views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Honest to God With... Libby Liburd
25th October 2016

What we love about the Camden Fringe is that it often introduces us to theatre-makers we simply haven't encountered before. Single mother, actor and writer Libby Liburd put on one of the many shows at the Etcetera Theatre this year that surprised us with its poignancy, humour and sheer inventiveness. Muvvahood is a one-woman show about challenging stereotypes, educating people and having a blimmin' good laugh at the same time. It may be political, but don't worry, it's not one of "those" angry, shouty type pieces, it's full of passion but it's also a lot of fun. (Unless you're Jamie Oliver, then joke's on you. Sorry. Not sorry.)

We caught up with Libby as she gets ready to take her Camden Fringe show Muvvahood to a a new venue, Stratford Circus Arts and then back to where it actually all started, Camden People's Theatre. We discussed the origins of the piece, its very personal nature and what's next in store for Libby.

Libby Luburd

Photography © Kasia Burke

VFTG: Muvvahood is a one-woman show but it's actually about lots of different women's voices. Can you tell us about how you found those voices and what the process was like?

LL: The process started a while ago for me. I'd been mulling over the idea for several years before I actually put it into action. I've done youth work for years and I've worked with lots of different women and young women in difficult circumstances and I've spoken to lots of women who were single mothers as well, like myself. I'd kind of been doing informal interviews for a while but not really acknowledging them as such. When I decided to do the piece as a theatre piece, I set up more formal interviews.

That was a process of reaching out to a lot of people; a lot of different single mothers. Some of them, it was a Facebook callout, it was a callout on social media - "Does anybody have a story that they'd like to tell? Is anyone a single mother? Would anybody like to be interviewed?" Some of them, I saw stuff that they'd posted on social media or I saw stuff in the paper about some of them and then made contact with them and went through quite a rigorous process with them.

The contact would be made initially, I'd give them a little bit of a breakdown of what I was trying to do. Give them a kind of cooling off period and then sit with them and do the interviews, like you're doing with me! It would be recorded, but we'd be face-to-face. It was a varied process finding the mothers and sometimes I was put in touch by other people, other people said "You need to meet this women, she's doing a show about this." So that was kind of how it happened.

VFTG: You've taken this show to the Camden Fringe already. How was your fringe experience?

LL: The fringe experience was an interesting one. It was an interesting one because Muvvahood went though a process prior to that. The first thing that I ever did was I did a 20-minute scratch performance at Camden People's Theatre as part of Calm Down, Dear, which was in 2015. So I did the 20 minutes, it seemed to work nicely and then Camden People's Theatre gave me a work-in-process showing for an hour in March and then I did another work-in-progress at Tristan Bates for an hour in April and that show was a little different to what you saw because in that show I was speaking to David Cameron on stage. And then he left! "Oh no, I have to rewrite this show." So I thought the best place for me to try it out was Camden Fringe. I didn't want it to go to Edinburgh, I didn't want to have the expense and obviously uprooting my kid to Edinburgh for a month!

And I love Camden. I love the little venues there. That for me was about just trying stuff out and having that feeling of it being okay to try things out. I think Camden Fringe is great for that, you can go in and try things and people are there with you, so I thought it was great. I loved it.

In true Camden Fringe style, Muvvahood only had a very short two-day run. If you missed it, fear not, there are more performances coming up soon in October and November.

VFTG: You are next putting on the show from 27th to 29th October. Is Muvvahood still evolving?

LL: The show may evolve until the end of time because there are bits in there to do with government policy and to do with certain things that happen at certain points and we are in quite a changeable time at the moment. We don't necessarily know what's going to happen, we have a brand new Prime Minister. So the show feels like it may always evolve. We've worked quite closely with my director to prepare it for the 27th onwards as a finished product. It's not billed anymore as a work-in-progress, it's not billed anymore as something that's in development, this is it. But I'm also very aware that due to the nature of the show, it needs to stay current. If it runs 2017 onwards, it might go through another slight rewrite. The format is going to stay the same.

Libby Luburd

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Some are born into politics, some achieve politics, and some have politics thrust upon them. Or something like that. With Muvvahood such a fiercely political piece, we couldn't not ask Libby about how she's ended up making such a bold statement.

VFTG: Muvvahood is quite a political show. Did you always intend to make a political piece or was it just the nature of the stories that informed the intent?

LL: I did not set out to make anything political! The 20-minute scratch that I did was just the stories of the women, just the voices of the women. Even as a single mother myself, I wasn't aware of where all this was coming from so when I got the time and the space to develop it, I was told I could go for a one-hour show and have a one-hour work-in-progress show at Camden People's Theatre, that was the point when I thought, "Right, there's a definitely a market for this, people want to see this and now I need to delve a little deeper."

The women had mentioned certain things in the interviews. I'd had experience of going through eviction and court processes and so on, but because you do go through that on your own, you just kind of go, "That's just me." You don't join the dots. You don't see how that's happened. So when I started speaking to other women who had been through a similar process. "Hang on a minute, this is coming from somewhere."

Then it was like tracing back and joining the the dots, so if a woman had mentioned maintenance for example, how is she not getting maintenance? How has that happened? Tracing back, looking at the CSA (which is the Child Support Agency), Child Maintenance Service (which is the new one), it was kind of that process. I looked at the interviews and then I pulled out the key issues in the interviews. Obviously it was things like housing, finances, those kinds of things. And I started to look more in-depth at the stereotype and how the stereotype of the single mother has even occurred in the first place. How that has happened, how did we get to that place?

So the interviews were first and it was intended to be just some women's experiences and then as the further I got down the line I started to get - more angry, I guess. I started to get more angry and I was angry with myself as well for not knowing it all when I felt like, "I'm in this situation, I should know more about this, I should be more politically aware." It's like opening a can of worms.

I was very lucky, I've got a great director, Julie Addy and I'm very lucky that she said, "There comes a point where we have to just have to stop! You can't get it all in the show! People won't watch that and that'll be boring. We need to just think about the key things and how we present them!" She was fabulous advising that because otherwise you can go into a wormhole and never come out of it again. It wasn't intended to be political but it evolved that way!

VFTG: When I saw the show, what struck me was by the end of it, I thought, "What she's saying is actually quite reasonable and that all makes sense." What have the audience reactions been like for you?

LL: It's been really interesting. I've had a lot of people coming out really fired up. I've had people come up to me who've said, "Look, I consider myself really politically aware, I really make an effort to understand what's going on and I didn't know any of this. Why didn't I know any of this? I'm angry with myself, I didn't know any of this, let's start a campaign." I have people going, "Let's start a campaign, come on, let's start a campaign, let's get this out there. This is outrageous! This is horrendous!" I have a lot of that. So it's clear that the information in the show people don't have at their disposal. I don't feel like I had it at my disposal even though it's something that directly mattered to me. I felt like I had to really really dig to find it. It's not really out there.

I've had a lot of responses like that. People have said, "I've had thoughts about single mothers. I've looked at a mum pushing a buggy and I've thought, oh, I bet she's a single mother and I bet she's on benefits." I've had people say that it's made them feel quite sad that they've had those thoughts themselves and it's turned it round for them.

I've had people say that it was a relief; the show was a relief because they expected it to be doom and gloom and it wasn't!

VFTG: It's quite funny!

LL: Even really good friends of mine said, what a relief. They went in bracing themselves thinking it was going to be an hour of pain and suffering and then I get a lot of expressions of, oh, thank God, it was funny, it was informative, there were ups, there were downs, it was a relief that it was you. Those are the strongest reactions that have come through. Overall, they've all been really really lovely. It's been a bit overwhelming!

Libby Luburd

Photography © Kasia Burke

VFTG: And your son's been involved in the show itself, hasn't he? He helped with the video, is that correct?

LL: He shot the video, edited the video footage as well. There's a voiceover that he chose to put in the show and it's something that's interesting to me, because I've always made efforts for him to not really be involved in my work. I've always been, "Let's keep that nice and separate and you're your own person and I'm my own person." But he is 15 now, he's going on 16. So it was his decision.

In the scratch version of the show, I quoted him, but I didn't use his voice. There was no voiceover. It was his choice to put his actual voice in as a voiceover and what he wanted to say was his choice. He's had a lot of artistic input and a lot of options within the show. He always has options to put stuff in, take stuff out, re-edit stuff. I think that's been really important for him.

I don't think I could have even made the show if he was younger. I don't think I could have even done that. He is older and it's the right timing for us both to do something that puts us both in vulnerable situations. To stand up and say, "I'm a single mother" is quite vulnerable. And then him being present in the audience, it's quite vulnerable for him as well.

It's been quite collaborative between the two of us as well, deciding how far we go, what we say, what we don't say, what's off-limits, what's okay, what's not okay. It's always about talking to him about the show. He's probably sick to death of it by now!

VFTG: Where next after this? Do you plan to take the show anywhere else or create something new?

LL: The show is my little baby at the moment. It's going to be here at Stratford Circus for four performances and then it'll be at Camden's People Theatre for three. And what we're doing here at Stratford Circus feels really important and special. We're doing a matinee on Friday 28th and there will be a creche for single parents who can't access childcare to go to theatre and it'll be a relaxed performance so if they have little tiny babies, they can bring them in, if they're a little bit older, they can pop them in the creche for an hour, so they get to watch an hour's theatre.

That's something that I'm super passionate about continuing with. I would like to take the show to further venues in the future in 2017 and look at that being a part of what I do, so that it isn't just a theatre show about single parents and then we have loads of single parents who can't come because of childcare. That would feel pointless. So I would like to continue that journey and keep pushing that out. Obviously I've got loads more ideas for loads more shows, but one step at a time!

Muvvahood next runs at Stratford Circus Arts from 27th to 29th October, more details on performances here: https://stratford-circus.com/event/muvvahood/ On 28th October, as Libby says, you can even bring your child along. No babysitter? No excuse.

If October's no good for you, try 3rd to 5th November at Camden People's Theatre, more details here: https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/muvvahood-3/

You can keep up-to-date with Libby's work at her website, http://www.libbyliburd.co.uk and find her on Twitter as @LibbyLiburd. If you have any feedback on the show or if you'd like to start a revolution (no, not you, Mr Twizzler, we're looking at everyone but you), do get in touch with Libby.



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