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Thaddeus McWhinnie Phillips - Lost Soles Interview

Lost Soles is a captivating theatrical adventure from visionary theatre director and designer (and sometimes tap dancer), Thaddeus McWhinnie Phillips, that pulls spectators into a surreal world of entertainment, absurd international intrigue & lost dreams through rhythm tap, shadows, object theatre, and transformative stage design. 

The show follows a talented Wyoming tap-dancer to New York for his ‘premiere', which turns out to be a total failure, leading to his impulsive escape to Cuba. Once there, he loses his passport. Stuck in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we find our tap-dancer still in Cuba 37 years later, revisiting scenes of his tap education as he sifts through his old performing shoes in a closet on a Havana rooftop.

Phillips performs this work alone, equipped solely with various objects, tables, tap shoes, model 1950’s American cars, cigar boxes, lamps and record players. Lost Soles is a theatrically magical tribute to his own tap teachers (including his grandmother who danced with Donald O'Connor on the Vaudeville Circuit!), to the resourcefulness of the Cuban people and the magic of theatre.  

Photo by Erin Rollman

Ahead of the Fringe I caught up with Thaddeus to discuss the show.

What inspired you to create Lost Soles?
I’m not a tap dancer but I'm an actor, a director, and I love tap dancing. So the show is about those teachers. And it's about Cuba. And it’s about theatrical ingenuity. 
I get inspiration from making shows on different themes - there’s a lot about how to be creative. They can have political themes, Lost Soles certainly does. It’s not overtly political but it does touch on certain realities we live in, because that’s part of the world. 

You first presented Lost Soles in 2000, how does it feel to still be performing the show but giving a fresh version?
This is an early work of mine that kind of launched a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing since, so to revisit it here at Edinburgh Fringe, is just fantastic. It’s been really wonderful diving into it, relooking at it 20 years later, remaking a whole new show - because the design is very different - but keeping the same essence and discovering new things at the same time. It allows for a kind of liquid, amorphic theatrical transformation with very few elements that kind of bleed from one to the next telling this theatrical story. 

What keeps you inspired as an artist and performer?
Considering all the things we’re facing, we’re probably going to need to find a more innovative and creative way to live and look towards ‘less is more’ to be happy. Which actually truly would make us happy, instead of all this crap everywhere. Too much junk we wouldn’t even need. We're shipping stuff around the world we don't even need and we don't even want. We need to stop. 

This is very much the case for Lost Soles, taking inspiration from the resilience of the Cuban people.  They’re still using these old cars - they fix them, they reuse them, they make new parts - they use the fridges that they’ve had from the 1950s. Why can’t we?

What do you want an audience to take away from seeing Lost Soles?
I’d love for audiences to come away from Lost Soles with a feeling of the past, nostalgia and reassessing their own ingenuity and resilience. But at the same time, thinking about the future and how we progress.

Thaddeus McWhinnie Phillips is the creator and performer of Lost Soles

Lost Soles, Assembly Roxy (Central), 2-28 Aug (not 14), 16:30, £10.50-£16. Tickets are available from

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