“I have learnt a lot about the person I wish I had been from this one character.” | Lilly Pollard and Joel Samuels talk sex, soundtracks and Sugar Coat at Vault Festival

Tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Vault Festival.

Joel: Sugar Coat is a live music play about love, loss and lubrication. It’s a pop-punk, feminist show about sex and love on the one hand; and trauma and survival on the other. It features a kick-ass all female-identifying cast of actor-musicians who tell one person’s story across eight years of her life. We follow her from teens to twenties and along the way we see extreme highs and tragic lows before she eventually finds a small amount of equilibrium.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but there’s a lot of sex, a smattering of drugs and a banging soundtrack inspired by an eclectic mix of 90s bands from Bikini Kill to Letters to Cleo.

Lilly: Yup – all that and more! It’s a great big feminist pop-punk hurricane of a show. I can’t wait for you to see it!

Your show is based on a true story. How accurate is the finished show to real life?

Joel: The essence of the show itself – a young person coming to terms with two immense and painful traumas and figuring out how to cope with them, how to survive and how to live their life in the years that follow – that is entirely true to real life.

With the consent of the person whose story we are telling we’ve taken some licence with timelines and fine detail but what is so equal-parts exciting, moving and terrifying is the universality of this story and the lack of public discussion around some of the themes involved. What began as one person’s true story has developed through the efforts of the amazing company we are working with into something that hopefully speaks to so many people’s experiences.

Lilly: This story is shared with an audience by five female-identifying performers – sometimes playing characters, sometimes playing instruments, sometimes just playing themselves. The collective and multi-faceted telling of the story seems to acknowledge shared experience, and in so doing – speaks to a universality at the heart of the show. It feels more truthful and more real than ever.

Your coming-of-age story spans eight years. How do you decide the most important events to include from across that time?

Lilly: This was no mean feat! It was a challenge and a half – as the initial script was the same length as Ulysses. If we’d have wanted it to be performed in real time – it would have turned into a durational 8 year piece… maybe that will be our next project… (it definitely won’t. Haha.)

Joel: To be honest the essence of this story is sex. So we focus on that – it’s eight years of sex and love, in all of the wonderful, joyful good ways and in a lot of the traumatic bad ways as well.

Has creating this show helped you better understand your coming-of-age years?

Lilly: It’s been bloody enlightening. It’s made me realise how much shame I felt around sex and my sexuality. That as a young(er) woman, I felt it wasn’t… polite..(?) to want to have sex or even talk about sex (that’s that Home Counties upbringing for you…). But at the same time feeling immense pressure TO be having sex. It’s a really confusing time, and I wish I’d been able to talk about the way I was feeling.

Joel: The show is focused on a female-identified character’s coming of age story so there are many differences between my male teenage/early twenties and hers. But actually a lot of the realisations she has about her sexuality and her identity, especially in terms of non-monogamy and queerness, are things that I wish I had been braver and more open with in my coming-of-age years. I’m thirty-three but I have learnt a lot about the person I wish I had been from this one character looking back at that time in her life!

What would your advice be for anyone going through that journey now?

Joel: Talk to others. Sharing really is caring whatever age you are. Our main character doesn’t ever feel ‘cured’ or ‘better’ in the play after going through what she goes through, but it is undeniable that it is only when she begins to talk and to share with the people in her life that the weight that she is carrying becomes at all bearable.

Lilly: Couldn’t agree more – it’s SO important to talk.

What is your process for writing music for the show?

Lilly: A lot of forensic listening to 90s pop punk girl bands. Tons of it. It was absolutely brilliant. Working out why they sound the way they sound; what are all the ingredients that make a song magical… is it a dirty driving bass line, is it painfully fast drumming, is it the contrast of a “girly” voice singing grown up lyrics? And then I’ve tried to apply this to the way I’m writing my songs. It’s also been very cathartic – particularly our opening song about hating the patriarchy. The whole thing has been some kind of strange therapy for me…

Joel: The script is very much something that has come from both of us working collaboratively but the music and 99% of the lyrics (I wrote like one line, I think) is all Lilly. Frankly I’m musically bereft of all talent!

What do you hope people take away from your show?

Joel: Fun, excitement, excellent tunes and hopefully an increased ability to talk about some things to do with sex and sexuality that we all normally find tough to chat about.

Lilly: I want audiences to feel excited and inspired by the sight of an all-female-identifying band, and feel safe to talk more openly about all things Sex. I hope they walk away humming the songs and immediately search Spotify for the album…

Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to at the Vault Festival?

Joel: Selfishly I have to plug my other show – Who Murdered My Cat? – a twisting, silly, autobiographical, pseudo-detective yarn by Roann McLoskey, developed and directed by Lolo Brow and myself, which is on in the final week.

But in terms of the rest of the festival where do you even begin!?! There’s so much good stuff on – some of which has already happened like The First, What the Dolls Saw, Ask Me Anything, Bible John, etc etc.

Frankly there’s far too much to mention but, amongst many things, I’m super excited for an eclectic mix of comedy from Notflix, The Graham Show and The Adventures of the Bearded Lady, as well as some excellent theatre in The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of King Boris III, Beastly and Madame Ovary. Also The Guild is interactive (cocktail-including) fun that is running for the whole festival and if you don’t buy a ticket/already have a ticket for LADS for International Women’s Day then I pity you.

Lilly: Ahh there’s so much I’m excited to see, I’m super excited about seeing Frills and Spills by Stumble Trip Theatre – I saw their Edinburgh show a few years ago, and it was so excellently surreal, hilarious and properly heart-warming, I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us this time…

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into performing arts?

Joel: This is such a tricky question because the performing arts is such a perilous place to be working right now! So my main bit of advice is: first of all be absolutely sure that this is something you really, really, really want to do and then try and have as much fun as you possibly can whilst also making a living. A combination that not a lot of people outside of the arts seem to manage I think.

Lilly: Get a really good part time job… Know that it’s going to be hard. Know why you’re doing it. Know that it is YOUR choice that you’re doing it, so if it gets tough, you can return to that and understand that you are still in control.

And when you get to 30 and all your friends are big shot corporate whatevers in their office jobs and can go on nice holidays – accept you won’t be able to go with them (IT’S FINE – I DIDN’T WANT TO GO SKIING ANYWAY). But you can be smug because you are doing what you really, really want to do – and they probably are not (I hope none of them read this. They’ll probs be too busy in the Alps anyway…)

Sugar Coat is at Vault Festival from 10th to 15th March.

Book your ticket here.

Find out more about the play by following it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Keep up with Lilly’s work by following her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Keep up with Joel’s work by following him on Twitter.