On Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 September, Kathryn Gardner is performing her critically-acclaimed show Treading Water at the Churchill Theatre. The play won a ‘highly commended’ award at the Vault Festival at London Waterloo earlier this year and Kathryn has spent the months since touring it to wider audiences across the UK, writes Holly O’Mahony…
Pitched as a ‘comedy play of belly laughs, broken hearts and biscuits’, Treading Water follows Sue and Carol, two hard-of-hearing lifeguards, who sit watching the world go by as they wait for a danger that may never materialise… or will it? “[Treading Water] is based on the two Ronnies sketch Four Candles,” explains Kathryn. “In my version, they couldn’t hear each other because they’re far away from one another, trying to see what’s out at sea,” she says. “The play talks about love and loss, loneliness, feminism, the environment, expectation, and disappointment – all in a relateable way.”
Although operating under the company name Subtle Paws, Kathryn is essentially a one-woman band. “I drive the van, write the press releases, book the tours and perform in the plays. I must be mad!” she laughs. “Sometimes you just have to grab the bull by the horns and do it yourself.” Kathryn has spent the last seven months touring Treading Water and says she’s enjoyed taking her work to new audiences outside the M25. “I have always loved playing regional venues. No offence to London, but the audiences across the country are so open to new work. And so up for a good night out,” she says.
This isn’t the first outing for Treading Water, either. Kathryn wrote the show back in 2011, but she says the work has been developed a lot since then. “I really wanted to return to comedy after taking a bit of a break to focus on a different project,” she explains. “The show is longer now; it was originally one half of a double bill I’d written. There are also lots of re-writes which took it in a different direction.”
Treading Water’s success at Vault Festival earlier this year speaks for the appetite for its humour. For those unfamiliar with the festival, it’s essentially London’s answer to Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Far smaller, though, the festival takes place in the compact location of the arches underneath Waterloo station between January and March each year. Many of the critics who attend Vault festival are also those who frequent Edinburgh each August, and to win a Highly Commended award here – which Kathryn’s Treading Water did – is on par with titles awarded at Edinburgh Fringe. “I was so excited when I won it,” Kathryn says. “There is so much incredible work at Vault Festival that to be recognised was a real honour.”
Things certainly aren’t slowing down for Kathryn following the Treading Water tour. “I’m working on a new comedy play that has a similar style to Treading Water, but it’s early days,” she says.
“I’m also in the process of turning a play I did at Vault festival in 2017 [called Repetitive Beats] into a full length play to be performed in London next year.” The play is set between the illegal rave era of 1989 and the present day, and explores the movement which rebelled against Thatcher’s Britain, in which people reclaimed control of their nights out. “It’s a big project, but if it pays off it will be amazing,” Kathryn says.
For now, though, Kathryn’s focus remains on bringing Treading Water to new audiences. “The characters are normal people doing nothing spectacular or world-changing,” she says. “I think audiences like that. Exceptional characters are, of course, awesome in theatre, but ordinary people are too.”
Treading Water is on at the Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, BR1 1HA. September 15 at 7:45pm, and September 16 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Admission: £13.50/£12 Churchill Friends & Sidekick/£11.50 concessions. www.churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/default.asp