Boxless Theatre return to London with Hedgehog, following critically acclaimed runs of their debut work, Loop, and having been appointed as associate artists at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre.  Zöe Grain is a founder member of Boxless, but where she’s previously worked on the production side, primarily as movement director, she now makes a brave return to centre stage playing Manda, in this personal exploration of a teenager’s life.

Georgia Richardson joins the Boxless team as the Director of Hedgehog, “I trained as an actor at Italia Conti, that’s where I met Zöe,” explains Georgia, “before I went to Conti I did lots of dance and physical theatre, that’s what I like, that and very dark plays.”

Hedgehog at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Hedgehog at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Zöe says, “We’d heard such good things about Georgia’s direction and we wanted it to be a female piece that’s female led.  Alex Knott (the other half of Boxless Theatre) wrote it from stories I told him, but he was very aware he was a male writer telling a story in a female voice.  So, it’s nice that Georgia is on this project, she was there when I was just finding my feet.”

Georgia says she screamed when she was asked to direct Hedgehog, “I thought they were asking me to be movement director at first, I was terrified when I realised they wanted me to direct the whole thing!  But then I thought, when do you get handed a beautiful, amazing opportunity to get in to a rehearsal room full of people you adore, and admire, and who inspire you?  You have to do it no matter how terrified you are.”

Hedgehog is written for one female voice, but despite having all the lines to learn, Zöe won’t be alone on stage, “Boxless is all about physical theatre, and we wondered how we could bring that in to a one woman show. So, I have two other women on stage with me, they are labelled as Manda’s body, I am her voice and they are the body, but they also take on other characters to show Manda’s memories.”

Hedgehog begins on the eve of the millennium, so it’s filled with nineties nostalgia, but it’s more explains Zöe, “It’s about how Manda is influenced by other people, her own mental health, and her own mental well-being as she is telling her story. Manda wants to go to a party but can’t leave the house, so she talks through her memories of the last two years, she’s convincing herself of what she’s achieved so far, in order to convince herself what she can do now, which is something I think that we all do.”

Zoe Grain and Georgia Richardson in Rehearsal
Zoe Grain and Georgia Richardson in Rehearsal

For Zöe, Hedgehog is a very personal story, “I started telling Alex stories from school, there’s pressure then to decide what you are, sexuality wise or whatever, and the anxiety that I think everyone feels to some degree when growing up and beyond. I asked him to put those stories in to a play, and I don’t know how he did it but he did. A lot of Manda’s story comes from my story, I wouldn’t call it autobiographical but Manda is me in an alternative universe.”

Zöe feels in a place now where she is ready to perform again, “I trained as an actor at Italia Conti, but I suffered from anxiety every day without fail, it was just awful.  I think I lost the joy of acting, and I lost the good nerves that come with performing, instead it felt like impending doom.”

“I had a panic attack mid-show when we were doing the Libertine, the corset was so tight and, in a scene where I needed to cry, I just lost my breath, and it spiraled in to a panic attack.  I managed to finish the show, but something turned that day, and I thought I really don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

“Alex persuaded me over a sugary cocktail to set up a theatre company, and I think now that I have gone through all of that, I’m in a better place anxiety wise – I’m not scared, I know I can do it, but Zöe three years ago couldn’t see herself doing this – I’m a different person now.”

Georgia reminds Zöe that she’s come full circle, “you’ve gone through the pain, stayed in the industry and now you’re going back on stage to achieve what it is you always wanted to achieve, and you’re not alone, we have a great team working on this project.”

That team extends to some long-term collaborators, “It’s female led but not female exclusive,” explains Zöe, “Sam Heron and James Demaine are doing the music, sound is a big part of anxiety and we want to make sure the audience understand how it feels for Manda.”

The rehearsal process has been exhausting, but exciting says Georgia, “we have ideas bouncing around, we’ve been working so collaboratively, getting all the ideas together and fine tuning them all.  Zöe admits some of her ideas have been a little crazy, “Georgia let me try them, but then she’s honest and tells me when it doesn’t work!”

Hedgehog
Hedgehog

Georgia says it’s good to be open minded, “because some things you wouldn’t imagine to work, do work. It’s a phenomenal group of women, it’s been empowering to have these four women talking about growing up, what you are subjected to during that time, and your experiences.”

“The first time I read it, I thought Manda is me! She’s so awkward at that age and everyone can resonate with that, we can all remember that growing up was hard. That’s the good thing about Hedgehog, everyone will be able to take something away from it – something in Hedgehog will resonate with everyone.”

For Zöe, returning to the stage has been a difficult decision, but one that she knew she had to take, “I’m really happy that I’m coming back to the stage in a piece that’s been written especially for me, and that’s being produced by my own company.  I can’t pretend it’s not daunting, but I’m working with the most amazing group of friends, and they will support me in every way they can. This might be a play for one female voice, but I definitely don’t feel alone.”

Hedgehog is at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre 11th – 22nd June 2019.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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