As one-woman gig economy drama Empty in Angel heads towards the final venue ofits London tour, author James Woolf tells us about the inspiration for the show, the effect of Covid on his plans and the remarkable performances of Darcy Willison. Book your tickets now!
Woolf‘s exploration of workers’ rights in the gig economy opened its London tour at the Etcetera theatre, before playing at the Hen & Chickens Theatre and the Bloomsbury Theatre. It finishes its tour at the Old Red Lion between 17 and 20 November.
Empty in Angel tells the story of a bicycle courier and her community’s astounding fight for workers’ rights in the gig economy – their simple demands for fairness, dignity and security which will end in a historic legal battle.
Based on actual events, Empty in Angel lifts the lid on the gig economy and tells it like it is. It is a powerful piece of political theatre about something happening right now, the burgeoning movement to fight back against the gig economy ethos.
Empty in Angel was first staged at the White Bear Theatre in 2019. Following that run, it was a finalist in two categories at the Standing Ovation Awards. Darcy Willison, who starred in that original production, returns to the production for its 2020 run. While Ursula Campbell directed the original production of Empty in Angel, this new tour is directed by Katherine Reilly.
James Woolf on Empty in Angel:
What caught your interest about this particular issue?
I went to a lunchtime learning session where I work at the law society and heard the true story of a bicycle courier who took City Sprint to an employment tribunal. I realised straight away that this was one of those fantastic stories of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. It was also a window on a world and an industry I knew nothing about. That same day I contacted the colleague who ran the workshop and said I’d like to write a play about this.
You also write short stories. Why did you think it would be a great play rather than a short story?
I immediately thought of it as a one-person play. I knew I couldn’t have actors for all the characters involved, so it had to be one person, or some unsatisfactory arrangement with a few actors playing several parts each. I didn’t even consider it as a potential short story.
You’ve twice staged it with Darcy starring. What does she bring to the role?
The main thing she brings is truth. You never doubt her for a second. She also happens to have an incredible energy and charisma that makes the audience immediately connect with her. Not to mention her ability to transition between so many people so quickly. She can be extremely funny too. She has totally made it her role and it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it. If my praise sounds over the top, check out our reviews page on the Empty in Angel website.
Your original planned London tour was disrupted by Covid. How did that affect you?
It was frustrating, but no more so for me than anyone else who had projects interrupted.
Has the piece altered in the time between the planned run and now?
I did more research and updated the play to take into account recent developments. All the extra material is contained in a rap towards the end of the show.
How has the community of gig economy workers reacted to the piece?
The community were incredibly helpful when I was writing the play and I had unfettered access to the key players in the story. The first time the play was on, the community were very engaged too. This time it’s been harder to capture their imagination with it and I’m not aware of many coming at all. I guess it’s no longer a novelty having a play about them, and they may not be theatregoers by nature either.
How has Covid changed the plight of gig economy workers?
This is a huge question. I’m sure things have changed in a multitude of ways. There are more working in the food industry than ever before, for example. For cycle couriers working in central London, there is less business centrally and more trekking out to the suburbs where people are home working. We’d need several hours to deal with this one…
What was it like seeing the piece finally return to the stage again?
Fantastic. We have a new director Katherine Reilly who has reinterpreted the play magnificently, and has simplified the staging and brought a beautiful clarity to the most complex and difficult scenes. I love what she has done with it.
You have played three venues so far. Have you noticed differences in each space?
I’ve only seen the performances at the Etcetera and the one at the Bloomsbury. As you can imagine the demands of those two spaces were very different but the show was brilliantly received in both.
How do you feel about ending the run at the Old Red Lion?
It’s a perfect venue for it, not least because it’s in Angel. We won’t be empty in Angel though! I think we’re will have for good houses.
Is there any plan for a future life for the show or any other pieces in the works?
We are considering a future life for the show next year but it’s too early to say how that will happen. In the meantime we are doing a rehearsed reading of my new play Jo and Sam Find Themselves in Woking at the Lightbox gallery in Woking on 25 November. The reading stars Joshua Collins and Darcy Willison! And it’s directed by Katherine Reilly. It’s a comedy dealing with the many challenges faced by millennials and it happens to be written in rhyming couplets. We’re are all excited to try out something new.
What can audiences expect from a trip to see Empty in Angel?
A one-person show the like of which they have never seen before about an incredibly important subject. They will laugh out loud and they may even shed the odd tear too.