Helen Seymour is a spoken word artist and writer based in Canterbury. At 24, she’s already written her first full length show, To Helen Back, which has been directed by Hannah Silva. Helen is known and admired for her surreal humour, her witty whimsy, and her willingness to peep behind the curtain of darker topics – or to do away with the curtain altogether. In To Helen Back, Helen invites us into a world of her own creation; a hospital filled with bloodthirsty badgers, explosive fun, and one very curious burglar. Yet, behind all the surreal elements, the show puts forward a poignant exploration of bodies and how we understand ourselves through their prism; how they constrain us, and how they define us.
Your play is very much a mash up of comedy, poetry and experiments in sound. What made you want to start writing some longer material?
I’d been writing quite a lot of heavily-rhymey poetry that fitted well into a 3 – 5 minute slot but I didn’t really know how to make that into something longer, and because I’d grown up watching a lot of comedy, I’d sort of always had it in my head, you know, watching Tim Minchin’s Ready for This or Tim Key’s Slutcracker or whatever, “Awh man, I’d love to do something like that”. And then I got invited to do the Apples and Snakes Public Address, which called for poets to do a 10/15 minute piece. Hannah Silva directed it and working with her gave me the confidence to break away from the rhyming while keeping all the elements I’m interested in: fusing serious stuff with comedy, surrealness, playing with audiences expectations, all of that. I can’t really thank her enough, because that piece opened up this whole new world of writing and became a stepping stone to creating To Helen Back.
You first performed a scratch version of your show at Wise Words festival in Canterbury last year, and then you got Arts Council Funding to develop the show further. In what ways has your show changed and developed most?
The core elements are still there but it’s actually changed quite a lot. I know I just banged on about Hannah Silva but I’m going to do it again because she directed To Helen Back and really pushed me as a writer and performer. It’s a much braver show now, and there’s more for the audience to get their teeth in to. And I have a lot more fun doing it because of that, and I love all the bits where I get to jump and move and mess about. That’s what’s so great about writing your own show, you can be like “I f***king love wiggling about”, and then BOOM, it’s in the script, and then there you are, wiggling away under the light.
Who inspires you?
It can be a conversation with a friend or a film or a talk or a show or a book and if I tried to list them I’d miss too many out and I know what I’m like, I’d try and explain to you why I felt inspired, because I’d want it to be a good answer but the trouble is…doing that…it would ruin it, like breaking that kick of “c’mon, you can do this”.
You collaborate quite frequently with a few different artists and communities in Kent. Who is your favourite person to work with?
It is very hard to pick just one. And again, I’m not going to list them because I’ll miss someone mega-ly good out. But I’ll give Charlie Tolfree a shout (we worked on a short film together called Eyes on the Road). He’s very keen to get things done, he makes me laugh a lot and we’ve developed a good short-hand together. We’re often on the same page about things too, like, we’re both a bit death obsessed and fall apart in supermarkets.
In your play, there’s a rather scary badger, and your poetry often takes its audience into surreal worlds with mysterious beings. If you could befriend any creature, mythical or otherwise, which one would you choose?
I’m pretty sure I’ve still got it in me to be best friends with a bear. Or a tiny mole.
If you want to know more and would like to see her live, Helen will be performing at Wise Words Festival this coming Spring.
Photo Credit (top image) Jake Cunningham cunninghamfillmandphoto.com
Design (bottom image) by Emrys Plant @BlockColour