We met up with Lily Bevan (fresh from her success with BBC Radio Four comedy Talking to Strangers with Sally Philips) to talk falconry, Tudors and fairy tale endings as we publish her new play Pheasant Plucker, a ribtickling comedy written with women in mind.
Wild funny women, much like Bevan herself.
Can you tell us a bit about Pheasant Plucker?
It started as a one-woman show that I performed at the Edinburgh festival in 2015. It is the story of Harriet a Falconer, whom we meet when her falcon called Jester flies off and leaves her in the lurch. She gets very frustrated and decides that if he can fly off and go away so can she. And then she has the journey of a lifetime; she goes off and meets 9 different characters and when I performed it I played all nine. So it’s a play but it is made up of ten character monologues, that can also be performed separately for things like auditions or performed as a whole.
What drew you towards the idea of a falconer?
It is about as far away from being in a pretty dress and a bonnet as you can get, I am always looking for opportunities to play something a bit unique, something with people who do exciting jobs, people who have a quirk or a passion you know, people who are a bit eccentric. I really feel like we need more roles like that for women, so I thought a falconer is a great character and I wanted to write about an unusual friendship story – so why not write about the friendship between a woman and her falcon?
“It is about as far away from being in a pretty dress and a bonnet as you can get”
It’s an arresting title – Pheasant Plucker! Where did that come from?
Well actually that’s from one of my favourite parts of the play! Yes Harriet finds out that her great, great, great, great, grandmother was a Tudor pheasant plucker from the west country. But I have a bit of an obsession with the Tudors so I just love all things Tudor.
Interesting. If you were a Tudor, do you think you’d be into pheasant plucking?
Well, when I see myself in that time I can see myself as a cook. Making ornate foods in Henry’s palace and those massive pies! You know when something rings bells with you? That is how I feel when I see Tudor cooking shows on the television because it is really complicated and kind of gross and fascinating. Tudor cooking is kind of like Monty Python-esque in its strangeness – which I absolutely love!
This search for her ancestors is part of Harriet’s wider self-improvement journey. What led you to this narrative?
I was struck by how bombarded we all are by the sense that you can buy happiness with classes and stuff. And you know in the end she ends up back in her field with her falcon, and yes she learnt some stuff along the way, but it turns out that actually she was were she wanted to be all along.
I think that that’s good because you can’t really buy happiness or massive self-awareness; it just sort of comes when it comes doesn’t it?
“We get fed that romantic fairy tale narrative so often that I wanted to do something different because that isn’t always the end of a story, or the main part of a journey”
That is quite an atypical way to end a story. Why not go for the big Hollywood ending?
There is so much weight on a romantic ending. We get fed that romantic fairy tale narrative so often that I wanted to do something different because that isn’t always the end of a story, or the main part of a journey. So you could say that the love story is between her and her bird!
Oh and the bird is great. I really like the bird’s character. I played him smoking a fag and wearing a feathery gilet and he was my absolute favourite character to play.
Do you feel it’s a good time for women in comedy to do something a little different or strange?
I think that everywhere women are pushing the boundaries of what they want to play, what they want to write and being as creative as possible. Historically there aren’t as many roles that reach into the corners of human existence for women. So now everybody has realised that there is this gap we can now create them. There are so many different characters that I like to play and in Pheasant Plucker I have created 10 really different characters with different energies – from a yoga teacher and a spoilt posh girl to a French nutritionist – and I have tried to make them these interesting multidimensional characters that I would like to play.
Pheasant Plucker can be performed as a solo show or as an ensemble piece – what do you see as the challenges and the opportunities for both of those types of staging?
Performing it as a one person show there is a challenge of how to change character every seven minutes, do you do it with costume, do you change bits of lighting, do you do it with a bit of music? Also it’s a marathon because there is so much to get your teeth into. All thosefun creative challenges are the obstacles that you’ll be faced with.
Performing it with a wider cast would enable every person to play one character, which would offer the opportunity to show some real variation between the roles and unique performance styles. However the challenge here would be keeping the sense of them all being in the same world and still being in the same play and not letting it become too fractured.
What advice would you give to people who are looking to stage Pheasant Plucker?
Just think about what’s really different about each character whether it is accent work or physicality. I personally worked with a movement director and it was really helpful to identify different characters.
And then another thing is making sure that you have really established what Harriet is like – because she is the through line she comes back in between the other characters and she is always really different to who you have just met.
Describe Pheasant Plucker in 5 words
Plucky, adventurous, unique, creative… and wild, definitely wild.
Pheasant Plucker is now available to perform
All illustrations featured in this article are by the incredible Eleanor Brough. These and many more beautiful pieces can be seen throughout the Pheasant Plucker book