Interview: Callum Tilbury AKA Lady Aria Grey on Grey Widow, ‘It’s a punchy, joke-a-minute ghost story’

by Jim Keaveney

Written and performed by Lady Aria Grey (AKA Callum Tilbury), Grey Widow, playing at this year’s VAULT Festival, takes the audience on an eerie, hilarious journey into the darkest corners of drag.

In the acclaimed monologue play, Lady Aria Grey tells the haunting tale of her turbulent marriage with her recently deceased ex-husband – she’s killed him but she didn’t do it properly, and now she can’t seem to banish his ghost.

We caught up with Tilbury to hear more about the play, their inspiration for it, and how they felt when they won the 2019 London Horror Festival Playwriting Competition.

Q&A with Callum Tilbury AKA Lady Aria Grey

What can you tell us about Grey Widow?

It’s essentially a camp, spooky drag show disguised as a mournful memoir, as Lady Aria Grey recounts her tortured relationship with her husband. She relives their fondest memories, their ups and downs, all in the hopes of giving some insight into how and why she eventually had to kill him. Don’t worry, his death is not a spoiler; it’s the premise.

Where did the inspiration for the show come from?

I knew I wanted to write a monologue play for my drag character. She’s always taken the form of an elegant, feisty, grey-haired older woman in a simple black dress. So I started with the trope of the mourning widow, as that seemed a good fit. And from there, I just put myself in her shoes, and tried to express the things that the woman inside me was dying (or killing) to say.

How did it feel to win the 2019 London Horror Festival Playwriting Competition?

It felt amazing! I still remember getting the email on a bus, alone, and feeling joy pulse through my whole body. I had moved to the UK from South Africa in 2017, and that award was the first time my writing had been recognised in the UK. So it was a real sense of “I’ve arrived!”

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

Completely thrilling. It’s such a vibrant festival, and the Vaults is so special to me (I’ve performed in a few of their long-running drag dinner shows) so it’s really amazing to be bringing my own work to London’s crown jewel of fringe theatre. It’s sad to think that this might be the last VAULT Festival, but that’s just making me savour every moment of this run.

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

It’s a punchy, joke-a-minute ghost story, with moments of camp joy, camp sadness, and camp stupidity. It’s CAMP, that’s the main thing. If murder, debauchery, Gregorian chanting, satin chemises, gothic drama, and a LOT of Edith Piaf tickle your fancy, then this show is for you!

Grey Widow is at VAULT Festival’s Pit until 19 March