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Random 8

Martha MacDonald

Martha MacDonald

One random comedian, eight random questions; it's the ultimate test of funny person and fate. This week we welcome a stand-up poet, sit-down columnist and in-the-wings comedy playwright, Martha MacDonald, whose pet project, Shell, is at Theatre503 in London's Battersea next month. What made her make it?

"Mainly, I wanted to commit the seedy backstory of my own pet tortoise to paper and give him the biopic he deserves," MacDonald explains. "My tortoise, Tuppenny, was illegally smuggled into London in the 1960s and sold to my grandfather in a pub in Palmers Green for a tuppence. And who was the reputable reptile breeder my grandfather purchased him from? Well, it was a man known to the pub-goers by the somewhat on-the-nose moniker of Mickey the Greek, of course! I mean, it writes itself really."

If only. But the finished product boasts a couple of London runs now, as the Jersey-raised writer smuggles some weighty themes under that shell. Yep, it's a trojan tortoise.

"When we inherited Tuppenny from my grandparents, I realised that this tortoise had already seen off one generation of my family," muses MacDonald, "and I worried that he might outlive me as well and become a burden I bestow upon my own children. This made me want to write a really funny show that explores unfunny things - grief, mortality, intergenerational trauma and familial responsibility - via the story of a young woman who inherits her dad's tortoise."

"Basically, it's the Rime of the Ancient Mariner meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Albatross! And how has she found the transition from page to stage?

"This has been a really fun show to bring to life because it really challenges the performer, Molly Byrne, to inhabit so many different characters. Molly has totally made the script her own which has been a joy to witness. She has such funny bones and is so bold and physical on stage that the show always feels fresh and exciting - even to me, and I wrote it!"

Shell by Martha MacDonald. Molly Byrne

Turtally. Martha MacDonald, your Random 8 await.

Who was your childhood hero (real or fictional)?

I was a very precocious (read: earnest and annoying) kid so if you'd asked me at the time, I probably would have tried to impress you by saying something eminently learned like Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf. But if I'd been honest about who I wanted to be like it was a combination of Kim Possible and my older sister, Lulu. And do you know what? That's still true.

What's your favourite phrase or expression?

A friend of a friend whose second language was English had misheard the phrase 'flipping heck' as 'flip an egg' and it's now my new catchphrase. Infinitely better than the original.

Which place you've visited was the biggest anti-climax?

I spent a pretty dismal 36 hours in Amsterdam staying at a hostel whose strapline was something like 'this is the worst place to ever stay, please don't stay here'. I had presumed it was ironic. I was wrong.

Martha MacDonald

Who's the most interesting person you've ever met?

My godfather, Alcindo. In Jersey, where I grew up, he's known as 'The Green Man' and his actual job is to make huge sculptures out of willow and rewild the landscape to return it to the toads and the birds and the worms. He's basically a Disney princess, but he's got a massive beard, gold teeth and is always wearing honking great pirate boots.

Which TV show do you wish you'd written?

Green Wing. It's the show that made me want to be a comedy writer. Surreal mixed in with the mundane and laugh-out-loud, larger-than-life characters - absolute writing goals.

What's the weirdest thing you ever ate?

I once swallowed a staple when I was a kid. I will be taking no further questions on the matter at this time.

Which live event would you love to have attended?

I'm not a big festival goer - I probably would have complained all the way through Woodstock or Live Aid and really ruined it for everyone around me. But I really, truly wish I could have seen Victoria Wood perform live.

Who are you most envious of?

Anyone who did get to see Victoria Wood perform live. Oh, and morning people!

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