Maeve Marsden: performer, writer and producer
Maeve Marsden is an Australian based performer, writer and producer. Along with her creative partner, Libby Wood, Maeve is touring the UK with Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin, a feminist exploration of the history of gin that sells out performances around the world. I caught up with Maeve halfway through her UK tour.
Mother's Ruin has been performing sold-out shows for nearly two years including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and London's Underbelly Festival. Tell us about Mother's Ruin. How did it come about? Why is it so successful? You look like you enjoy yourselves on stage.
We really do enjoy ourselves. And we have performed the show more than 200 times now so it's a miracle we still have so much fun. I think I still enjoy it because it's a feminist work, because I am always finding new ways to deliver the script, and because singing and harmonising with Libby is such a pleasure. I think the show is successful because we draw people in with a really simple, fun, marketable concept - gin - but then deliver a work that is quite thematically complex and political. So it's joyful and energetic and comedic, but there's heart to it, and intelligence, so people are pleasantly surprised.
The research behind this show must be phenomenal. History is blended with politics, cabaret, feminism, music and gin. Of course, these are all elements of a good night out with friends. Was that your inspiration?
We did do quite a bit of research, yes, and we worked with Elly Baxter who runs a website called The Ginstress so already knew a lot of gin's history. When we were writing it we dug through books, articles, etc and we asked people what they knew about gin, what they thought about it. We distilled ('scuse the pun) all these facts and dry historical data into stories and then looked for popular or lesser known songs that would serve these stories - musically, we perform songs by a really wide range of artists because we were driven by lyrics and themes rather than genre, so we have songs by Sia, Jessie J, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Martha Wainright, Nina Simone, The Popes, The Pretenders, the list goes on. In the end we looked for stories that were focused on women, often on stories with two central female characters, so you have Libby and I embodying these women through history and guiding you through. This connects people to the history in a more personal way.
You also present a hugely popular podcast about LGBTQI+ Australians. Tell us about this work. Why did you choose storytelling (as opposed to say interviews) as a vehicle for delivery? What is the feedback from audiences?
I am, first and foremost, a performer and producer of live entertainment. The Queerstories podcast started as a recording of the live events I was hosting in Sydney. The podcast and the events grew really quickly, so I now host Queerstories events around Australia, I have edited a book of the stories, I'm about to launch a new podcast project, My Mother's Kitchen, with Google's Creative Lab, and the podcast just won an Australian Podcast Award. I love live storytelling, and the Queerstories events have such a beautiful energy to them, a coming together of community to sit and listen to each other, really listen. People have referred to it as "queer church!"
Many Australian women wish to bring their creative projects to a London based audience. What are the annoying things that make this transition difficult? What are the benefits that keep you going?
The costs. Touring from Australia is SO expensive. This tour we were lucky enough to get funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, but that's only after two UK tours at our own expense and risk. Culturally, the audiences here respond well to Australian work so it's easy enough to transition the work creatively. But you need to really be able to take the risk financially to make it work. As for the benefits, you're reaching a wider audience, it's fun to get to see different parts of the world, and it's great training as a performer to continually adapt for new audiences and venues.
What is next for you?
When we get back to Australia, Libby and I are doing our new show, Fat Musicals: A Body of Work at Adelaide Cabaret Festival, we're hosting Hot Gin Punch which is a sort of variety night spin off from Mother's Ruin that we're doing in Sydney and Adelaide, and we're tasking another feminist cabaret we perform in, Lady Sings it Better, to Festival of Voices in Tasmania. It'll also be nice to get back to my Queerstories audience, I'm launching My Mother's Kitchen (which Brits can catch at Sheffield Documentary Festival this June), and I'm working on writing a play.
Where is your favourite place to drink gin in London?
Ooooh, I like Mr Fogg's Tavern, and a visit to Sipsmith Distillery is well worth your time, but the best gin experience was when Kathy Lette took us for a hanky panky at The Savoy Hotel! That cocktail features in our show and there's a wonderful story about its invention, so that was an incredible experience.