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Joseph Morpurgo: An Interview

Joseph Morpurgo, an Edinburgh Fringe regular and three-time Chortle Award winner, is coming back to the stage for his fourth show – Hammerhead. Following past multi-media comedies - Soothing Sounds for Baby, Odessa and Truthmouth - Hammerhead has had glowing reviews and critical acclaim. We talk to Joseph about what to expect on his first ever solo tour for which he will be visiting London, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Canterbury, Hove, Reading and Wales.

Culture Calling: Thank you for speaking with us at Culture Calling. For those who don’t know much about it, could you please start by telling us a bit about your show, Hammerhead?
Joseph Morpurgo: The idea is that you come in as an audience who’s supposedly just seen my extravagantly ambitious, 9-hour one-man adaptation of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. It turns out it was crazy with 85 different characters, 60 breeds of livestock and 12 different languages spoken in it. The audience takes part in the post-show Q&A and ask questions about the show they’ve supposedly just seen.  Although this Q&A starts off very chummy, it disintegrates in to a kind of psychological spiral of despair.
CC: We’ve heard it’s a multi-media comedy – what exactly does that mean?
JM: Because we’re talking about the show you’ve supposedly just seen, you’ll see extracts from the show – there’s a screen behind me which will have a lot of sight gags and visual information such as script extracts, the poster and videos.
CC: What inspired you to write Hammerhead and present it in this way?
JM: I was always curious about the idea of doing a show which was a post-show Q&A of something that was in the margins of a non-existent show. Frankenstein seemed like an interesting jump off point because even if lots of people don’t necessarily know the book they will usually have some grasp of the basic story. Frankenstein is about a young ambitious scientist, Doctor Frankenstein, who tries to defy death and make a world changing creature, then his creature turns out to be this hideous beast who comes back to destroy him. I was curious to think, “What if someone had done an adaptation of Frankenstein which they think is going to be this world changing thing but ends up being incredibly unwieldy and grotesque?” That was the starting point.
CC: What cities are you touring in?
JM: We’re going all around the country. We’re in Brighton for a bunch of days, we’re in Manchester, Reading, Wales - all over the place!
CC: You first performed Hammerhead at Edinburgh Fringe Festival – how is doing the show on a National UK tour level different?
JM: At Edinburgh you do about 25 shows in a row so you get very used to the venue, but when touring you have to adapt to different spaces. That will always have an element of unpredictability which is quite fun. Because, in this show, the audience will be asking questions throughout, every show feels a bit different because it depends on who’s in the audience and how they’re asking their question, so the tour will also allow us to see how the audiences vary, city by city.
CC: You’ve done a lot of improvising, for example you’re a member of the award-winning Jane Austen inspired improv group Austentatious. How do you think that’s helped your comedy?
JM: When you’re used to making up an entire hour and a half long show with your friends it means that you have a readiness to play in the gaps of your script and have fun with what might go wrong. In this show we usually give out questions to the audience members as they come in, so although it’s quite scripted there’s lots of opportunity to have fun when someone asks a question in a weird way, or something goes slightly awry.
CC: You used to be a music journalist – how did you get in to comedy?
JM: I was in to comedy before I started doing music journalism. I started doing comedy and improve at university and then I started working with my improv group Austentatious which started in London about 7 years ago. I was balancing the two for a while and gradually comedy won out of the two. I’m definitely a superior comic than I was a music journalist, which does not say much for the quality of my comedy I’m afraid!
CC: What other shows have you written?
JM: Hammerhead is my fourth solo show; my last one was called Soothing Sounds for Baby which was about weird old vinyl, and my show before that was called Odessa. In Odessa I basically I found a weird old video clip of some local news from a station in Odessa, Texas, from 1983, showed this 90 second clip at the start of the show and then built a kind of comedy noir using all the characters from that initial bit of footage. I play the news reader and the person from the news report, and I play it all together in to this unusual semi-supernatural detective story. I did my first show the year prior to that which was based around stock images. They’re always quite different, I try to challenge myself with the shows I do.
CC: Finally, what have been some of your cities you’ve visited when you have been touring and why?
JM: This is actually my first solo tour - I have occasionally done gigs and previews around the UK but this is the first time I’m actually going to be out on the road with a finished show of my own. My improv show toured loads and I really loved going to Sheffield because it’s a very fun, exciting city. I’ve grown a lot of affection for Edinburgh, which we go to every year. With Austentatious I’ve been to a lot of small, pretty towns, like Rye and Bath. Last year I did a solo show at this festival in Aldeburgh called HighTide, and that was really beautiful.

The Hammerhead UK tour runs 12 March - 5 July 2018 in various locations over the UK. For more information about tour dates click here.