Chichester: how does ‘stuff’ define us? And do we know when to stop?

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Billie Collins was given a curious combination of suggestions when she set out to write Peak Stuff which plays Chichester’s Minerva Theatre from Thursday to Saturday, February 15-17, directed by Neil Bettles.

It comes from award-winning theatre company ThickSkin with whom Billie had worked before.

“I started working with them on a project with a sixth-form college in Salford and we were creating something new. That process allowed me and the company and Neil, the director, to get to know each other. We got a little bit of a feel for how our processes work and Neil and Laura, the producer, then said that they would like to commission me to write a play. They had a few ideas. They said consumerism and they said a one-person play and they said they wanted it too include drumming. It was like they said ‘Here is your toolkit, go away and have a think!’

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“What has been really lovely was just to throw stuff around, throw ideas around and to see what happens. I didn't question it too much. I just did it. There is a quote that Neil was really interested in that said ‘We are not humans. We are consumers’ and that seemed massive! Suddenly we were dealing with the big questions about what does it mean to be a human being. But I tried to find a way into it all that was grounded and I just started thinking about my relationship with stuff. I made crazy lists of the things that I had bought from when I was a teenager and I had money. It really made me think about things and it made me think about how I feel about these things now and I took those lists into a workshop with Neil and some actors and our drummer and we just started working on ideas.

Peak Stuff (contributed pic)Peak Stuff (contributed pic)
Peak Stuff (contributed pic)

“But I didn't come to any clear conclusions. The play doesn't moralise as to whether you are bad for having too much stuff or whether you should actually have less. I think the point is that a lot of young people feel really overwhelmed by the state of the world. There is a real sense of uncertainty about the future, and for them there's something really comforting about the idea of something that they can hold onto and something that has a sentimental value. I know with my stuff there's some things that I really want to hold on to, that have value still, that I hold onto for quite sentimental reasons. I have got all sorts of letters and I've got a lucky rock that I bring with me everywhere!”

As for the show it features Meg Lewis playing three characters, Alice, Charlie and Ben.

“Alice is 15 and at secondary school and she is really worried about the climate crisis and the future and the impact of fast fashion. Charlie is 25 and is living in a shared house having graduated university. He feels very isolated and doesn't have a job and just feels quite lost and finds real solace in the online world. Ben is 35. He works as a marketing associate for a designer kitchenware company. He is very confident on the surface but underneath the surface you feel he is struggling. His storyline is about whether he is able to confront his own anxieties and his worries.”

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The piece intercuts between the three characters: “And what is interesting is that there are moments, almost like little Easter eggs, where you sense parallels between the characters. One reference for Ben might appear in Charlie's story and then hopefully it all comes together in a really exciting and surprising and satisfying way at the end.”

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