Interview with Fondle the Orange

“No one would call a unicorn ugly.”

Fondle the Orange is a new theatre company formed by Sarah Burton (director), El Yule (producer, publicity co-ordinater, and choreographer), Raychel Darling (sound designer, head of costuming), and Emilie Hope (production manager, lighting designer head writer). All four artists star in All Shapes and Sirens, a body positivity show featuring mythical creatures. The production will be onstage at BATS’ studio from the 10th-13th of March.


How did you come up with the name ‘Fondle the Orange?’

Emilie: When we were trying to decide on a company name, we were having breakfast production meetings. This particular production meeting had some oranges, which Emilie decided to fondle one by one. El looked puzzled and said “Are you fondling the oranges?” to which Emilie replied deadpan: “You must always fondle the orange.” We thought it was funny, had a nice story attached, was visually striking, and fresh sounding that it did indeed become our company name.

What was the catalyst for forming the group?

Emilie: We actually tried to get together and make a show for Fringe before AS&S. The show would have been adapted from a book – something we will definitely come back to once the show is over. The idea was to combine our skills as both English and Theatre majors. At the time, it didn’t work out but Fondle the Orange came out of Sarah’s second attempt at getting us all together in order to make a show.

What drew you to mythical creatures as a storytelling vehicle?

Sarah: Honestly the idea came out of the amount of time I spend on Insta. The amount of language body positive social media stars use which revolves around magic, myth, and out of this world adjectives creates a theatrical image ready to be snaffled up.
When we think of these creatures, we see them for what they are and by their own standard, which is the way we need to see ourselves.
No one would call a unicorn ugly.

Do you think that we have a modern mythos (i.e superheroes, Harry Potter)?

Emilie: Definitely. Myths are stories are almost always dictated by environment and signs of the times. People lived near the woods and believed in fairies. Vampire stories were reborn in modern times in eighteenth-century eastern Europe as deaths were frequent and from unknown causes, forcing people to find answers in corpses. Sirens came from sailor’s stories which I think were used as excuses for storms, shipwrecks, and generally poor sailing. When we think of stories like Harry Potter, their world and ours are not so different. In fact, they’re quite recognisable. Superheroes are the same, although often with added sci-fi elements. Humans obviously enjoy these fantastical stories otherwise they wouldn’t be recreated so often, and personally, I find it pretty exciting.
El: Amenandwomen.
Raych: I’d also like to add that, as a bookseller, I find a lot modern day fiction and nonfiction, presently, takes on a mythical element through the storytelling nature.
Sarah: They’ve kind of become a part of our history, it’s so great!

Do you have a particular (or ideal) audience in mind?

Emilie: Audience with kind and open hearts and a good laugh.
El: I think people who are already conscious of how body image can be explored and adjusted and nurtured. People who understand that while we all are different, there are commonalities to human experience.
Raych: People who are open-minded and willing to have a conversation with us who feel as though, while we fit a socially acceptable mould, are still left uncertain by society’s standards, and are made to feel unsure of our bodies.
Sarah: People that want to develop a new foundation and understanding of relationships with bodies.

Have any of you taken part in the Fringe Festival before? What was your experience?

Emilie: I was in a Fringe show as an actor last year. That was lots of fun, as I was being directed by my super talented friend. I had a good time.
El: Sarah and I worked on Colour Me Nostalgia! Last year. In some ways, it was a similar experience, in that it was devised, and the boundaries between performer and production were blurred, however that was a considerably more stressful piece to work on – we learned a great deal about how to build clear expectations and communication which has proved beneficial this time around.
Raych: I’m a newbie. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system to do my first independent show with.
Sarah: Been trapped in the Fringe web since 2014 doing a range of things from backstage assisting, acting, sound design, you name it! I’m also working on How To Write An Album In 12 Hours which was featured in last weeks issue.
Overall the experience has been majority positive, a good place to try new things and meet new people and join the culture. El has hit the nail on the head with Colour Me, Nostalgia! Since then it’s been a real treat to iron out some of those kinks during this process with The Oranges.


You’re all recent graduates, how did VUW prepare you for this experience?

Emilie: VUW gave me a good understanding in production roles, and the benefit of clear communication. IIML also helped me from a creative and practical point of view in terms of writing.
El: I think more than anything else, VUW offered me an opportunity to build connections, to find creative people who I want to work with. Beyond the three of us working directly on the show there are a slew of other people we met through our degree who have offered us support, advice, feedback, contribution of skills. The support system that VUW has set up for us is invaluable.
Raych: Networks. The support group I have for when I am not entirely sure of a particular aspect – the ‘we are all in this together’ attitude the ‘don’t be a dick’ attitude, that VUW gives a lot of its graduates has proven to be very valuable.
Sarah: It’s  hilarious that you ask this question because Em asked me to be an interview subject for a VUW past pupils piece she was writing. Here are some of the key life and theatre lessons Vic taught me:
1) Never apologise for who you are or how you feel.
2) Keep the promises you make, in the end you’ve only got your word.
3) Do not try to change yourself to fit.
4) If you’re put under enough pressure you can shit diamonds.
5) Don’t rely on shitting diamonds.
6) Asking for help is the scariest thing you can do, but the most rewarding.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before putting on a show?

Emilie: Not sure. I’ve been involved in many shows and I’m always keen to get involved and have always learnt something from them.
El: For me it would have been to limit how many roles I took on. Because this is a collaborative and devised piece, we all act and we all work in production roles. As the Producer, Publicity Coordinator, Choreographer and one of four performers, I think it’s fair to say that at points I spread myself a bit too thin. One of my good friends has a rule that she never performs in a show that she also produces. She knows from experience that there are only so many hats you take on and off again. Having said that, given that this show was our first as a company, it was an educational experience that I think taught us all how to navigate our relationships with one another in both performance and production dynamics.

Emilie: Actually, yeah, don’t combo performing with production management – not the best combo! #toomuchshittodo
Sarah: Preach! Directing and acting, physically impossible to be in two places at once!
Raych: How little sleep I’d get, worrying about bits and pieces. No: how much I’d think about this show outside rehearsals – just how much it would permeate my thoughts, everything I read, what I put in my body, what I choose to listen to.
Sarah: This is my first time directing a devised 1 hour show with adults. Just coming from working with children I was really concerned I was going to baby these 3 fully capable women. I wish I was aware that hard work and trusting your gut go hand and hand.

During rehearsal, were there any “happy accidents” that you ended up incorporating into the show?

Sarah: Our image in the fringe program was an accident. We just started getting a little bit silly and squishy.
One of our devising games was compiling 2 lists. One of body conversation topics and one of mythical creatures. We then assigned them numbers and chose two at random. A lot of the characters you see onstage were created completely by chance.

Emilie: We were struggling with a particular concept, and then I just started being silly on stage, trying to get the concept on its feet, then El joined me and it was super wacky and fun, and now it’s a skit in the show that I’m actually super proud of.

Raych: The development of the ghost scene into a simple character used to aid in transitions and as a stage-hand – we still kept the funkiness and liveliness of the character, he’s not a scene, he’s his own entity.
Sarah: *Gasp* spoiler 😉
El: Quite often the happy accidents came from two separate problems becoming each others resolution – so in the case of the ghost, we loved the character, but the scene felt wishy-washy, and because we all perform, on stage and didn’t want to detract from the performance by stepping out of character to facilitate a set change, or with an additional person in highly non-mythical blacks pulling set pieces across the stage – we smushed ‘em together.

Did you begin with a script/outline or did the story develop later?

El: The show started as a concept which we then expanded into a brainstorm of characters and body image experiences, before picking the stand outs and turning them into a cohesive script. In the early stages we played around a lot with pulling different combinations of body image and creature out of a hat and seeing how they informed one another. Some pairings worked really well – others, like Existential Basilisk, not so great.

Emilie: We devised first and then put it into a script. We made it easier on ourselves and didn’t come up with an overarching, connecting storyline. Our show is a skit show.

Sarah: We started with some basic facts about the vision of the piece and I’m pretty confident that the show still reflects this. We wanted physical theatre, poetry, song, dance. No realism in this bad gal.

Which mythical creature would make the best Prime Minister?

Emilie: Oh, good question.
Raych: From within our repertoire of mythical characters, it would have to be Mother Nature. I also stand by that outside the show.
Sarah: Oh that’s a good one, I was going to say a saytr but you’re onto something.
El: It probably is Mother Nature, but otherwise to throw a curve ball in there, Death – the Grim Reaper – would be a really interesting one – she’s so grounded in reality, she intrinsically understands human nature and all their fickle ways of making themselves feel more or less important than they really are. She’s omniscient. She wouldn’t fuck around.

What’s your favourite smell?

Emilie: Book smell. Old, new, doesn’t matter.
El: Coffee beans, fresh bread, sea salt, book smell also.
Raych: Freshly mown grass at the seaside. Also, book smell. (As a bookseller) I smell a lot of books.
Sarah: Citrus fruit – oranges have been my spirit food for years.

Buy your tickets to All Shapes and Sirens here.
Keep up with Fondle the Orange on Facebook and Instagram






Tom Waits on Everything and Nothing


Icarus never died

His wings are drip-drying on the washing line

An elephant held back with a ball o’ twine

Twine wrapped around its ankle

Icarus’ wings are hanging on the washing line

Dripping wax and water

Metal sparrows are lead to slaughter

And smoke bubbles up from the bombing run

The squealing sirens’ sounded

But Airman Icarus is grounded

Charged with hubris (unfounded?)

The boy did not build Babel

He is just a fable

With a soul of ink and wire

A soul seared by tongues of fire

Tongues dripping (like the wings on the washing line) with Divine saliva.


Sometimes, it’s fun just to riff on something weird. 

The Smudge


ashes 2
Twin Peaks: The Return (dir. David Lynch,  2017)


God’s dirty thumbprint crosses your brow

Remember you are dust-


 The Turning Wheel wears you down

Returns and turns and turns again

Lumbering, creaking through the sky

A soul under each unblinking eye.


The smudge upon the kingly crown

Blotting out the gaudy light

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

A pox upon sterility!

The darkest doubt repainted:

Negative Capability.

You’ll lose your footing

A fortunate fall

You’ll lose your footing

You will not fail

You’ll lose your footing

At the rail

The thorn, the splinter, the needle, the nail

Dancing on the edge,


 Hand in hand in hand in hand

Before the altar and the throne.


Obvious debt to TS Eliot aside, this piece revisits (if not cannibalises) imagery and themes that have appeared in many of my other poems, including:
Beneath the Blue Throne
Locust Eater
Whose Flesh? Whose Word?
The Man at the Rail
Anatomy Lesson
To Be King


The Devil Rides The Bassline

Illustration by Pauline Baynes  (from by CS Lewis’ The Last Battle)

Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils…
-G.K Chesterton

The devil rides the bassline
of every song on the radio,
especially the new ones:
slick, glossy, smooth rides
into the hearts ‘n minds
of the restless, relentless Youth.

The devil dangles its hooves
into warm pools of Strong Drink,
muddying the muddy waters
of the stagnant streams
that stain the sepia dreams
of elderly artists.

The devil lounges
inside the paperback tomes
and within the colourful crystal shards
that decorate the packs of Pokemon cards
lying on the floor
of the family caravan.

The devil goes to a church
where the sermons are too short
or too long
or not funny enough
and spoken by a woman
and the worship
is too traditional
or far too loud
or it goes on
for far too long
and they use too many instruments
and the theology
is too conservative
or too liberal
or not rigorous enough-
after all, they believe that the earth
might be slightly older than six thousand years-


Anatomy Lesson

Bartholomew_Marco dAgrate
St Bartholomew Flayed (Marco d’Agrate,1562)

Breath and fire

And bright blue barbed wire

And axe-blades and cisterns

And spindly pink pincers

And uneven bristles

And great granite thistles

And wrenches (or spanners)

And flat, drooping hammers

And sluggish red rivers

And cobwebbed quivers

And orbs upon stages

And whitewashed cages

And stained-glass globes

And a thin, tattered robe.

Inspired by the poems “1950s” and  “Before I Knocked” by Bill Manhire and Dylan Thomas, respectively. 



Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.



Discard the gritty lump of clay,
And, instead, select another.
Fashion something Wholly New,
fashion something Wholly Other.

Retrieve the once-rejected mound
And put it back onto the Wheel
What of the New will it create?
What of the Other will it reveal?

It Is known
It Is beyond
It Is distant
And Intimate

We are dust,
We are ash,
We are breath,
We are breath,
With our backs against The Infinite.

Daily Prompt: Recreate

Inspired by The Liturgists’ Apophatic Meditation