He is a Perrier Award Winner and the man behind some of the biggest hits to come out of the Edinburgh Festival in recent years.
But Will Adamsdale isn’t a fan of awards and he doesn’t read his own reviews, which is strange since plaudits follow him wherever he goes.
“I was very grateful for the recognition and it’s enabled me to do so many things but it’s really dreamlike thinking about it now.”
So says the self deprecating actor of scooping Britain’s top comedy prize in 2004, for his sensational and surreal one man show Jackson’s Way – a parody of the world of self-help and corporate jargon which brought into being Adamsdales’ alter ego, Chris John Jackson, the ne plus ultra of flawed motivational speakers.
“The Perrier doesn’t seem like it occurred really. It all took place over three or four days of complete madness in Edinburgh. The Fringe Festival is this very intense month and because of that it has a momentum all of its own, and a story and a narrative all of its own and I sort of stumbled into that narrative by mistake and was suddenly part of this huge thing.”
Adamsdale’s view of the world as a kaleidoscope of giant narratives which can engulf you is something that’s certainly key to the London born performers innovative theatre making style and to the success of his most recent show The Receipt.
Written and devised in association with sound designer Chris Branch – whose credits include remixes for Bjork and work with the RSC – The Receipt is now on at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio, before going on a nationwide and then international tour.
In The Receipt, Adamsdale plays Wiley, an office worker who becomes obsessed with finding the owner of a receipt for a cup of coffee. Sound effects are provided by Branch, who also plays some additional Nathan Barley-esque characters. It’s a winding, lyrical take on the absurdities of modern urban living told with the aid of a filing cabinet and a Moog synthesizer. Innovative, beguiling and extremely funny, it took a clutch of awards at Edinburgh this year.
– Will Adamsdale on his Perrier win for Jackson’s Way.
But while Adamsdale clocks up a raft of professional achievements, there are parallels between The Receipt and the central philosophy in Jackson’s Way: striving for and celebrating the pointless.
“What Wiley ends up doing is kind of what Jackson would call a ‘Jackson’, concedes Adamsdale, talking about the quest that The Receipt’s hero embarks upon. “It’s one of Jackson’s stunts, something that he would really preach about and think very highly of; trying to find the owner of the receipt and going through great hardship to do so. That would really be Level 10 Jackson work.
“But actually Wiley’s task changed quite a lot all the way along and only just before we went to Edinburgh did it finally become about finding the person. It used to be attempting to find out the exact physical journey of the receipt which was an even more difficult task.”
Adamsdale laughs as he recounts the ludicrous hoops he tried to make Wiley jump through in the early days of workshopping The Receipt. “I used to get a piece of chalk and draw all over the stage and do these little winding experiments with the receipt trying to track the journey. It was almost nauseating to think about attempting to do something that difficult and pointless, and that’s a real Jackson-y area.”
Adamsdale, now 32, trained at the Oxford School of Drama and met Chris Branch, at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) four years ago when they worked together on Faster, a production for Filter, a physical theatre company which experiments with sound.
Faster toured for several years and it was on a tour to Germany, when the cast had to be scaled back, that the Adamsdale-Branch creative partnership was solidified.
“When we went on tour to Frankfurt we had to cut the cast from three to two musicians. Chris and I really got to know each other then, had a lot of fun and wandered around Frankfurt having our own ‘Lost in Translation’ experience.
“It was then that I asked him to work with me on something that would later become The Receipt. Friends of mine were running a cabaret night, and I’d said I’d do something when I got back and I wanted Chris to be part of it because after working with Filter, I knew that I’d feel naked if I wasn’t on stage with a musician, or some kind of foil”.
– Will Adamsdale on his role in Notes From Underground.
Adamsdale first started garnering critical acclaim in 1999 when he performed in Eric Bogosian’s harrowing one-hander Notes From Underground, also at the Edinburgh Festival. In Notes, an update on the Dostoyevsky classic of the same name, Adamsdale played a psychotic, nameless anti-hero driven mad by the demands of contemporary life.
“It was weird and very liberating doing a one man show,” he says. “I had never done anything like that before. I was shitting myself and thought there was no way I could do it. But putting a show like that on at 11.15 pm in the middle of the night, every night, and it was a really dark production, was also a very inspiring. A lot of the writing in that play really stayed with me and some of the things the character does directly and indirectly influenced Jackson’s Way and The Receipt: this lonely man, he’s quite flawed but also says some great things, but he is also quite pathetic.”
But while Notes is deeply sinister and disturbing in its examination of urban anomie and dislocation The Receipt transforms the complexities and frustrations of workaday life into something beautiful and deeply affecting. “I guess it’s about trying to find the lyrical quality in the way we live, or trying to take something very mundane and looking at it in a different way.”
And after taking The Receipt to the Melbourne Comedy festival, what’s next? I ask Will as he downs coffee in the final minutes of his lunch break before returning to rehearsals.
“Well I am working on a comedy show – Human Computer – about turning into a computer. But I have also been thinking of doing a show about awards,” he says breaking into a boyish chuckle.
“They are just so interesting; the obsession with them, the hysteria which surrounds them, down to the extraordinary creation and proliferation of very specific wards, like the LipGloss award, or the award for best haircut. You start to think I mean, how does that make the winner feel? May be they’d rather not get that award?”
The Receipt will play at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio from 23 January – 10 February 2007 before going on tour.