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Sarah Roy in Catherine and Anita, Photo by Dave Walker

An Interview with Sarah Roy

20 February 2018 Suzanne Frost

After a successful Edinburgh Fringe run, the actor is starring in Derek Ahonen’s one-woman show Catherine and Anita at the King’s Head Theatre. She talks to London Calling about gutsy theatre, difficult subjects and telling the stories that need to be told.

London Calling: Tell us a little bit more about your show Catherine and Anita?
Sarah Roy: The play is about a damaged woman overcoming the obstacles in her life with the help of her secret friend. It deals with mental health and abuse, which are hugely topical issues at the moment. But it’s a dark comedy; it’s not all grim.
 
LC: And it’s a one-woman show. It’s all on you. How hard is that?
SR: It is pretty exhausting but it’s good fun. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it was my idea. I saw Cush Jumbo’s one-woman-show Josephine and I a few years ago at the Bush Theatre and I just thought that looks insanely difficult so that’s what I want to do!
 
LC: Were you involved in writing the show as well?
SR: I have worked with Derek and his Theatre Company The Amoralists in New York for a number of years. He has written for me before and we just work really well together, so Derek wrote it and we then collaborated on it, developing it through the rehearsal process.
 
LC: Your character Catherine has so many different facets and you are portraying her at different stages of her life. How do you approach a role like that as an actor?
SR: We really wanted to stay away from doing a one-woman show that has a lot of characters or breaks the fourth wall so this is a really different type of show, I don’t think you see a lot of one-person shows like this one. We change hairstyles to change her through the ages to give some visual cues but… you can get really hung up on those things and it’s actually much more about the story and how this woman is feeling from a little girl up until her adult life. We want the audience to go on her emotional journey, that’s the main thing we wanted to focus on.

Sarah Roy in Catherine and Anita. Photo by Dave Walker
 
LC: So many of the Fringe shows that are transferring to London now are about mental health. It just seems to be the central subject of new writing at the moment or maybe the central subject of this generation?
SR: It’s finally being talked about and people feel that they can now talk about it. I don’t want to judge what a bigger mental health issue, but even dealing with anxiety - which some people would classify as less of an illness - lot’s of people have gone through something like that at some point in their life and now you are able to talk about it without seeming like you’re weird or crazy. Before, there was this general attitude of: “Just get over it.” And it’s not as easy as that. It’s hard to know what it’s like to life with a mental health issue if you’ve never experienced it. The importance of doing shows about metal health is bringing awareness and making other people see what it’s like to live with a mental health issue. That’s what our play really focuses on, the loneliness of living with a mental health issue and not having anyone to talk to about it and how that can affect a person if they don’t have the support of friends and family and if they haven’t been able to talk to professionals.
 
LC: Derek is an American playwright and you also worked extensively in America. Do you think there’s a difference in the discussion or the attitude towards mental health and abuse in the States compared to England?
SR: That’s interesting actually! I think that in the States, they’ve been much more open for discussions about mental health for a much longer time now. In the States it’s quite a normal thing to have a shrink, lots of people go to a therapist even if they don’t have a mental health problem, just as a form of self-care. It’s more of a British attitude to “just get over it”. Just now, we are coming around to that way of thinking that you can see a therapist and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. If you need to do that for yourself then that’s what you need to do.  If you can’t deal with something on your own then that’s totally ok. There seems to be a lot less judgement in the States. But I think we’re catching up.
 
LC: How was your experience of being at Edinburgh Fringe?
SR: It’s an amazing place to be, just being surrounded by other creatives and everyone is really supportive of each other’s work. The amount of things and the variety of things you can see is just incredible. I saw everything from Japanese drumming to stand-up to actor-plays. But I didn’t anticipate how cold it would be. It was so grim! Other than that, it was great.
 
LC: How is the London audience?
SR: We’ve had really receptive audiences and they seem to enjoy it. I think people didn’t really know what to expect – which I like. It’s interesting, some audiences laugh a lot, other times, because of the subject matter, people feel that they can’t laugh. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions but they seem to be loving it.
 
LC: What shows have you seen recently that you would recommend?
SR: I went to see The Jungle at the Young Vic, which blew my mind. It’s an incredible show and it really made me feel passionate about making theatre and about telling stories that need to be told.
 
 
Catherine and Anita is at The King’s Head Theatre till 24 February
 
 
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