My Festival: Sarah-Louise Young

The actor, singer and director on losing her voice, writing songs for cats, and bumping into her heroes

What are you doing at this year’s festival?

I’m involved with three shows this year. An Evening Without Kate Bush is returning after its 2019 sold-out run, and I’ve made a brand new play about voice loss, The Silent Treatment, for Summerhall. I’ve also directed Looking For Me Friend: The Music Of Victoria Wood… oh, and I’m standing for the Edinburgh Fringe Board of Directors, too. I’ll sleep in September!

What do you most want to see this year and why?

I’m most excited about seeing Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder at the Roundabout @ Summerhall, a murder mystery musical from the team behind Fleabag, Baby Reindeer and A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad). Also Blue & Pip looks great. It’s one of the Space’s LGBT+ shows from Rust writer Helen Fox, who is definitely an artist to watch out for.

What’s your favourite place in the city and why?

I love the Royal Botanic Garden as somewhere to escape for a quiet walk. When I’m not tearing around trying to see as many shows as possible, you’ll also find me drinking the best coffee in the city, in Black Medicine.

Who do you most like spending time with at the festival?

Sarah-Louise Young PIC: Steve UllathorneSarah-Louise Young PIC: Steve Ullathorne
Sarah-Louise Young PIC: Steve Ullathorne

I love chatting to the audience, both during and after the show. At the end of An Evening Without Kate Bush, I always come out to say hello to my fellow Fish People (the name claimed by her loyal fans) and hear their stories. It’s a joy. I’m also looking forward to seeing my performer friends as we’re often on the road at the same time.

What do you remember about your first ever Edinburgh festival appearance?

I was broke, hungry, sleeping head to toe in a bed with two other cast members, and performing in a venue that no longer exists… and I absolutely loved it! The bank rather foolishly gave the 19-year-old student me a credit card, which I maxed out on seeing more theatre than I knew existed, and it blew my mind. It took years for my purse to recover, but my heart never really has. I fell in love with the festival, and we’re still going strong 26 years later.

What are the best and worst things that have happened to you in Edinburgh?

The worst thing was losing my voice. It happened in 2010 and I had to cancel my shows for 24 hours. I was devastated and didn’t want to let anyone down. I recovered after a day and it sent me on a life-changing journey of discovery as to why it had happened, the result of which forms the basis for my new show, The Silent Treatment.

So many good things have happened! Highlights include winning a Mervyn Stutter Spirit of the Fringe Award (I love Mervyn, and his Pick of the Fringe show is as much of a warm hug as he is in his iconic pink jacket) and bumping into Tim Minchin backstage in a narrow turret in the Gilded Balloon and telling him how much I loved his work only to discover he liked mine too… I came into the dressing room where I was about to go on stage with Fascinating Aida and melted down the door frame in disbelief.

How was lockdown for you? Did it change you, and if so, how?

Like a lot of performers, I lost a year of work overnight, but I was lucky to be in good health and I wasn’t a frontline worker so I felt extremely grateful for my situation. Thankfully I was able to put on quite a few online gigs, and I launched a bespoke songwriting service with my long-term collaborator Michael Roulston (of Roulston & Young). That really took off, and we’re still writing songs today to help people celebrate their birthdays, break-ups and bar mitzvahs. We even wrote a song for a cat!

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I love the outdoors! We’re moving to Manchester in the autumn after 25 years in London, and our new place is a short hop from the Trans Pennine Trail. I can’t wait to dig out the walking boots, go for a long hike and enthusiastically fail to recognise any species of bird or plant correctly.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Tell my long-suffering partner my bonkers dreams. Paul is a writer, so he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s writing a self-help book at the moment, too, so he’s probably using me for research.

And what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?

I tell my partner I love him. We never stop talking, so after that sleep comes as a relief to both of us.

Thanks for the interview! We’d like to buy you a drink. Where are we going and what are we drinking?

Ooh thank you. I don’t drink booze for the month as I need to look after my voice, but you can take me for a coffee at Black Medicine any time. I’m such a cheap date!

Sarah Louise Young appears in An Evening Without Kate Bush, Assembly George Square Gardens, 5.55pm, until 29 August. She has also created a new play about voice loss, The Silent Treatment, at Summerhall, 1.50pm, until 28 August, and directed Looking For Me Friend: The Music of Victoria Wood, at Assembly Rooms, 2.30pm, until 28 August

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