Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 interview: Kim Noble discusses performance and mental health

This article is from 2014

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 interview: Kim Noble discusses performance and mental health

The comedian and performance artist is working with 'the vacuum cleaner' on new play Mental

Kim Noble’s talked about his own suicidal impulses on stage before – this year, he turns his attention to the mental health of the activist known as ‘the vacuum cleaner’. Kaite Welsh caught up with him

An audience member tried to have him institutionalised and he once filmed his own arrest for stalking, but controversial comedian and performance artist Kim Noble is back in Edinburgh with not one but two shows. Five years after he discussed his own suicidal impulses in Kim Noble Must Die, he has turned his attention to someone else's mental health and is directing Mental, an autobiographical account of the performance artist, activist, inpatient and ‘domestic extremist’ known only as 'the vacuum cleaner'. 

Mental takes place over 13 years, exploring the relationship between the vacuum cleaner's mental illness and his interactions with the police. It weaves together personal reflections, psychiatric records, police intelligence files and social services reports to create an unsettling look at the results of the stigma and social isolation around mental health. It also takes place under a giant duvet, for a select audience of 15.

Although Mental has been developed over a number of years, Noble has come to the production relatively recently but has helped the vacuum cleaner shape it, as well as preparing him for taking an intensely personal show to the hotbed of emotion that is the Fringe. Mindful of the toll of creating such an emotionally weighted piece, the vacuum cleaner approached mutual friends to see if Noble was well enough to collaborate.

‘I always thought his work was really interesting and obviously there was a kind of crossover with my last show,’ Noble explains. Since they both fuse multimedia with live performance, he felt it was a good fit – a rare expression of confidence from an artist who is beyond self-deprecating and keeps insisting he has no talent. 

Still, he's quick to downplay his involvement. ‘The word “direct” is a little bit strange,’ he muses. ‘I was brought in for a particular purpose.’ His role on Mental allowed him to have a distance from the subject that he isn't used to, saying he frequently loses sight ‘of what's real and what's on stage’ in his own shows. ‘I wasn't seeing the painful side that he's going through, I'm trying to see it from an audience perspective which I'm not sure I'm very good at doing for my own work.’

He is also performing his own show, You're Not Alone, which features, among other things, video footage of B&Q and the sound of his neighbours having sex, which he recorded through the wall without their knowledge. It is a follow-up of sorts to his 2009 production, ‘but I didn't want it to be,’ he insists, explaining that he'd hoped the catharsis from his first show would have been complete. ‘I tried to move on, but I just blatantly haven't.’ Noble admits that working on a production about someone else's mental health is easier than working on something autobiographical – ‘that sounds horrible, doesn't it? But you have a sort of objectivity when it's not about you.’

He plans on asking for additional support to manage his mental health during what he describes as ‘the madness of the Edinburgh month’ – and when he uses that word, you know he really means it. Given his crippling stage fright and agoraphobia – he's praying for a zombie apocalypse in Edinburgh this summer – it seems that in directing, Noble has finally found the perfect vehicle for the pain and innovation that characterise his work.

Mental, Pleasance Courtyard: The Bedroom, 556 6550, 7–24 Aug (not 11–13, 18–20), 6.30pm, £10 (£8).


The Vacuum Cleaner The Metropolitan Police call him a 'domestic extremist'. The NHS described him as ‘highly disturbed’ and labelled him with Borderline Personality Disorder. ‘A real and present threat to our business’ is how E.ON described him in the court. He prefers the term Mental. Directed by Perrier Award Best…

Kim Noble: You’re Not Alone

  • Directed by: Soho Theatre

Comedy detailing a man's attempts to get along in life at hardware store B&Q.