Comedian turned actor and writer Tom Palmer tells Giverny Masso how Fix Us, co-written with the BareFace Collective, deals with overcoming preconceptions of disability…
How did you get into theatre?
I was in the sketch comedy group Totally Tom. We performed at the Edinburgh Fringe for a couple of years running, received an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination and started doing stuff for TV. Then I got into acting. About five years ago, while I was a struggling actor trying to find meaning in my life, I started volunteering for the charity Access All Areas, which produces shows with disabled performers. After receiving Lottery funding two years ago, it set up three seed theatre companies and I started working with three incredible actors – Lee Philips, Zara Jayne and Kirsty Adams – along with director Paloma Oakenfold to form the BareFace Collective.
How did Fix Us come about?
We started talking about confidence and why actors who were so introverted off stage were able to play larger-than-life characters on stage. When the actors started to develop characters based on their imaginations, we found it extraordinary that the characters were the direct opposite of themselves. Kirsty has cerebral palsy and is incredibly quiet and meek, but she’s very loud on stage and her character is a drug-dealing psychopath who shouts at the audience. Then there’s Zara, who has CHARGE syndrome but is also asexual and very uptight, and her character is a sex-crazed diva. Lee, who is on the autistic spectrum, plays the flirtatious superhero Captain Everyman.
What have the audience reactions been like?
When they first sit down for the show, audiences feel a bit awkward about watching disabled theatre. I think there’s a part of them that worries they’re going to feel pity. What really puts them at ease is the first time everyone starts cracking jokes and they realise the gags are the most sexual, gruesome, familiar, childish jokes that we all love. Hopefully, people leave realising it’s not so much the actual disabilities in themselves that have inhibited these guys’ lives – it’s more the baggage that it comes with them. For example, it’s not the fact that Kirsty has cerebral palsy, but that she doesn’t think she’s valuable because of it and that people don’t include her. I hope that people leave realising we’re all fundamentally the same, with the same anxieties and the same stories of hidden talents and inner beauty.
What are your future plans with BareFace Collective?
This was our first production, and we are definitely planning to do more. The characters and actors are so unique, it would just be crazy not to use this for something more. We are planning to try to do a run in London after Edinburgh, and we’re thinking about the idea of doing a panto. I write for TV and film as well, so one of my big aims is to try to get these guys a show. Separately from BareFace, my film All My Friends Hate Me is shooting in November – it’s a very dark comedy about social paranoia that I’ve written with Tom Stourton.
First professional role: School bully in Doctor Who (2007)
Agent: Sarah Williams (writing) and Ollie Azis (acting) at Independent Talent
Fix Us is running at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh, until August 25