Fringe 2017: Spilt Milk debut explores the complexities of adulthood

By Tara Fitzpatrick

“There are all these books on “Adulting” now, it’s become such a buzzword.”

The cast of Spilt Milk are explaining the title of their Fringe debut. “Adulting” is a verb relating to any action associated with adulthood: paying bills, navigating relationships, renting a flat, cooking. The term alludes to the notion that adulthood is a performance, carried out by people who are only good at pretending to know what they’re doing. Over the past few years the term has taken hold, from internet memes to parody books in Urban Outfitters, “Adulting” has become a familiar term in modern shorthand. The theatre company, made up of four mid-twenty-somethings, decided there was a play to made on the concept, so they’ve made it.

Spilt Milk is comprised of Catherine Ward-Stoddart, Grant McDonald, Anthony Byrne and Jacqueline Thain. I meet Catherine and Grant in a Glasgow coffee shop to chat about their Fringe debut and the inspiration behind it.

“Adulting came out of such an organic conversation we all had in a bar,” says Grant.

“It was just after my birthday. I had turned 23 and I said it was the first time I actually felt like I was getting older. I think because at 21 you feel young, at 22 there’s a Taylor Swift song and at 23 I felt like there was nothing.”

“Yea,” says Catherine, “Your mid-20s feel like: what am I doing? We started speaking about when you go up an age bracket on a form, so you’re no longer 16-25 you’re 26 – 40 and you feel like that can’t be right.

“We started to realise how universal that feeling is, that, by law, you’re an adult but really you’re still a child. We took this to the group and through really natural conversation we realised there was a show in there.”

All four of Spilt Milk are within a year and a half of each other age-wise with Grant, the youngest, having just turned 25. The group began as a company of 10 who had all performed in director Gareth Nicolls’ production of Under Milkwood at the Tron Theatre for the Home Nations Festival in 2014. Then slowly became seven before becoming a four.

“The four of us had been part of the Tron’s Young Company before,” says Catherine, “so maybe it was inevitable that we would end up working together.

“We’ve worked with each other for so long that we almost have a kind of shorthand for ideas. We can say ‘this reminds me of this’ and we all understand. Or we can also say ‘don’t know what you mean shut the fuck up’ and its cool. There is the openness to say if something is a shit idea.”

Grant agrees: “Yea that’s one of the best things about it, we don’t have to filter what we say and no one is precious about their ideas.”

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Photo Credit: Matthew Thomas. The cast of Spilt Milk in Adulting. From left: Catherine Ward-Stoddart, Grant McDonald, Jacqueline Thain, Anthony Byrne.

It is clear this is an attitude they learned with time. In March 2015, Spilt Milk premiered their first production, The Love Sect, a fictional play about social division and prejudice within modern relationships.

“It was a great experience,” says Catherine. “But I think The Love Sect was the best piece it could have been at that time with the people involved. If we had made that now it would have been very different.

“I think there were just too many cooks in the kitchen which is fine it’s a learning curve. I think for that reason we view Adulting more like our debut which shows the company that we are now.”

Zoom forward to the present and the four remaining core members of the company have taken to Edinburgh to perform their devised play at Space Triplex.

Adulting is far more autobiographical than The Love Sect, relying heavily upon the storytelling and confessions of the cast who use their real names within the text. The play dwells on subjects of family, sex, career and nostalgia. I wonder how hard it was to open up to each other in such a personal way.

The secret, they tell me, is a mixture of trust and time, creating rehearsal spaces where they were able to openly and casually talk things through. “Safe-space sounds stupid but if you hear that you kinda get what I mean,” says Catherine.

“We made a ‘firsts’ list of things we had done and things we had yet to do and then tried to tick it all off.”

“Some of it I couldn’t believe for example, none of us had a tattoo and at that point none of us had moved out. Then there was the obvious stuff like none of us were married yet.”

Despite this however, they can’t help but sometimes wonder if they share too much.

Grant says: “A lot of the feedback we got was that this was very personal and very emotional, but we didn’t really actually consider any of that beforehand we were just telling stories.”

“Yea,” agrees Catherine, “There’s stuff that’s in it that felt like a really good story to include at the time, and then you realise that the person it’s about is coming to see it. I think ultimately that’s what makes it engaging though.”

Grant recalls a performance during the first run in Glasgow when the four of them felt close to tears by the end. “We thought, why is this emotional? We’ve never felt emotional about it before.”

I wonder whether they feel their age-group, and the subjects which matter to it, is underrepresented in the theatre world?

Catherine nods. ““I think there is a market for what we’re making. Personally, I try and make work that I would want to go and see.

“We were lucky because, when we premiered, the discussion about millennials and adulting had become such a thing because of social media and stuff, but not many plays were using it as their material.

“There are shows that tap into this but the wave of theatre confuses me sometimes because there will be something ‘in’ and there will be a thousand shows on that issue.

“Obviously at the moment there’s a lot of political theatre, and there should be quite rightly so, but I feel that some people feel like that’s just what you should be making rather than that being a natural part of the play. I don’t understand why everyone wants to make the same theatre.”

Speaking of which, what’s next for the company?

“Well Jacqueline and I are working on Leftover Women which isn’t a piece yet but when the Fringe is over we’ll get to work. It explores being a woman in today’s society. On paper it might sound super obvious but already a lot has come out of it that we weren’t expecting.”

As they debut at the Fringe, I get the impression there will be much more to come from Spilt Milk.

 

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