Edinburgh Fringe People

The Playwright: Roxy Dunn

Published on Thursday 23 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This time playwright Roxy Dunn.

Roxy began writing while at drama school and has since continued to develop her playwriting career while also working as an actor. In her current Fringe show ‘Timmy’ she is both the writer and one of the performers (alongside co-star Joz Norris, also pictured above), and has also co-produced the show via her own theatre company.

As well as her theatre work, she has also performed in various TV projects, and she and her writing partner are currently developing a sitcom together. We spoke to Roxy about her career to date and the ins and outs of staging new writing at the Fringe.

TW: Tell us about ‘Timmy’ – what is the play about?
RD: I suppose, in its essence, it’s a very honest dissection of a relationship. I’ve been flyering with the line “it’s a comedy about a couple and one of them can’t make any decisions”. People seem to find that relatable!

TW: How did you get started as a playwright?
RD: I chose to write a play for my dissertation at drama school and I just really enjoyed doing it. I haven’t stopped writing since then and that was seven years ago. I should also credit the various writing courses that have since helped me along the way, which includes the Chichester Young Playwrights programme and new writing programmes at the Criterion Theatre and Soho Theatre in London.

TW: You also work as an actor. Tell us about your wider theatre career since leaving drama school.
RD: I’ve found myself doing pretty much comedy since I graduated. My first TV job was in the Channel 4 comedy drama series ‘Babylon’, which was written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain – who also wrote ‘Peep Show’ – and directed by Danny Boyle, so that was a bit of a mini ‘break’ for me in terms of getting to work with that kind of team. Since then I’ve continued to mainly do sitcoms and comedy theatre.

TW: As a playwright, what’s it like when you hand over your new script to a director and cast?
RD: Well, I’ve also been there in the room as an actor in ‘Timmy’, so in that sense I’ve been less removed from the process than other times when I’ve ‘handed over my work’. What I can say is I genuinely couldn’t have asked for a more talented, intelligent, and empathetic director than Hanna Berigan and co-star than Joz Norris. Hanna and Joz have both been fantastic at listening to my ideas whilst simultaneously bringing the play to life in a way that surpassed what I could have hoped for when I wrote it.

TW: You had a show at the Fringe two years ago, ‘In Tents And Purposes’. How did that go? What did you learn?
RD: It was a fantastic debut Fringe experience. We were very lucky in that we got a really good reception from audiences and lots of lovely reviews. We then took the show on tour and transferred to Soho Theatre. As a writer I learnt a lot about what worked in terms of what the audience responded to most in the script, while as a performer it was a learning curve to have to hit certain beats in the play whilst still continuing to listen and respond instinctively, every day for a month.

TW: Did you always plan to bring ‘Timmy’ to the Fringe?
RD: Not at all. I wrote the original draft five years ago when it was shortlisted for the Channel 4/Oran Mor Comedy Drama Award and it was only in January this year that I found it again when I was moving house, and decided I wanted to rewrite it and try to find a producer to help stage it. I credit the fabulous Robin Rayner, who took a punt on producing this show, for the fact that it ever saw the light of day in Edinburgh this year!

TW: The show is a co-production between Robin and your own company Viscera Theatre. When and why did you set that up?
RD: I set up Viscera Theatre with Alys Metcalf – my comedy partner – when we graduated from drama school. We’ve since continued to write, act and produce work that we find funny and truthful, and which seems to ask big questions that we can then work out how to address in the most playful, undercutting way.

TW: The Edinburgh Fringe has a long-standing reputation as great place to bring new writing. Would you agree?
RD: Yes…I would. If I’m at all hesitant, it’s because bringing a show to Edinburgh is such a commitment of energy, time and money that I do think you want to be sure that you – yourself – really believe in any new play before you bring it here. That way, if you don’t get the review coverage you wanted or the audience numbers, you can’t really have any regrets. It’s just bad luck. And there’s a lot that’s dependent on luck up here!

TW: What tips would have for budding new playwrights out there who are trying to get started?
RD: Writing courses are good – and I’d recommend all of the ones I previously mentioned. Collaborating with other people is also key, and that often starts with meeting or messaging people whose work you’ve enjoyed. Make sure to keep your eye out for all opportunities, for example on the BBC Writers Room page. I can’t even remember how I found out about the Channel 4/Oran Mor Comedy Drama Award now, since it was five years ago, but I do remember how, when I was shortlisted, it gave me a real confidence boost to know I was good – even if I wasn’t good enough yet – or as good as I could be.

TW: And what advice would you have for someone bringing a new play to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time?
RD: Get a good stage manager! I’ve worked with the exceptional Rose Hockaday every time I’ve come here and she’s been an absolute saviour.

TW: And finally, let’s talk about the TV sitcom project. How does writing for TV compare to writing for the stage?
RD: It’s a much slower process…! Not the actual writing of the script, but the process of getting something commissioned. Other than that, I’m not really sure if the two forms are all that different. I mean, at the end of the day, both disciplines need flawed characters who want something inside an interesting and relatable world.

‘Timmy’ was performed at Assembly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2018.

Photo: Katie Davison