I am quite nervous. Five years ago, in 2016, I was sitting in my garden, having a coffee and a chat with a friend while our kids were having a playdate. We were depressed about the election result in the US and asking ourselves why nobody was listening to the women. From this conversation came the idea of creating a platform for women’s voices. It felt like some positive action in the face of women being silenced or not believed. I decided to give them space to tell their stories. Of course, I had no idea that five years later, I’d be preparing to go on stage at The Bush Theatre to record live in front of an audience a podcast episode with some of the most brilliant women, who I’d been admiring from a distance for some time.
We started small, with notices on boards in local pubs, looking for plays. I asked my collaborator, the director Lily McLeish, to direct a reading at the Hackney Attic, and I set up a Twitter account. Word of mouth started travelling, and eventually, by the third event, I think, we managed to attract about three hundred submissions from 45 different countries. The events sold out, the bar was buzzing, it was all great fun.
But Lily and I had always been a bit frustrated by how brilliant it was that there was such wide-spread interest, but that the audiences were mainly London-based, or at least from the UK. It seemed such a shame, when we were trying to foster connections globally, to then be pinned to the one spot of our venue in Hackney.
So the seed had been sown from the beginning, but only lockdown drove out the green shoot. When we got very quickly used to having all our meetings on Zoom, Lily and I suddenly were hit by the brainwave solution to use technology to connect our writers, directors and most importantly, our audiences worldwide. The Fizzy Sherbet Podcast was born and took off with a pilot series, where we not only showcased the plays, but also gave our writers space to talk about anything and everything, to get to know them on a deeper level. Just as there were no restrictions or guidelines on the content of the plays we were looking for, we just wanted an open coffee chat with them. Alongside these chats, we took the opportunity to invite special guests to the podcast who were mostly from outside the theatre industry. They were historians, psychologists, environmental scientists, a young woman who had been in a relationship with an undercover cop and could talk to us about the experience alongside a play about police espionage.
It was a great way to be connected during lockdown, for me, but also for everyone involved in making the podcast. We assembled a brilliant team across three different countries, including producers Ameena Hamid and Steph J Weller, dramaturg and director Sandra Theresa Buch, writer and performer Josephine Starte and director Anna Girvan.
But during all that time we only saw each other over Zoom. Now, this Saturday, we will see each other at The Bush Theatre. We will do our first-ever live recording of the world premiere of The Diagnosis by Olivier-nominated playwright Athena Stevens, directed by Anna Girvan.
We’ll also chat with Athena, who is Artistic Director of Aegis Productions, writer in residence at The Finborough Theatre and Associate Artist at The Globe and with our amazing special guest, Sophie Williams, author of Millenial Black and Anti-Racist Ally. She is Ted Speaker, Founder of OfficialMillenialBlack and a Global Manager of Production at Netflix. She was responsible for The End of The F*cking World, if anyone’s seen that (I am fan-girling like crazy as I type this).
Lizzie Annis will take the lead in the cast of The Diagnosis just before joining the cast of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, directed by Jeremy Herrin, at the Duke of York’s.
It feels like we’ve come full circle. From the live events in Hackney to the digital platform of the podcast to now this crossover event at The Bush, which will be both live on the night and then be accessible in digital form for years to come on the podcast.
So yes, I am nervous, but in a good way, in the best way possible.
I’m delighted we will be able to share the live recording with an in-house audience, which will hopefully include you (!), and then beam out the podcast episode worldwide and for free (this could also be you, of course, with your earphones on). Saturday evening will be a truly uniting and accessible experience, not just for the original team of the Fizzy Sherbet Podcast, but also its fizzy audience, which has been assembling quietly during lockdown, and are now ready to come out on the town for a fizzy party. True to the tradition established at Hackney Attic, we will hand out a free Fizzy Sherbet sweet on the night (that is, if stock shortages allow – we blame Brexit!) and there will be lively discussions in the theatre bar after the event.