Writer, actor and director Katherine Gibbons on Playing Fate

This article is from 2012

Writer, actor and director Katherine Gibbons on Playing Fate

Photo: Jen Watson

An adapted version of the comedy-drama is heading back to the Fringe in 2012

Taking a play to Edinburgh’s fringe festival for the first time on a shoestring can be a tall order in itself. Yet for Katherine Gibbons this also involved writing, directing, producing, as well as acting in it. Michelle Vilk discovers what’s making her come back for more this summer.

In 2010, Katherine Gibbons, an actress and playwright from Newbury near Reading, took on the Fringe with her first ever scripted play, Playing Fate. She was inspired to write the piece after a few years in London and a series of classic out-of-work actor jobs such as waitressing, enveloping stuffing and temping. But it wasn’t until she found herself dressed up in a full Easter bunny costume at 9am one Monday morning to entertain children and her boss complimented her on how well she suited her outfit that she realised she needed a change of direction.

Taking pen to paper at her desk in Hampstead, Katherine started writing Playing Fate as a form of escapism. ‘Writing sometimes is like reading a book yet you get to invent where the plot goes next and you can take the characters anywhere,’ she says. ‘Most of all, I love immersing myself in my own world.’

Playing Fate tells the story of Gem and H whose relationship is tired and worn. The drama-comedy is based on one of Katherine’s own relationship break-ups: ‘I decided to write something that I knew about, something that everyone can relate to – a couple breaking up.’ The play explores whether Gem and H’s future rests on the small, insignificant annoyances that seem to be driving them apart or whether they should stop fighting against something bigger – fate – which is pushing them together.

Katherine never intended for Playing Fate to be read by anyone else let alone performed as she was scared what people would think. With her parents and husband her harshest critics, there was only one way for Katherine to find out if the piece had any potential.

On an off-chance she managed to put on the play with her sole audience being her husband, Chris. ‘After [the performance] he said “the thing I most feel is relief that it’s not crap because how could I ever tell you that it was awful?”’ This was all the encouragement Katherine needed: she subsequently entered it into the Camden Fringe Festival and Edinburgh soon after, taking on the roles of producer, director and actor. ‘It meant a lot to me,’ she says. ‘I was on my own. It was a huge learning curve but I was quite proud of myself for pulling it off.’

Costs for putting on a play at the Fringe can spiral exorbitantly. Katherine saved money by entering the Laughing Horse Free Festival and got the venue for free which would have been a huge financial drain. However, she learned that even cutting costs comes at a price: ‘The venue was interesting! Among other things, when a reviewer came, he sat at the back of the theatre with loud air-conditioning blasting out, which the venue staff kept forgetting to turn off, making it really difficult to hear anything. Of course he complained about that in his review.’

When a technical glitch occurred one day Katherine realised the importance of knowing what you’re doing behind the scenes: ‘Ten minutes before curtain call, as the audience were coming in, I discovered that all the lighting and sound cues had been recorded over. Luckily, Jen Watson, my light and sound technician, saved the show and managed to re-programme everything within five minutes.’

The highlight of Edinburgh was the last night where there was a fantastic turn-out and a responsive audience laughing in all the right places. Katherine was finally able to let go and enjoy the show: ‘As the writer and director, you sometimes think too much about every element but this was the first time I was acting, I was completely involved in my character and I wasn’t thinking, “That prop should be there”.’

An adapted version of Playing Fate will return to the Fringe this August. She hopes this time that paying for a venue will be worthwhile with more chances of reviews and a prime slot in the programme: ‘[The Fringe] is a great platform to have your play stand on its own two feet. I want it to go out with a bang. I want people to enjoy and appreciate it. That would be a great send off.’

Playing Fate, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Space at Surgeons Hall, 4-18 August at 5.10pm. Preview 3 August.

Playing Fate

A humorous and touching new play about a couple on the verge of break up. Starting in the present and unravelling in the past you are witness to the many moments the couple came to meet. Has fate played a part in their relationship or have they been playing their own fate? ‘A thoughtful exploration of fate and the future…

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