Linus Karp on awkwardness, foreignness and his new show, ‘How To Live A Jellicicle Life: Life Lessons’.

At the time of this interview, performer and director Linus Karp is resting at home with Covid. He says that he is just over halfway through his self-quarantine and getting more energy as the days go by. If his cheerfulness and buoyancy is anything to go by, it seems he is well on the road to recovery. He has been keeping busy by watching bad films – Netflix Christmas films with made up kingdoms, “where everyone speaks with English accents”. Most pertinently, he has also been working on the tour of Awkward Production’s critically acclaimed show, ‘How To Live A Jellicle Life: Life Lessons’.

So, just who is Linus Karp, and what is the story behind Awkward Productions?

“Basically, I’m a performer – I’m an actor, obviously – from Sweden. For quite a few years, I guess I felt – and I guess I still feel as most actors do – that I just wasn’t getting enough work…Especially being foreign, I was so rarely seen for most parts. I would just be seen for very specific foreign parts which are often very small and far in between. I just felt that I could do more, and wanted to do more so I set up my own production company. I found this play called ‘Awkward Conversations With Animals That I’ve Fucked’ that I just fell in love with.” This provocatively titled play is written by Rob Hayes, and was very well received during its run at the King’s Head Theatre. The taboo subject matter of bestiality and zoophillia may turn some away, but not Linus. “I thought it was so amazingly well written, and it was so funny, and so dark, and all through heartfelt, and sad, and I just felt like I had to perform this. So basically I set up a production company in order to perform that play. The play went really well and I enjoyed performing it so we did a couple of London runs, we took it to Edinburgh Fringe and went on tour with it as well.” He chuckles before mentioning the film adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, ‘Cats’. “- and then I saw the film Cats! And I just decided to create a show about it because I got so obsessed with it. I’ve just been using the production company to create my own work I guess. It’s been fun and you learn so much of every aspect of theatre. Like, I never aimed to be a producer or to market shows or anything like that. I’ve learnt so much about that and that’s been really useful. To get to have creative input is obviously great. Though, having to do everything is a lot of work of course.”

Linus Karp in ‘How To Live A Jellicle Life: Life Lessons’

With all the hard work going into his latest show and tour, I ask Linus if he has been able to take any time out to watch a show in theatre. “Ooh what is the last show I went to go to see? I go to the theatre all the time, but I do work at a theatre now – I work at Jackson Lane Theatre – so it’s probably a show there.”

“I think there’s still work to be done on that because such a high percentage of the population of the UK are born in another country and I think that’s so rarely represented on stage.”

Linus’ voice is a genuine pleasure to listen to. His native tongue gives his accent a punctuating diction of his carefully chosen words. And yet, as pointed out by Linus, it has limited his scope for parts. “I think that’s really frustrating because I think as an industry there’s been so much talk about diversity in the last five years or so, and there have been so many great improvements that have been made as well. But, I do think nationality is often left out.” He takes a moment as he measures how he’d best like to get his point across. “I think there’s still work to be done on that because such a high percentage of the population of the UK are born in another country and I think that’s so rarely represented on stage. Even if you look at the classic British plays, Like Shakespeare – ‘Romeo And Julie’ or ‘Hamlet’ – like, they’re not set in Britain but you would only have [British actors]. And I’m not saying that they should only be done with Danish actors or Italian actors, but I feel like you should be able to look beyond just casting people with a British or English sounding accent. Hopefully, that’s a conversation that will come further down the line as well because obviously we’re seeing a lot of change when it comes to race, and gender and sexuality so hopefully this is just another step that we’ll get to soon.”

We return to the name of his production company – Awkward Productions. Beyond its nod to his first production, is it some kind of admission? Is it a theme? Linus demonstrates a deeper understanding of stage presence, and the way in which comedy is clearly a sharpened tool in his creative arsenal. “I have a very natural sense of awkwardness and with [‘Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve Fucked’], it was finally a strength for me. That really helped me to do that show and that character as well as I could. I also just love awkwardness on stage or screen. I really think that the best comedy is when you feel slightly uncomfortable and awkward and I guess that’s what I want for people – to some extent -” He lets out a mischievous giggle “-at our shows.”

Excitingly, Awkward Productions’ is gearing up to take its latest show, ‘How To Live A Jellicle Life: Life Lessons’, on the road. Linus reveals the inspiration behind it. But just how can one live a jellicle life? “Well, you’ll have to come and see to find out! I think Jellcile is such a funny word. I think what’s funny about Jellicle is that it’s never specified in ‘Cats’ actually what ‘Jellicle’ means. In the songs for example, they say that Jellicle is that they dare look at the King and sit on his throne, and they can jump like jumping-jacks and they can do all these amazing things that are physical, or brave or highly skilled. So I think Jellicle is the ultimate compliment basically. Every positive adjective could be exchanged with Jellicle. So it’s basically teaching people how to live as good a life as possible, as exciting and wonderful life as possible, through what you can learn from the cats in ‘Cats’. Whether it’s educational or not, I leave to other people to decide.”

“Because, it’s cats whereas actually had it been humans behaving like that, grinding on each other, thrusting on stage, it would not have been a show suitable for kids. But, just because they’re dressed up vaguely as cats that becomes acceptable.”

Linus Karp

Anthropomorphised animals on stage are usually used in pantomime settings and are very rarely used to discuss serious or complex subject matters. It is also not the first time that animals have been of such keen interest for Awkward Productions in discussing hefty, abstract themes such as falling in love. Cats, in particular, seem to have an allure that humans just can’t get enough of. It would be an easy assumption by future historians that the internet was conceptualised as a cyber-shrine to our feline overlords. Linus believes that the use of animal characters allows us a way to uncover the ridiculous truths of our behaviour. “We’re so used to the world we have, so often you need another perspective just to actually realise what we’re seeing. I think Awkward Conversations does that quite well because it’s all about relationships basically. But, because it’s about a guy having it with an animal, you’re removed form it and can look at it from the outside a bit more and that way you can be like, ‘Oh it is actually ridiculous the way we act around our first love, or the way we deal with hookups or whatever the thing is… Cats are an independent animal, and there are also so many variations of them. One thing that I think is funny is that how cats and cat-like animals are sexualised and you call people a ‘puma’ and ‘cougar’ or ‘tiger’…It all has these sexual connotations which is quite weird and funny. ‘Cats’, the musical and the film as well, they are weirdly sexual in quite a fun way !” He chuckles, perhaps at the absurd but hilarious way in which we have catalogued animal behaviour. “But, the musical became a family musical.” Linus explains that this is down to the use of animals protagonists creating a distance, and opportunity for objectivity. “Because, it’s cats whereas actually had it been humans behaving like that, grinding on each other, thrusting on stage, it would not have been a show suitable for kids. But, just because they’re dressed up vaguely as cats that becomes acceptable.”

Other than the brazen content of the titles to his shows, they are also noticeably very long. “I do actually love a long title, I think it’s quite funny. I find that a one or two word title can be – for me – quite hard to sell the show. Whereas I think both of these titles really explain what the show is. I mean having to type it out every time I write an e-mail, then it becomes more annoying, and I’m like ‘Oh I’m not sure if this is right, maybe I should’ve just called it ‘Cat’! I like a funny title and I like when it explains what the show is about as well, so it’s definitely deliberate.”

Linus Karp popping out for the essentials

Whilst Linus is clearly an accomplished performer, producer and director, just who else is working on the show? He reveals that his partner, Joseph Martin, has been co-producing shows and is also the stage manager of the show. The two will be on the road together during their upcoming tour. “I’ve just forced a lot of work upon on him basically”. Joseph’s role includes giving him feedback, and having jokes tried on him. “Sometimes it’s good that he stops me because I’ve started going down a very narrow lane.” Linus also credits him with coming up with some great ideas. Musical theatre performer, Sam Carlyle, has provided some vocals, voiceover and choreography. “She is a wonderful performer and having her help has been really amazing”. He reveals a truly endearing story behind his costume. It turns out that this costume was originally designed for a school production of ‘Cats’ by Carlyle’s mum when she was performing at 14. “-and somehow it still fits me, even though its made for a 14 year old girl”. He goes on to mention how much he had learnt from director Katherine Armitage, who worked with him during Awkward Conversations. “If I hadn’t worked with her and done that show previously I wouldn’t have been able to do this show the way I’ve done it.” Linus will be self-directing, but this is not the first time he has directed a show. “I do love directing and would like to do more of it, but performing is my main love, so that’s always been by main focus”

If you’re unsure what to expect from the show, or are wondering what the moral message will be, Linus clarifies that this show is about having fun. “I created this throughout lockdown because I wanted something that was the complete opposite of everything that we were going through, and it’s just like silly joy. That is the main goal – I just want people to laugh and have fun. But I wouldn’t be able to do without putting some sort of message or undertones to it. I really wanted to make something that was really queer – I mean the show is very gay! I’m quite a political person, I wouldn’t be able to do a show without having certain political undertones. The show gets political at times as well, but in a very silly way.

Of course, in light of the world-changing pandemic, politics has become synonymous with the virus that has put politicians under heavy scrutiny and the theatre industry under enormous pressure. Linus reveals that just before the UK went into lockdown in 2020, he travelled back to Sweden, having had lung operations in the past. Living with with his parents and his partner, Linus spent 5 months working on his new show in Sweden. “I’m so lucky to have that escape. We were in the Swedish forest, I had a dog there, we had green space. In that way it was as good as it could’ve been”. Linus stresses that it was still a stressful time, as uncertainty hung in the air, with little work available. “I was very lucky to have the Jellicle show to work on”. At the very beginning of March, he did a scratch night, with the aim was to take it to the fringe in 2020, which obviously never happened. But this gave him an opportunity to test it in front of an audience, and so he spent lockdown working on it.

Linus Karp

Having been directly affected by UK government policy, and restrictions as a creative, Linus also shares his experience and political views. “I don’t think anyone in the arts industry things that they’ve done a good job. It’s been terrible, and it’s been so sad to see so many theatres and creatives struggle, and so many having to leave their job that they’ve done for ages, and they’re really good at, to do other things just to be able to get by. I mean, it’s just really sad. It’s sad that again and again, this government is devaluing the arts. I mean it’s important to value the creatives that we have at the moment and not just think that Britain is great because we had Shakespeare and The Beatles but that there are so many amazing creatives trying to work here now, but it’s been very difficult, partly because of covid, but partly because of this awful government.

I ask if politics will always be a big part of his work.

“Yes. I’m currently working on two shows and one of them is very political, so yes I think it’s hard for – I’m just very opinionated! It’s hard for me to say something if I can’t get some opinions out there as well. I think it’s boring where things are just nice. You don’t want things to just be ‘Oh this is just a nice show, or a nice time’. It has to have a bit of an edge. It has to go a bit further and it has to say something, I guess.”

Just how does his identity inform his politics?

“Before moving to another country, you don’t think that your nationality really matters. But then when you’re here you realise it’s so important to me, certain things are important to me. I’m still coming from Sweden…I’m usually not seen as a bad immigrant, so to speak. But it’s interesting all of a sudden to be viewed as an immigrant and all that comes with that. Brexit really obviously changed that for me. That’s when you really realised the views some people had here. Before then, I guess naively, I was seeing Britain as such a nice and welcoming place. And obviously I worked in theatre and lived in London so it is quite diverse and open-minded and all of a sudden you realise actually that’s not really the case. I think up until then, it’s almost been like my aim to move to the UK was to fit in but when [Brexit] happened, it’s like actually – now I feel like it’s the opposite. I love many parts of British life and British culture of course. But my foreignness and queerness are such important parts of me, and my life and who I am and to me it’s almost more important now post-Brexit to express that in my work as well.”

Considering his long-list of tour dates, just how does Linus Karp feel about this?

“I’ve never done a tour this big before, it’s very daunting. I’m very excited but also I am scared that I’ve take on to much. I’m so thrilled that there was so much interest in the show, I started putting the tour together because I had so much fun doing the show this summer and there were some cities I couldn’t go to and some venues that weren’t opened back then, I was then wanting to do a tour, and then more and more theatres were positive about it. I got responses to e-mails I sent a while back and many of them were interested in having the show, which was great but it felt like it is a lot, and it is daunting! But obviously, there’s so much uncertainty around everything right now so I’m just really, really hoping that it will be able to go ahead as it is. I’m just hoping that the government act responsibly and the people act responsibly and that we are able to stay open. How much longer of uncertainly can the theatre industry take? I don’t know. It is scary and daunting, but mostly exciting I think. I’m just really hoping it will sell! I’m trying to book us cheap tickets and stay with people wherever I can but it still has to sell a certain number of tickets just for it to be doable of course. But it feels really nice to be able to go to so many theatres, because so many theatres have been closed for so long, to be part of one of the shows that helps them get the audience back and keep open basically.”

Find out more about tickets to a show, which includes live streams to watch at home, here! There is also a link for you to show your support by donating to the Jellicle crowdfunder.