We spoke to writer and performer Naomi Westerman from Little But Fierce about her upcoming show at VAULT Festival
Can you sum up your show in five words?
Introspective, gripping, communal, personal, sharks!
What are the main challenges of creating a solo show, especially one that’s so personal?
The main challenge in creating such a personal solo show is figuring out how to accommodate all the various story strands and elements within one performance. Batman takes the form of a single monologue, which is interspersed with various interactive interruptions: I invite the audience to participate in an onstage Shiva ceremony, and ask them to play Death Bingo (and win prizes!). I am primarily a playwright and not an actor, so handling the tonal shifts between the two, and figuring out how much audiences would be able to follow a monologue that had so many interruptions, has been very tricky. I’m grateful for the Pleasance and the Bush Theatre, as well as Chronic Insanity of course, for letting me have the space and time to R&D this play and test out some of the trickier elements ahead of our run at Vault Festival.
Why did you want the audience to participate in the show?
I used to be an anthropologist studying death rituals across the world, and then my entire family died, and the professional became deeply personal. I’ve always been interested in the idea of communal grieving. My dad was from a very traditional ‘stiff upper lip’ English family (a culture that doesn’t have much of a tradition of communal grieving, or emotional openness), and my mum was Jewish and from a diaspora background (which is the exact opposite); I always felt those two sides of my heritage as somewhat in conflict with each other. My intention with this play was always to celebrate communal grieving. We’ve survived two years of this horrific pandemic and so many of us have lost loved ones, we can no longer afford to be so squeamish about our feelings. I want to use my own story to encourage people to be more open in talking about death, loss, and grief, because it’s only through combating these stigmas and taboos that we can start to heal.
What excites you most about taking part in VAULT Festival 2023?
What excites me most about taking part in Vault Festival 2023 is just seeing Vault Festival back properly for the first time since Covid. Vault has always been a huge part of my work, I’ve been presenting work at Vault since the start of my career, and over the years I’ve worked on five different Vault shows (having written three plays, and produced two plays from first time playwrights). The first time I did Vault Festival was back in 2017 with my queer feminist rom-com Puppy, which sold out, was namechecked as pick of the week in the Guardian and Time Out, and chosen as one of the Stage’s “hits of the festival.” Five years and one abortive (due to Covid) West End run later, Puppy is finally receiving a full production run. That never would have happened without Vault as a launching pad. The energy and range of shows at Vault is like nothing else on earth, and I can’t wait to be back underground seeing as many shows as possible.
What’s next for Little But Fierce?
I recently won a Royal Society of Literature Award to produce a showcase for disabled playwrights, for which Little but Fierce will be running free Zoom workshops. We also received the Derby Theatre / In Good Company 2023 Mid-Career Commission Award, a commission to develop a collaboratively written play titled The Best Days of Your Lives, exploring the British school system, so that’ll be our big project for 2023!
See BATMAN (aka Naomi’s Death Show) at VAULT Festival 4 & 5th March, more details here!