Outsider Charmian Hughes’ inside view of an autobiographical comedy show

Charmian in Edinburgh last year

Charmian at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Last night, I saw a try-out of Charmian Hughes’ new Edinburgh Fringe show Odd One In which she is also performing at the Brighton Fringe next month.

It is about how she has always felt an outsider, even in her family.

She went from being a Nazi War Criminal’s daughter to being the only girl in a boys’ school to snogging now-disgraced politician Chris Huhne and a bishop.

She had only finished writing sections of it around two hours before the performance.

“I’ve never tried an autobiographical show before,” she told me, “but my friends have always found accounts of my weird family very funny and have been urging me to do one for years.”

“Are you finding it easy?” I asked

“Well,” she said, “telling spontaneous true tales from your heart and memory in a pub is a lot easier than trying to get it into some kind of structure for an audience who  know nothing about you and don’t have a context. Finding the right voice is a challenge – without the whole thing sounding like a whingey poor me complaint of family life from the heart of South Kensington.”

“It’s going to be a good show,” I told her, “because you’ve realised the trick in doing autobiographical stuff is not to plough through everything that happens: it’s to pick out the specific incidents that illuminate the general. Autobiographies are not about facts; they’re about people and feelings. People are interested in people.”

“Yes,” said Charmian, “One of the things to decide is which parts of the story carry the theme and which bits to mercilessly discard. But I’ve also got to remember that while it may be about me-me-me being a misfit and outsider, it’s also a universal story…

“My mother dominates my story. She only died last year and she was mostly a very difficult woman… but hilarious and the source of all my humour. My way of coping with her and to stay sane was to regale people with the latest dramas of my family life. She was a great British eccentric and more like a fictional character than a real woman and people were mesmerised by her.

“That’s one problem with telling true stories,” I said to Charmian. “The truth is usually so over-the-top people think you’re making it up.”

“I really want to do her justice,” said Charmian.

“You did a storytelling course recently, didn’t you?”

“Yes, with Pete Searle.”

“And did you learn anything?”

“You have to be the hero of your own story, have a goal and cross obstacles to reach a clear conclusion. And you have to know when to stop,” said Charmian.

As with stories, so with blogs.

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