Larisa Faber is unpacking the pressures around motherhood.
The Luxembourg-raised, London-based theatremaker is performing at VAULT Festival next weekend.
Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a weekly newsletter about theatre written by me, Fergus Morgan.
We are back at VAULT Festival for this issue’s interview. It is with Luxembourg-raised and London-based theatremaker Larisa Faber, whose show Stark
Bollock Naked is running at the festival for three performances next week. Readers of The Crush Bar can access discounted tickets for the show, too: just enter the code ‘naked’ on the VAULT Festival booking page here.
Before the interview, though, a quick request. You will probably have spotted the news that this year’s edition of VAULT Festival will be the last to take place at The Vaults, after the venue decided to kick the festival out in favour of something more commercial. There will be a special issue of The Crush Bar on this next week, but for now, you can support the festival in finding a new home by donating to its #SaveVAULT campaign here.
And, as always, a reminder that you can support this newsletter by becoming a paid subscriber for just the price of a cup-and-a-half of coffee a month, via the button below. If you want to find out more about The Crush Bar - including promo opportunities like this - then click here.
That’s all for now. A bit more from me at the bottom, but first: Larisa Faber!
When Luxembourg-raised, London-based theatremaker Larisa Faber turned thirty, she went to see her gynaecologist. “She literally said to me: ‘Are you in a relationship? Do you plan to have children? If yes, you should get on it right now.’” Faber remembers. “I thought it was so inappropriate.”
Faber, now 36, had the same conversation again the following year. And again. And again. It became so persistent that she decided to make a show about it. Stark
Bollock Naked was written in 2019, sold out when it debuted at Camden People’s Theatre in 2021, then sold out again at Luxembourg venue Neimënster in 2022. Now, it arrives at VAULT Festival for three performances next week. It is an attempt, Faber explains, to unpack the pressures that come with being a woman in your thirties.
“The show is very autobiographical,” she says. “It follows a woman through her early thirties, who is constantly told that her time is running out if she wants to have children. We see her try to deal with that pressure and the questions that come with it. How much free will do we really have? How much of our desire to have children is biological programming? How does it all affect mental health?”
Bollock Naked is far from straightforward storytelling, though. Faber cites boundary-breaking artists Bryony Kimmings and RashDash as influences and uses several innovative techniques to explore the issues in her show. She maps video onto her naked body as a metaphor for the way society projects certain values onto female bodies. She works with composer and co-performer Catherine Kontz to soundtrack the show with “a mini-orchestra of gynaecological instruments,” too.
“When you go for an exam, they shove all sorts of instruments up there so they can get a look inside you,” Faber explains. “They can be really intimidating, so I thought I would use them to create a soundscape. I approached Catherine, and she ended up becoming quite integral to the show.”
Ultimately, Faber continues, she wants Stark
Bollock Naked to achieve two aims: to offer inspiration and empowerment to women experiencing the pressures the show evokes, and to give them a good time, too. “Lots of women go through this without discussing it,” she says. “I want to connect with them. And I want them to enjoy themselves. It is a comedy, after all, even if it has dark moments.”
“I like stuff that is political, but that has a humorous edge to it, and that is a little bit odd…”
Faber was born in communist Romania, spent the first four years of her life in Bucharest, then moved to Luxembourg with her mother, where she spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence. Performing – first dance, then theatre – was always a particular passion of hers, and when she was nineteen, Faber moved to London to train at the now defunct Drama Centre London.
“Two actors in Luxembourg had studied in London, one at Drama Centre London, the other at Guildhall, so I decided that my aim was to get into one of those schools,” she remembers. “It was probably the most random of many random elements in my life. I had never been to the UK before, I didn’t speak good English, and it was a big culture shock. But it was also the best time of my life.”
After graduating, Faber worked as a jobbing actor in London, Luxembourg and elsewhere for several years. She set up a theatre company with friends – Speaking In Tongues – and staged the English-language premiere of Dea Loher’s 1992 play Olga’s Room at the Arcola Theatre. She had a recurring role in the German-Luxembourgish TV series Bad Banks. She worked extensively with Luxembourg’s National Theatre. For a long time, though, she says, she had no interest in making her own work.
“I only wanted to act in other people’s projects for about a decade,” she says. “As only an actor, you are a service provider. It is not really you on stage. But if you write something yourself, it is you on stage. And I found that horrible. It took me a long time to get the confidence to make work myself.”
Until Faber made Stark
Bollock Naked, that is. Since premiering it at Camden People’s Theatre in 2021, she has been a prolific theatremaker, having produced a multi-lingual musical about abortion (2022’s Good Girls), a docu-drama about Luxembourg’s “school leaks” scandal (2022’s Papercut), a documentary about the pandemic (2021’s Look At Me), and a short film (2019’s If We Smarten Up). “I like stuff that is political, but that has a humorous edge to it, and that is a little bit odd,” she says.
Faber has found it challenging to make a name for herself as an independent artist in Britain, but making work in Luxembourg and elsewhere abroad has helped her build a career. “The Luxembourg theatre scene is very small,” Faber explains. “That has disadvantages, like people staying in positions of power for a long time, but it has benefits, too. It is a lot easier to connect with venues in Luxembourg, for example.”
In the future, Faber continues, she hopes to foster relationships between her two homes of Luxembourg and London. She wants to make work with artists from both, and to tour that work to venues in both, too, just as she has with Stark
Bollock Naked. “I want my projects to be a bridge between the UK and Luxembourg,” she says. “That is tremendously important to me.”
What do you want to do?
First of all, I want to take Stark
BollockNaked to Edinburgh this summer. That is a very clear aim of mine. After that, I would like to tour it more in Europe, too.
Beyond that, I want to continue making my own work in London, in Luxembourg, and elsewhere.
What support do you need to get there?
Well, I need the basics – time and space and money – to make more work. And, on a more conceptual level, I would like to see a greater awareness of migrant work.
I have a particular attachment to migrants from Eastern Europe. There is a lot to be done in terms of Eastern European casting, for example.
The next show I want to make is about the Romanian diaspora, actually, and how it is seen around Europe. If someone wants to give me time and money to make that, that would be great.
How can people find out more about you?
They can come and see Stark
BollockNaked at VAULT Festival next weekend. They can look at my website. And they can find me on Instagram, too.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back in your inboxes on Monday with a pick of five shows to see during the fifth week of VAULT Festival. Next Friday’s issue will focus on the issues facing the festival after this week’s news, and feature a chat with its founder and director Andy George.
One final reminder about the various ways you can support this newsletter: you can share it with anyone you think might be interested, you can become a paid subscriber using the button at the top, or you can get in touch with me about using it for promotional purposes.
That’s all. Thanks for reading. If you want to get in touch for any reason, just reply to this email or contact me via Twitter - I’m @FergusMorgan. See you in a week!