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Callum Hughes - Thirst Interview

Everyone has heard of the 27 Club. In July 2018, two months shy of his 28th birthday, Callum Hughes was nearly added to that list. Journey from a small Oxfordshire town to the bright lights of London as Callum attempts to rediscover himself without looking through the bottom of the bottle. Featuring original songs, Thirst is both a love letter to sobriety and a celebration of all things alcoholic. So pull up a barstool, order Callum a 0% lager and listen to his incredible story.

Callum takes his deeply personal show to the Edinburgh Fringe and before the Fringe I caught up with him to discuss the show further.

Where did your journey with creating Thirst begin?
I’ve been an actor, writer and musician for over a decade, and I’ve helped few other performers with their own solo shows over the years a dramaturg or a script editor – and they’d say to me ‘when are you going to do your one man show’? But I’d never really thought I had much to talk about. However, I realised that my journey through recovery from addiction was not one I recognised in tv, film or theatre... and that maybe I did have something to say after all... I wanted to make a show that a younger Callum might have benefited from. Maybe if I’d seen this show in my early twenties – I wouldn’t have got myself in the mess I was in a few years ago. And so, Thirst was born.

How did the music help your journey with addiction and recovery?
I’ve always played music for as long as I can remember – it’s what got me into performing and I owe a huge debt to the pub-culture that facilitated that through open- mic nights and band nights. When I had to give up drinking, I was afraid that it was so entangled with my music that I might not be able to enjoy playing live like I used to. However, I realised that, like many artists, I create in order to help cope with and process the experience of living – and being in recovery is all about finding healthy ways to deal with being in your own head. Music is an essential part of my recovery and - contrary rock ‘n’ roll mythology – I’m a lot better at it when I’m not playing through a hangover!

How has writing and developing the show helped you and given you a voice during your battles?
My co-directors, Roann McCloskey and David Shopland helped me construct the show in keeping with the tenets of recovery. For example, recovery isn’t linear and so neither is Thirst. The story is structured around seemingly small, but ultimately key moments in my life, following the thread of a memory or a feeling. It mirrors the way we actually think rather than tying it all up in a neat little narrative. To embrace that nuance and complexity is liberating for me both as an artist and an addict. Sometimes you need to sit in the mess to make sense of it. Wearing my heart on my sleeve every time I perform this show is reminder that there is great strength to be found in vulnerability.

What do you want an audience to take away from seeing Thirst?
Having toured the show across the country, I’m always surprised by the range of things people take away from the show. Some folks see it as a story about losing/finding oneself, others really relate to the way in which I address mental health and addiction, and some just love the humour in the stories I share... But ultimately, it’s a story about how we cope with being alive. Sometimes the things we think we love most aren’t always good for us – and that’s a hard lesson to learn. Stories help us talk to each other about how we feel – and that’s something we could all do a lot more of in my opinion. If one person comes away knowing that they aren’t alone in their struggle and that there’s hope for everyone (no matter how hopeless things may feel), then it’s worth it for me.
What inspires you as an artist?
I am always inspired by work that gets to the heart of a matter without making any apologies for it. I also think there’s great humour to be found in truth, and Thirst incorporates a lot of the humour found in recovery rooms or otherwise hidden parts of society. Bringing stories out of the dark and onto a stage is a duty I feel I have as a theatre-maker, no matter the genre or size of venue. As with all the work I create – I always ask the question: ‘WHY’? What is the function of this work? Whilst I believe all theatre should be entertaining and stimulating, I also think it should offer something different. I like to present work in a way people might not have seen before – and I think that’s something I’ve managed to do with Thirst.

Thirst plays at Pleasance Courtyard Bunker 3 from 2nd to 28th August (not 14th or 21st) with tickets available from

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