“How much do you let somebody grieve in a massively surreal way?”
Hummingbird, playing at the VAULT Festival from 28 February to 5 March, tells the story of Brian [Amit Shah] and Jude [Nancy Zamit], a couple who live on a farm that they have no desire to keep. But things begin to change when Phoeb [Louise Beresford], Jude’s half-sister, arrives at the farm, claiming that her missing husband has returned. But he hasn’t returned as human – He’s returned as a hummingbird.
Recently, Curtain Call had the opportunity to speak with Nancy about the show and the role her character plays. We discussed the concept of grief in Hummingbird, the collaboration between Bruised Sky Productions and Fledgling Theatre Company, and the VAULT Festival as a whole!
So how did you first get involved with Hummingbird?
There were just a few of us that wanted to put on a show because we were interested in working together. Me and Louise, when we were in Magic Goes Wrong together, we were always like, “We should do a show after this, we should do something!” And we had a load of Zooms being like “What’re we going to do?” And Chris Neels, the writer and director, is actually my husband!
We had Nic Sampson, who is a writer on Starstruck and just a fabulous, funny guy- He’s a good friend of ours as well. And we were all like, “Oh, let’s just read one of your plays and see what that’s like” – If it’s a nice room and if it’s fun together. So we did. We were like, “That’s actually really great! It’s actually a really nice thing.” So then we started to develop it for no real reason, just to be creatively doing something. And then I think the day before VAULT’s deadline, we just were like, “Fuck it, let’s put an application in!” And we scrambled together an application and got into a massive space! We were like, “Let’s just do a 40-seater and have a chill time.” But no, we have many tickets to sell, so please come and see it! [Laughs]
And then it has just snowballed since then. So then we did a week of development on the script because Chris hadn’t looked at it for a while. I think the themes came out more strongly reading it together – It’s a lot about grief and the ownership of grief and aspirations. Then we developed it again, with those themes more strongly in mind. My involvement has just snowballed. I never meant to produce a play – That’s not what I do! [Laughs] But I think the three of us, me and Lou and Chris . . . It’s been great working together. It’s been really great. We’ve just trundled along and got it done, which has been an amazing thing to do kind of by accident. And then when we were auditioning for the part of Brian, just really amazing people wanted to audition and we were like, “Oh, God, we’ve got a really good script here. We’ve potentially got a really good show!” So we just sort of snowballed!
Did the pandemic affect the way the show developed its discussion on grief and relationships?
I’m not sure that it’s directly about the pandemic, because my experience of the pandemic was the “Terrible Twos” with my kid.
So I wouldn’t say that I had time to sit and look at the world and grieve. It was more just like panicking day to day and being overwhelmed by being together. There was a really sad moment when my kid was looking at another kid in a magazine, and he was like, “Maybe they can be my friend . . .” And I was just like, “Fuck, this is so bleak!” So I don’t think so, necessarily. I just think it’s a really universal thing about how people grieve and how much you should allow them to do what they need to do. And if their behavior becomes unacceptable, what is that line? And I think that’s really different for everyone. It’s a really interesting subject because often, the way someone grieves is hurtful to another person that’s grieving for the same thing. But it’s about the argument of how much should you let that happen.
So going off of that, in your own words, what is the show about?
It’s about that! It’s about your ownership of grief and aspirations, and there’s a kind of surreal element to it. How much do you let somebody grieve in a massively surreal way? In the show, somebody grieves in a quite surreal way, and I think it actually ends up benefiting the other people.
What role does your character play within this story?
So my character, I’ve inherited a dairy farm from my parents, and I moved away from it, moved to the city, had a little city life, and then have come back there for whatever reason. I’m just trying to make the best of it. I’ve given up on myself and my dreams but I’m convincing myself that I’m okay with that. So I’m stuck in this place where I’m like, “It’s fine not to dream and it’s fine not to do anything because I can have a perfect life, and this is actually what loads of people want.” That’s where she starts, which is quite nice and pandemic-related. It’s a bit like Stockholm Syndrome in your own house. [Laughs]
What made you want to choose the VAULT Festival for Hummingbird?
Chris has done a lot of shows there before and he’s always had the best time and Lou’s done a lot of VAULT shows. I’ve never done a show at The Vaults and I was a bit jealous – I wanted to get involved! But also it’s like a London Edinburgh [Fringe] and I’ve done nine years of Edinburgh festivals, so I was keen to get back into that environment. To see that much new writing all in one go . . . I was there the other night seeing another show and it was just so brilliant. It’s so brilliant to just sit in a black box space and see really good actors doing really good writing. I don’t think there’s another thing like that in London – I don’t know what we would have applied for if we hadn’t applied for VAULT! This show definitely wouldn’t be happening.
What has the collaboration between Fledgling Theatre Company and Bruised Sky Productions been like?
It’s been led by Lou and Chris collaborating. What they bring to it is a great knowledge of producing shows at this level, which the last time I did was years and years ago for Mischief shows. But yeah, it’s just been a really lovely process – Both companies are really supportive. Callum Cameron from Fledgling has been in a lot – He did the development with us. All of the Bruised Sky lot have just been so crazily nice and supportive. It’s just been like a really good environment. It’s just been two lovely companies. It’s quite rare that you just get a real easy ride! It’s been smooth sailing, which is brilliant for a co-pro.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Hummingbird?
A look at giving people space if they’re going through something and the fact that everybody goes through things differently – There’s room for that in the world. And if you give up on yourself and your dreams, it will always come back – You will have to face it at some point. I hope it shows that there’s room for all different types of grief.
And how would you describe Hummingbird in one word?
Hummingbird is running at the VAULT Festival from 28 February to 5 March in the Crescent at The Vaults. The show is co-produced by Bruised Sky Productions and Fledgling Theatre Company. Tickets can be purchased here. Content warning: References to suicide and mental health issues, sexual references and language.
Thank you to Nancy for the wonderful interview and to Louise Beresford and Hannah McEwen for helping to arrange it!