The QT

Friday 14 June 2024

Laughter and tears with The Olive Boy

Sam Wonfor hears from Ollie Maddigan who channelled his grief into an acclaimed play, which will be on North East stages this month
Writer and performer, Ollie Maddigan in The Olive Boy

Four years after losing his mum suddenly when he was just 15, Ollie Maddigan started writing a play.

“I always knew that I eventually wanted to process my feelings, experiences and grief by turning them into a theatre show. However, I think it was only when I was 19 that I thought enough time had passed that I would be able to give justice to my story.”

That story is The Olive Boy, a semi-autobiographical one-man show, which follows the aftermath of that tragic, defining moment from Ollie’s adolescence.

When his mum died, Ollie went to live with his father, who had been an absent parent up until that point. 

“Whilst that does sound quite ‘heavy’, I can assure you that The Olive Boy is full to the brim of comedy,” assures Ollie. “I play a 15-year-old version of myself and with that comes plenty of jokes!”

The Olive Boy is coming to three North East stages in May

After introducing the play to the world via London’s Hope Theatre in 2021, Ollie took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe for a month-long sellout run in 2022 before planning a UK tour.

And while he recognises that ‘everyone’ isn’t the most exciting answer to the question ‘who is the show for?’ (to be fair, it’s also not the most exciting question), he’s standing by it.

“At its core the show is about grief and the ‘taboos’ of speaking about it,” he says.

“Grief is a universal thing that we will all experience, but for some strange reason we never really talk about it. So in that way, I would say the show is for everyone. 

“But it’s also for people who LOVE fringe theatre, comedy and crude/teenage humour,” he continues.

“It’s also important to me that on this debut tour, we make it as accessible as possible to younger audiences and we’ve made tickets really affordable for that reason!”

A Brit School graduate who was drafted in to direct a production of King Lear by the Stockwell Playhouse, Ollie says giving the main role in The Olive Boy to anyone else was never an option.

“There isn’t a universe in which I wouldn’t play ‘The Olive Boy’,” he says. “Not only because I think the real me being on stage sharing my experience helps to really bring the audience into the story and share its authenticity. 

“But, I also love being on stage. That’s the joy of being a writer and a performer, you can write your stories and perform in them too!”

While determined to portray himself in the play, Ollie concedes that putting in such a personal and traumatic performance — with lots of crude humour in there too — can be emotionally draining.

“But, whenever I’m on stage it feels like I’m doing the show for the first time! The energy from the audience always carries me through to the end.

Ollie was always going to take the lead in The Olive Boy

“Typically, I do a little bit of meditation before the show to just relax and prepare me for the emotional state I need to get into for the show.”

And following the show, he has a Guinness. 

“It’s like a reward,” he says.

Although he has enjoyed widespread acclaim — from both audiences and critics — since the show debuted, Ollie says he knew from the first performance that he had created something special.

“Grief is a universal thing that we will all experience, but for some strange reason we never really talk about it. So in that way, I would say the show is for everyone. 

Ollie Maddigan

“And more so something for my mum to be proud of,” he adds.

“The energy in the room was electric! Laughing and crying, then laughing, then crying again! 

“Of course there were a lot of friends and family in the audience, so I wasn’t sure if it was quite real! However, when taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe and performing to a room of strangers every night, it was then I knew I had made something that people really connected with. 

“Not only did the show sell out, but I was getting some audience members coming back to see it another two, three, sometimes even four times.”

Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, The Olive Boy is on tour

Selling the show as “a less disturbing Inbetweeners episode with lots and lots of heart” while also citing comedian Richard Gadd’s recent Netflix autobiographical phenomenon, Baby Reindeer as something he’d love to be compared to, Ollie isn’t ruling out a film or TV adaptation of his story.

“After this tour, a good well-earned rest! Then hopefully a nice run in London. TV and film wise, who knows? Watch this space!”

But for starters, watch the story on stage in the North East.

Ollie is playing a quartet of  performances in the region this month (May), bringing Olive Boy to Laurels Theatre, Whitley Bay (May 10-11); Alnwick Playhouse (May 15) and The Customs House (May 16).

Tickets from the venue websites (linked above) or via The Olive Boy website


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