Interview: Tilda Cobham-Hervey

The Australian artist and co-founder of Gravity & Other Myths explores the concept of chance meetings in her intimate audio adventure Two Strangers Walk into a Bar...

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Two Strangers Walk Into a Bar...
Photo by Jess Shurte
Published 22 Aug 2023

It might sound like a dad joke but Two Strangers Walk Into a Bar... is a journey. Created by Australian artist Tilda Cobham-Hervey, each performance is uniquely intimate: no audience, no actors, just two random punters on a quest for nothing less than the joy of unexpected human connection.

“It’s that fantastic thing you can only get with a stranger,” Cobham-Hervey says, beaming. “There’s a different part of yourself that you can access when you have the freedom of thinking, ‘I’m never going to see this person again’. What does that bring out in you? Sometimes I think you can be more honest.”

Sign up for a timeslot and you’ll be emailed directions to a ‘Stranger Meeting Spot’. Once there, you’ll be given headphones, through which Cobham-Hervey’s disembodied voice will offer a series of instructions and suggestions. A little later, you’ll meet your fellow stranger. But it’s no dramatic 007-style mission, nor an elaborate prank. “It’s very gentle, and very private,” she assures us. “It’s silly and light-hearted, and built to try and make people feel good.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea for Two Strangers came to Cobham-Hervey during the first Covid lockdown. “I was really lonely,” she says, frankly. “Not just for my friends and family but also for strangers. Those day-to-day interactions that can change the way you think about something, or even just standing in a lift with someone, being physically close to someone you don’t know.”

The show is built as an antidote to that loneliness, and even uses the audio-guide format as an homage to the podcasts which kept so many people company during those isolated months. “It’s about the intimacy of having someone inside your head,” she explains, “and how to use that to put you in a place to consider where you are, what you’re made of, what you’re doing here, and how to sit in front of someone and really ask them a question.”

After making a first draft in a garden shed with a borrowed microphone (“it was so DIY, I’m so un-technical!”), Cobham-Hervey premiered Two Strangers at the Adelaide Fringe in 2021. She was surprised, and deeply moved, by the emotional response it received. “Because it’s all about how different people approach it, every show is incredibly different. As much as I made it, I don’t really feel any ownership: you just get to witness the alchemy of people.”

Although it’s her first solo production as a writer, Cobham-Hervey sees Two Strangers as a natural culmination of her career so far. She grew up performing circus, and co-founded the company Gravity & Other Myths when she was just 14: “I was probably the most annoying teenager,” she laughs apologetically. Devised forms of dance and physical theatre followed before she found fame as a film actor after starring in Hotel Mumbai (2018). “The show takes all the things I love; writing, creating, and the part about being an actor where you arrive on set and meet a stranger, and they’re going to play your husband! But I also wanted to make something that wasn’t just me on stage, I wanted to give people the chance to be in the thing.”

Two Strangers Walk Into a Bar... bottles the high-wire fizz that only a chance encounter with a stranger can bring – and without the pressure of a date, the stuffiness of a job interview, or the awkward moment when you fluff your coffee order. Embrace the unknown, Cobham-Hervey urges. And don’t cheat yourself by bringing a friend. “The magic is in getting to learn about someone, and I promise it’s not scary. Be brave!”