Interview: Becks Turner on Melonade, ‘A celebration of the fact that no two brains are the same!’

by Jim Keaveney

Becks Turner in Melonade. Photo: Daniel Bennet

Theatremaker and comedian Becks Turner creates interactive, cabaret-style, game theatre, with director, Adam Gregory. Their work is political and socially engaged, using comedy and silliness to make serious points. Their latest piece, directed by Adam Gregory, plays at this year’s VAULT Festival.

It’s a raucous game show performance that exposes the academic bias of our education system, debunking myths about “soft subjects”, empowering the neurodiverse community and highlighting a need for a serious change in the way in which we educate and assess students.

We caught up with Becks to find out more about the inspiration for the show and the joke in the title.

Q&A with Becks Turner

What can you tell us about Melonade?

Melonade is an interactive gameshow about neurodiversity in the education system. There are games, mixed with some stand-up, and comical and autobiographical bits of my own experience of having dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD. It’s about how I struggled in education, especially in exams, and how I was told that the artistic subjects, especially theatre, which loved, were a waste of time. It’s a love letter to creativity, and a celebration of the fact that no two brains are the same!

It also deals with politics, and how the tories and their latest education policies and their lack of funding for schools have made education a really inaccessible and exclusionary place, especially for people who are neurodiverse. The games explore what it’s like being neurodiverse in a system that isn’t built for you. But really Melonade is a positive look at the way things could be different if everyone was supported the way they needed to be in school and allowed to learn in a way that suits them. With games, comedy, music and a very glitzy costume, as well as lemons and melons!

What was the original inspiration for the show?

When life gives you lemons, make melonade! It’s a little joke about being dyslexic that sparked the whole idea for the show!

I made the show while I was at drama school, because I had the option to either make a theatre show or write a dissertation. My choice was extremely easy! I thought, “I came to drama school hoping that I wouldn’t have to do exams or write loads!” So that kind of sparked the whole idea of Melonade, and wanting to create something that was showing that people need to be tested differently and learn differently.

What’s it like to be bringing the show to VAULT Festival?

It’s great! It’s been a long time coming! We were originally programmed in VAULT 2020, but we were part of the lost week which was cancelled due to the pandemic. So we’re over the moon to be able to showcase what we’ve been working so hard on for almost 5 years now!

And it makes it even more poignant that we’re a part of what has now been revealed to be the final ever week of the VAULT Festival as we know it. It’s been a pivotal place for artists and theatre makers and comedians to cut their teeth in England for such a long time, and its loss will be devastating to emerging artists all over the country. If you are able, we do encourage people to look into the ongoing campaign to save the VAULT Festival, and to help it find a new home.

How do you think audiences will react?

We think we’re gonna take people on a journey of excitement, positivity, a bit of upset at what’s been happening in this country, and the ability to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Without giving too much away, we’re certain that audiences will leave with a smile on their face, and feeling empowered and celebrated, whether they’re neurodivergent or not. We’ve made it with the intention that neurodivergent people will relate to the stories and the games, and neurotypical people will have the chance to see what this education system is like when it all feels rigged against you.

How difficult is it to balance comedy while imparting a serious message?

The show is about laughing at the silly things in life, and the difficulties we all face sometimes. So even though we’re trying to highlight the issues with the way things are, we want people to enjoy themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to find the funny side, but G&T Theatre is a big believer that optimism is a greater catalyst for change than negativity, so the show reflects this positive outlook. The comedy is used to show that, yes, things are less than ideal as it stands, and we can’t invalidate the way that that affects people for the rest of their lives, but engaging people and empowering them is the way we can start to improve things.

How would you describe the show to some considering buying a ticket?

Fun, silly, political, funny, and great with friends!

Melonade is at VAULT Festival’s Cage until 17 March