Interview: Alison Skilbeck on Alison Skilbeck’s Uncommon Ground

Alison Skilbeck performing her play
Photo: Pete Le May

Alison Skilbeck’s Uncommon Ground was described by Mark Lawson as a “superb work” and by The Scotsman as “one of the treats of this year’s Fringe” following an incredibly successful premiere run in Edinburgh.

It now sees a London run as part of a double bill at Old Red Lion Theatre, with Skilbeck’s play running from 21 to 25 November and her husband, renowned stage and screen actor Tim Hardy, performing in the solo show The Trials of Galileo from 28 November to 2 December.

The play was written by Skilbeck during Lockdown and follows six characters who find themselves on Clapham Common during lockdown. The production was partly inspired by glimpses of people Skilbeck saw on her daily walk on Clapham Common during the pandemic.

Ahead of the run we caught up with Skilbeck to find out more about that inspiration and what it is like to be both writer and performer.

Alison Skilbeck performing her play
Photo: Pete Le May

Q&A with Alison Skilbeck

What can you tell us about Alison Skilbeck’s Uncommon Ground

It’s a solo piece, in which I play – with tiny costume changes only – six very different characters, who all find themselves on the Common during Lockdown, and tell their stories which are variously funny, sad, and quite dotty. There’s a seventh character also, lurking throughout. There are links between them – it’s very much about all that connects people.

What was the inspiration for the play?

The experience of isolation during lockdown, spotting people ( or imagining them) when it was possible to go out…also the power that words, and  stories have to connect us…the shared fears of age, and illness, of separation – but also the fun and silliness. I’m inspired too by love of what only live theatre can do; how you can create a lot from a little – ‘turn on a sixpence’ to become a different person, and really talk and listen to your audience.

How does it feel to be taking your play to London after Edinburgh?

It’s lovely, and scary of course. It’s always great to reach out to a new audience who has not seen it before, and find similar, and different responses.

Being both writer and performer, do you have to resist the urge to tweak your text, or is that something you embrace?

No major tweaks! That would upset the flow…but tiny verbal adjustments , usually making the story clearer or simpler, may have evolved from Edinburgh, but it’s basically the same each time – but fresh I hope, for each new audience.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

I hope they’ll have found things they identify with is each of the stories, and the whole; I hope they’ll have laughed, and maybe cried! and I hope they’ll have seen what live intimate theatre always has to offer – that present-moment shared experience…doing a lot with a little; but most of all an awareness of  the ‘ties that bind us’, to each other and to everything and everyone on the planet.  And I hope they’ll have had fun!!

Alison Skilbeck’s Uncommon Ground is at Old Red Lion Theatre from 21 to 25 November

Read our interview with Skilbeck’s husband Tim Hardy about his performance in The Journey to Venice earlier this year