Nigel Osner is back & he’s off to the Edinburgh Fringe…
Hello Nigel, so first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born in London and still live there.
Your journey to performer is quite a convoluted one, can you tell us the short version?
Will try! I am a non-practising barrister and was employed in the Ministry of Justice. But I had a yearning to be a performer. I began by helping to write, then act in, departmental pantomimes. I fancied myself as rather good, but came to realise I needed singing lessons, courses on acting and the advantage of a good director! I appeared at a couple of fringe venues, doing a mixture of existing material – e.g. Coward, Kurt Weill, Lehrer – and writing my own lyrics. I also started to work three days a week, to spend more time on writing and performing. In 2008 I left the Department and found an acting agent. However, I stopped performing for a bit and got more involved in films or fringe theatre. In 2011 I thought I would give performing another go. Since then in London I have performed at the Crazy Coqs, the studio at the Other Palace, the Pheasantry and more alternative venues. In 2016 it seemed time to try the Edinburgh Fringe, so I put together ‘Angel to vampire!’, an entirely original show based on my life’s yearnings. My current show, which I will be taking to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes this year, is called ‘Too young to stay in, too old to go out!’ What I do is tell stories, whether in song or monologues, as different characters, both men and women – and occasionally supernatural beings!
You’re quite the polymath, where do you think such a wide array of interests come from?
Creativity can come out in different ways at different times. For a long time I expressed this side by painting, portraits especially. This overlapped with my writing and I had a children’s book published years ago. I helped adapt this into a musical. I have continued writing and enjoy the fantasy genre. However, I particularly wanted to express myself as a performer. By writing my own material at least nobody can say they have seen it done better! As to why there are these different interests, I can’t say. I just need to express myself in this way. I no longer paint though. But underlying everything is a sort of escapism and yet also a desire to be truly myself.
A couple of years ago you performed ‘Angel to Vampire!’ in Brighton and Edinburgh – how did it all go?
‘Angel to vampire!’ is a show about my life’s yearnings. However, I don’t illustrate everything directly. After all, I’m neither an angel nor a vampire! I thought it was brilliant title, but in retrospect not everyone likes vampires and for those who do, there would not have been enough supernatural characters. The show got some good reviews in Edinburgh, including that in the Fringe Review, which was beautifully written, supportive and a joy to have. However, the audience could have been larger so, as with many Edinburgh shows, I lost a bit of money. I also learned lessons for the future about venues and advertising. I stayed for the whole of the Edinburgh Fringe but the following year performed only seven days in the Brighton Fringe. Again, that could have been busier but the feedback was positive and I have now developed a good relationship with Sweet venues.
Can you tell us about the unfortunate break in proceedings from last year’s follow-up show?
Break literally! I had arranged to perform ‘Too young to stay in, too old to go out!’ with Sweet for four early evenings. The first two shows were full and the audience reaction was very encouraging. On the second night I went out afterwards with two friends from London. It was a jolly evening! Nevertheless, I did not get back that late to where I was staying. I had to get up in the middle of the night and somehow my right foot gave way. I could not walk on it in the morning so took myself off to the hospital. I thought I had sprained the foot or possibly broken a toe. In fact I had broken four metatarsals, which was regarded as serious because of potential swelling. As I couldn’t do the show sitting down, I had to cancel the remaining performances and hire a minicab to London. That did not lead to financial profit!
So what is ‘Too Old To Stay In Too Young To Go Out’ all about?
It is about the challenges and occasional opportunities for those who can no longer claim to be young, even to themselves. I examine dating, love, work, holidays – even the gym! I do this with original songs and stories by male and female characters. There’s lots of humour but with a bitter sweet edge. Characters include Gerald who is having a taxing night out in central London; a rich designer who falls for his hunky gardener; the woman driven mad by her companion on a river cruise down the Danube; and a fading star on an endless tour. I am particularly – but not exclusively – aiming the show at an older audience, as I am not sure enough material is written with their concerns in mind..
You’ve just performed the show in Brighton – how did it go & have you tweaked the it in the interim?
The show went well in May. Audience reaction was warm and involved. Fringe Review called it ‘a beautiful piece of solo work’. Broadway Baby said it was ‘‘Witty, bitchy, achingly sad and, finally, strangely uplifting’. I have been working on the show for over a year now. One piece has been omitted and a new song has been introduced. The narrative in between the songs and stories has been altered or developed. In Brighton the show achieved pretty much its final Fringe state. There have been only a few tweaks since then.
What are the fundamental differences between performing at the Brighton & the Edinburgh Fringes?
The Brighton Fringe is less full-on, less crowded and has more of a local audience, which I find appreciates my material. A huge proportion of the Edinburgh audience come along from outside the city. In 2018 there were 3500 shows. It is not a relaxing experience.
What advice do you have for someone making their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe?
I would really want to catch that person before they made their debut. If they have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe, they should go up the year before and check out the venues, the shows and the vibe. If this is now their first year, go to an introduction to the Fringe if they can get to one. Be very clear about what they want from the Fringe and go after those aims. When in Edinburgh, make use of Fringe Central. Staff there are helpful. Go to events. Speak to other Fringe performers. Work hard on promoting the show. Take advantage of any opportunity. Do not expect unalloyed joy. Look out for the positives and value them.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
In August I’ll be taking my show to the Edinburgh Fringe. My aim is to promote interest in a tour of small venues and a London run of an expanded version of the show. I would like to revive ‘Angel to Vampire!’ for Halloween. Apart from that I’ll do bits and pieces plus try to get cast in a play or film. And I’ll hope to write some new material.