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Scenes of a sexual nature

Harry Butler told David Hennessy about his play Changing the Sheets which is at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

A new play with an Irish writer and cast looks at how people get together and relate to each other in the age of hook-up apps like Tinder.

London-based Dublin writer and actor Harry Butler is bringing his play Changing the Sheets to the Edinburgh Fringe starring himself and Máiréad Tyers.

Written by Harry himself, Changing the Sheets finds two strangers in bed together after a first date.

As the two characters Patti and Robert act out their intimate encounter with words only, the gap between the romantic ideal and reality becomes clear.

Harry told The Irish World: “I had this idea of quite a simple play, that it would be everything a couple says to each other in the bedroom before, during and after sex but we would never do any of the sex.”

Harry, who only graduated from The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art in 2018, started writing to make something happen for himself with a part he could play but is now writing another project.

“The idea kind of came from a few different things.

“I just thought that was a strong idea.

“One of the things that I’m really interested in, and what the play’s interested in, is how you get to know someone in the bedroom and the kind of conversations you have in bed.

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“It felt like a very interesting, specific type of conversation to focus on.

“Then in a real practical sense, it’s just easy. It’s just two people chatting in a bedroom.

“I did not have to think about how to get characters on or off stage or anything like that.

“I just thought, ‘Okay, we’ll just meet a couple and we’ll get to know them over the time that they get to know each other and through what they say to each other in the bedroom’.”

In the play one character is looking for a hook-up while the other wants something more serious.

This is not all that divides them as Patti is very cool while Robert is something of a nerd.

“They are a mismatch. They’re an odd couple, I suppose.”

The play might have sexual themes and content but it is all conveyed without showing any flesh.

“The play has sex in it but it’s not really it’s not really about sex.

“There’s sexual things in it, it’s not really about sex.

“That’ll make more sense if you see it, it’s not about sex.

“It’s more about young people getting to know each other.

“It is a little bit sexy.

“But it’s funny, it’s light hearted.

“I wanted it to be like ‘a pop play’, like a pop song where it was kind of short and easily relatable.

“And that’s one of the things that I’ve been pleased with.

“People are relating to it, ‘I’ve had that conversation’.

“I get a bit frustrated, as someone who loves the theatre. I never want to make or write a play or be put in plays that make people feel stupid or anything.

“It’s a very easy play to understand and hopefully, that doesn’t compromise on it having something to say.

“It’s a play where you’ll know what’s going on and hopefully what’s going on will make you laugh and hopefully pack a bit of a punch.

“That was my aim with it.”

An insight into dating and intimacy in the modern age, The Irish Independent described the play as ‘A clever anti-romantic comedy for our times’.

“It begins slightly from the point of view of hook up culture, the idea of casual sex.

“We’re all young and it’s accessible.

“We have this freedom but then when does that kind of run out? Or when do things start getting a bit serious or things change?”

Harry appeared in Deadly Cuts directed by Rachel Carey which closed the Irish Film London Festival 2021 as well as the Dublin International Film Festival.

Based in the Finsbury Park area, Harry moved to London last year for the purposes of developing the play.

“I kind of moved for that reason, but also just kind of get out of Dublin after the pandemic.

“It was a good decision.

“It does feel like the right call.”

This will the fifth time Harry has got to put the show on with runs in London,  at Dublin Fringe and at Bewleys Café Theatre on Grafton Street already notches on Changing the Sheets’ belt.

“It’s been very enjoyable to work on.

“It’s always been really good fun. I’ve been really pleased with how it’s gone down.

“I get to travel with it, it’s bringing us up to Edinburgh.

“I have to say when we started doing it originally, I was just very anxious about it going well, and very nervous.

“When I was onstage acting in it, I was also worrying about it, ‘God, what are they going to think about me?’

“Or, ‘What are they going to think about the writing?’

“It felt very exposing.

“But now that it’s gone well and people have liked it and I’ve gotten good feedback, I feel like I can worry about that a bit less.

“Obviously, I still very much worry about it so very worried about Edinburgh, but I think I can have a bit more confidence in it, you know?”

In the past, Harry has been acting opposite Rachel Feeney.

Harry will be joined onstage in Edinburgh by Máiréad Tyers, the Cork actress who has been cast as the lead in Disney +’s forthcoming Extraordinary with Siobhan McSweeney leading the supporting cast.

We interviewed Máiréad, who had not even graduated from RADA when lockdown came in, in March last year when she was reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall.

“Máiréad’s star is rising so maybe you’ll be interviewing her again in the future.”

Harry counts himself very lucky to have found not one but two great actresses to work with on this play where the chemistry between the two characters is so “really, really important”. Both Rachel and Máiréad featured in Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar-winning Belfast.

“I got so lucky with the two of them, Oh my God.

“I hadn’t met Máiréad at all before I started working on the play with her and we’ve since become very, very good friends.

“I was just looking to work with an Irish actress in London, and someone sent me her name.

“We chatted on Zoom for a bit, and turns out she’s amazing, and is a really good friend of mine now. So it’s been so lucky.

“I kind of knew of Rachel but again, oh my God.

“The chemistry, that dynamic, it’s just us two onstage the whole time.

“I feel like I struck gold getting to work with those two actresses.

“They’re both amazing. They really are.”

Harry has been pleased with how the female role has been received.

“The most satisfying thing I’ve heard about it is when people come up would be women saying, ‘Oh, you wrote her really well’.

“Because that is the thing you’d want to get right.

“I really didn’t want it to be a play where it was written by a guy, the guy who wrote it was in it and then the female character was two dimensional and sh*t and not interesting.

“I was so afraid of that, I still am afraid of that.

“If someone said that to me up in Edinburgh or whatever, I’d be heartbroken.

“But I think the thing I did with Patti is I made her kind of a bit more like me in many ways but just made it out of a girl’s mouth.

“And then that has ended up being quite truthful hopefully or resonant or whatever.”

Is there a similarity to Normal People in that way? While before any depictions of sex were from the point of male gratification, this seems more complex..

“I’d like to think so. That would be a compliment because I really rate what Sally Rooney has done.

“I’d like to think it’s exploring similar things or it’s trying to take a deeper look at intimacy.

“I loved Normal People, the sex scenes were scenes in themselves, and they were fascinating.

“And they were really truthful. I think that’s one of the many reasons why it resonated with so many people.

“It was showing a part of our personal lives that we weren’t used to seeing.”

Just like with Máiréad and Rachel, Harry must feel he stuck gold with the involvement of director Anthony Biggs.

Biggs has been the Co-Artistic Director of the Playground Theatre since it opened in 2017, where his directing credits include Gregory Evans’ Shirleymander with Jessica Martin, James Purdy’s ghost tale The Paradise Circus with Sophie Ward and Tim Woodward, The UK Premiere of The Jazz Age by Allan Knee and Finding Neverland with Hannah Tointon.

“I sent him this play, and I didn’t know him before either, and he has been so central to it happening and having a life.

“He is kind of the reason it’s been able to happen.

“And again, so lucky that I’ve met him and he’s directing it.

“If Anthony wasn’t on board, we wouldn’t be going to Edinburgh and a lot of other great things wouldn’t have happened with it either.

“He’s been amazing.

“I do really mean that about Máiréad and Rachel and Anthony because I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe the play’s happening again.

“It’s because we enjoy working with each other, it could be that simple.

“We want to do it again because it’s good fun to do.

“The hope would be Changing the Sheets would get, the dream would be that we’d get another go in London, we’d get to take it down to London and maybe Dublin again.

“I’d love to do it in London again, that would be the dream.”

Changing the Sheets can be seen at Edinburgh Fringe where it plays at the Assembly Rooms, The Drawing Room, until 28 Aug 2022 (not 16), at 9.15pm.

To book, click here.

For more information on Playground Theatre, click here.

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