The writer and performer talks about her three shows and why she can't get enough of the stage
Pickle Jar tells a tale too often unheard: the formidable teacher guiding young lives in righteousness and wisdom, yet realising that in their own personal life, they are far from perfection. Maddie Rice's debut play has the TV actor and member of the comic troupes zazU and Lead Pencil casting out into deeper waters. 'I have always written comedy and I'm in a surreal sketch group called zazU,' Rice says. 'But I have always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to write drama because I act in a lot of drama. Now was the time to do it!'
The story of a teacher trying to balance work and personal life, safe-sex classes and Tinder hook-ups, came to Rice easily given that her best friend works in education. 'When we are younger, we have an image of people in roles of responsibility, like teachers and the police, and we assume them to be kind of flawless and sorted out. As you get older, you realise that they're doing their job well but in their own life they don't know how to deal with every situation. The play is about a young person who is struggling with being an adult, and what happens when your personal life collides with your work life.'
Pickle Jar, a solo show starring Rice herself, explores the whirlwind of contemporary life, where freedom is both opened up and constrained by social media, and the quest for intimacy becomes a series of interesting encounters rather than the traditional shortcut to marriage. Rice's protagonist might encourage her students to be responsible, but she's likely to be doing this while nursing a hangover.
Rice observes that there are social pressures which accompany this apparently liberated age. 'Women and less-privileged groups tend to blame themselves for things that are out of their control. And they feel that they need to take all this responsibility for things that are not their fault because of this empathetic need to remove responsibility from other people.'
Having toured with the runaway Fringe success Fleabag for the past five months, Rice is no stranger to the rigours of a monologue. Her enthusiasm for Fleabag, which took her to Australia, is evident as she recalls what has been a gruelling programme. 'It was amazing. The only bits I haven't enjoyed are the road! I have loved it, though, to see what different places think of the show.' The success of Fleabag's tale of modern guilt – which shares Pickle Jar's shifts between laughter and sorrow – demonstrates that urban life offers the same challenges all around the world.
zazU/ credit. David P Scott While Rice is resisting the temptation to take a break, she admits that the experience of writing and acting is a refreshing change to the pressures of performing a successful play written by someone else. 'I should have given myself a rest,' she laughs. 'But I do have a month and a half where I am not performing.'
Yet Rice can't get enough of being on stage: Pickle Jar is not her only entry at the Fringe. 'I am going for a hat-trick! I'm doing a sketch show with Lead Pencil who I've been with for years and years. We're doing a reunion show but it doesn't go to plan. And then with zazU, I'm doing a comedy quiz show which is a Shooting Stars style show with different guests every day.'
Despite her fame on TV, notably in Call the Midwife, Rice clearly loves live theatre and the Fringe. 'This will be my sixth year: I love the Fringe. I find it completely exhausting but there is nowhere else in the world like it. There is a reason we get addicted to going and people pretend "this is my last year" and then the same faces are back every year!'
While Pickle Jar is serious stuff, Rice hasn't abandoned the humour. 'This play is very much treading that line between comedy and drama, which fits really well in Edinburgh. The audiences like that duality. It will make you laugh and feel something, maybe in the same beat. For me, that is what real life is like. In an hour, you can have a cry, laugh and get angry. That is why I started writing: I was either doing broad comedies or dark drama, and I wanted to do something in the middle.'
Pickle Jar, Underbelly, Cowgate, Sat 4–Sun 26 Aug (not 14) Lead Pencil, Underbelly, Cowgate, Sat 4–Sun 26 Aug (not 14) zazU: zazUtinany, Underbelly, Bristo Square, Sat 4–Thu 12 Aug
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