker under pressure than you thought you could!
Sophie: Yeah! Who knew I could write so quickly? I didn’t!
Elliot: Yeah, I think some of the best stuff you’ve ever written came out of you sat on that sofa going ‘Fuck! I don’t know what to write!?!?’
Sophie: Yeah, but it was because we were all together! I felt very supported.
Elliot: Yeah, and it’s all the boring practical things too. Like Sophie will be sat there working on a scene and I’ll be sat there working on lyrics and I can just go, “What rhymes with feet?”
Sophie: Yeah! And being able to hear you I can write to your accent.
Elliot: And yeah, I think with all the stress and all the rewrites I think there’s a lot to be said for the idea that ‘It will all be fine because it has to be.’ I think anyone who’s ever worked on any creative endeavour with a deadline will relate to that! Haha!
What are your hopes for the future of the show?
Sophie: A couple of weeks after the show finished I watched the recording of it. And I already found moments where I was thinking ‘Oohh this could be like that’. And just a bit of distance and perspective made me excited to reenter it and try some different things. There a moments I want to heighten a bit more, I want to push the character a bit more and I want to explore the themes a bit more.
Elliot: Yeah, I think there’s something to be said for just not thinking about something for a bit. When I teach guitar lessons I often say ‘practice is really important, but if you’ve been slaving over those scales for two hours and you still can’t do it…just leave it and come back to it.’ And that’s true of a creative process too. And it’s definitely been true of this project. But moving forward, I really want to rethink the structure, the form - because we’re kind of dealing with a form that’s not as clear cut as a musical or a play. And I think the thing we’re striving for I’ve never actually seen before. It’s a really interesting statement about actor-musicianship. I always use the cliche that ‘actor-musicianship is acoustic guitars and cello straps.’ And I think our show says, “Well it can be that, but it can also be hip hop beats and guitar percussion.”
Sophie: Yeah, and I think I’m also thinking we’re at such an early stage. The piece can be anything. And that’s really exactly!
Sophie and Elliot, thank you for talking to me today.
Sophie and Elliot: No, thank you Funky Joel.
And that’s all from our Boho Blog for this month. If you’d like more LEXI-related content please head to our Instagram page @thebohemiansco.
Until next time,
Stay creative and…
LA VIE BOHEME!
The LEXI creative team celebrate with a glass of
Lidl's finest. Photo by Jimmy O'Shea.