In Conversation with Janet Productions
On a summer night, in a deep, dark Pret a Manger opposite South Kensington station, London Student met up with Hugh Pearson and Finn Burge. These two, outside of their studies at University College London, have founded Janet Productions: a theatre company specialising in disturbed and disillusioned comedies. Their entrance into the scene began with inviting audiences into Hugh’s living room. Performances of the surreal comedy Everybody Shut Up, an experimental play about how we hurt the people we love and what we’d do to make it up to them, were met with great acclaim. This was followed by their second success, The Kate Moss Experience, a two-man biography of Kate Moss, which was accepted into Sprint Festival 2019 at the Camden People’s Theatre. This play, which returns later this year, isn’t particularly describable, but is, kind of, a collision of storytelling, choreography, music and mime.
As Hugh finishes his Medicine degree, eagerly waiting for his theatrical exit, and Finn waiters at a fancy hotel in the West End, surprisingly charmed by the company of elder rich politicians, both hope to move their project forward, further into the unknown – where they feel most at home.
How did you guys meet? And when? What’s the tale?
H: Love at first sight.
F: Grindr. No, no. While I was at university, I was involved in this show called Meat and we needed an assistant director. I advertised for someone to make the teas and fetch my slippers. Hugh applied.
H: I thought it would be a weekend, not a whole month.
And from then it just blossomed?
F: Yes, it just blossomed.
What do you guys do?
H: I’m a 4th Year medic.
F: I work in hospitality, I’m a waiter. I feel like I’ve sold out. And just today, that was kind of epitomized in that I had to serve tea to a kind of D-list right-wing politician.
F: Douglas Carswell.
I don’t know who that is … a D-list right-wing politician, I suppose.
F: Yeah … he was [actually] really nice. But yes, waitering, and I did do English at UCL.
What was UCL like for you?
F: I’m quite good at hating wherever I am.
Who are your comedy influences?
F: I wouldn’t say we set out to re-create what we like or what we’re interested in … you say comedy, but our work is sort of … accidentally funny.
H: What I think it’s closest to is kind of the surreal-comedy/drama canon, which is not that much stuff. Which is kind of a cop out, because everything is influenced by Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh.
I read the term ‘Janetism’ in a recent review. Is that a thing?
F: Sure…I think we should come up with a definition.
You do have a manifesto.
F: And that counts as it being a movement? Like, we’d be The Janetists?
F: I would say: it’s always a bit funny, a bit sad, and a bit weird. I think it has a uniqueness…
H: It’s about combining lots of different things, what you would imagine to be too many things, to convey a broad set of ideas. We combine lots of different elements, and out of that we just end up getting a sort of generally quite sad story. Everybody Shut Up is generally about what one person will do to impress another person, and that not being enough, but it goes via sitcoms and people turning into dogs.
Everything you do seems to be purposefully alternative. Are you bored of mainstream theatre and art?
H: We’re just bored of people.
F: It’s just truthful to our outlook on life. The reason it ends up a bit funny, a bit sad, and very strange, is because that’s our outlook on life. This is our experience and our eyes.
Do you have the same vision? Is Janet the crossover in your Venn Diagram?
F: I’d say the crossover middle bit is bigger than the other bits.
H: But with shades of grey.
I read that you try and convey the “empty everythingness” of things in your work? What does that mean?
F: That’s a Hugh Pearson phrase.
H: I get tired with the world and what is spoken about and what people want and what people do and want to present in their work and I find it boring sometimes.
Disillusionment feels part of the Janet manifesto?
H: I don’t want to just be like ‘Oh, we’re so disillusioned’
F: It’s a disillusionment with everything normal. I’ve never understood why anyone would settle for normal or usual, in any capacity. I don’t understand what the point is. We talk about it in terms of escapism. Trying to escape from convention. If I went to the theatre, I would want to leave thinking ‘that took me completely outside of myself, and I’ve never seen anything like that before.’ And I can’t see the appeal of making anything that isn’t that. The reason why 99% of all theatre and film and tv media is ‘relatable’ and what you’ve seen before, is in order to sell it. And in order to sell something, you have to be able to describe it. And I’m quite proud to the fact that we find it so hard to describe what we do. Because that’s part of the point.
In an otherwise very positive review, someone called Everybody Shut Up ‘inescapably depressing’?
H: No, that was about an afternoon in our company.
F: There isn’t a higher compliment. But I do think it was wrong, I would argue that it was escapably depressing. It did end.
After the success of Everybody Shut Up, which had an ensemble cast, why did you make The Kate Moss Experience a two-man show?
F: We figured that the best thing in it was us. I joke. We were pleased with Everybody Shut Up and it was, dare I say it … successful. Creating The Kate Moss Experience as a two-man show was mostly born out of practical things like cast availability, and we knew that [Hugh and I] would be free. It was also in keeping with the kind of low-fi, D.I.Y. tone of Everybody Shut Up. We were like: let’s just strip everything back, have it be just us telling this story about Kate Moss.
By low-fi, D.I.Y. tone, you mean how Everybody Shut Up was performed in Hugh’s living room?
H: To be fair, my living room is massive. It was legit. We black boxed it. Got chairs from the Cricket Club. Lights from Film Soc. We did 4 nights, had tickets. We made a surprisingly large amount of money from it.
How much money?
You should have done 5 nights, really.
F: Five nights and we could have retired.
Why did you tell a story about Kate Moss?
F: Why indeed… Every other week, a biopic film comes out, because everyone’s run out of creativity… So, we thought: like those biopics using famous people’s names to sell films, let’s use Kate Moss’s name to sell our show.
How was the reception to the Kate Moss Experience?
H: They stood up. At the end. So, we’re doing it again later this year.
If Janet Productions could become anything, what would it be?
F: For now, I think we’ll carry on doing the same thing and see where it goes.
H: I’d like for this to take off, so I can leave Medicine.
F: Yeah, this is all really just a plot to rescue Hugh.
The Kate Moss Experience will return to London later this year and be at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020. Check out the Janet Productions website here: http://janetproductions.com