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March 18, 2013 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Interview with Stand Up for Charlie’s Director Chris Swney and Writer Will Agnew

Fortunately, the two gracefully ageing ladies at the next table do not run for the hills as Will Agnew, writer of Slave Labour Productions’ Fringe Festival success Stand Up For Charlie, quotes his favourite line from the play: “I would grudge-fuck you, but I don’t think my cock is big enough to fill up that much cunt.” Stand Up For Charlie is a dark comedy. Agnew explains that it’s about a group of comedians who have to deal with guilt, grief, responsibility, and the consequences of their words when their celebrity friend commits suicide after they roast him. Despite its seemingly morbid premise, Stand Up For Charlie sold out before the season had even begun, which was more than director Chris Swney could have asked for. 

Agnew and Swney became friends while working at the Embassy Theatre. Agnew has an MA from the Institute of Modern Letters, while Swney is finishing up a BA with Long Cloud Youth Theatre, which he calls “the best training you can have in Wellington”. Apparently, Swney-Facebook messaged Agnew with “Hey man, write me a play to direct”, and Stand Up For Charlie was born.

Swney says the decision to use the Fringe platform was an easy one. “Why we did the Fringe is why everyone does the Fringe, but is too afraid to admit it. It’s a nice big safety net. You’re allowed to fail.” Agnew cuts in—which is typical of the pair’s overlapping banter—“[audiences] go in with the expectation that it might be half-shit,” so that took the pressure off. This allowed the company, joined by “very, very talented friends” of Swney’s to “fuck [the Wellington theatre scene] up a little bit”. Swney says it is a scenario that asks some pertinent and polarising questions about the entertainment industry auch as “how far do you go for fame and for laughter?” For Agnew, “my issue is everything is a little bit safe… We want it to be like a stone in your shoe. You feel it, even when you leave. It isn’t comfortable, but I don’t think it should be.” So far the reviews have been favourable, and there are intentions for a re-run for the end of the year.

Their attitude and immense gratitude—towards parents, the Victoria University Theatre Programme, their producer Bronwyn Cheyne— puts Agnew and Swney in good stead for future projects. With a debut like this, it doesn’t matter that Swney says he’s “not good at anything else”, because this partnership should keep them both busy for a while yet.

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