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Charlie Norton speaks to the cast and crew behind this overwhelming student success at the Fringe 2018.
In typical student fashion, composer Lavie Rabinovitz effusively tells me, ‘Shower Thoughts’ was a brainchild of the small hours: ‘it all started with a message at two or three in the morning’. The idea was to explore the bathroom as a private place for personal revelations, librettist Ryan Hay explains, ‘so we put together a list of all the things that might happen in the bathroom and chose the ones we found interesting’.
‘Shower Thoughts’ follows five university flatmates as they reflect on university life in private and shared moments in their ‘grotty’ student bathroom. The song-cycle explores a breadth of contemporary issues – from mental illness to body hair – whilst sustaining the energy of a real student house through comic musical exchanges between the friends.
Though the setting is unique, Rabinovitz is keenly aware that the flat-share premise is familiar: ‘We talked extensively about the flat dynamics because we were really petrified of rewriting Friends. We wanted to write real people.’ To this end, perhaps riskily, the roles were cast before the piece was finished and the actors’ real-life personalities used as inspiration. This explains Iona Smith’s effortless charisma as Flick, the joker of the bunch. Meanwhile, Stephanie Herron’s incredibly poignant performance as Sophie is somewhat explained by her co-writing of the powerful and nuanced solo about eating disorder which, she explains, ‘is authentic to my experiences’.
In Hay’s words, ‘it’s important to understand that you’re writing from a perspective but to feel empowered [by it].’ As students of St Andrews themselves, the cast and crew have an obvious proximity to the fictional environment. Amy Addinall’s set design has a self-professed ‘grotty’ aesthetic ‘just like everyone’s bathroom at Uni’, which hilariously lends itself to Rachel Brown’s drunken crouching over the toilet bowl as the unlucky-in-love Ang, as well as a Kate Nash-esque ditty about body hair and self-acceptance from Sara Pearce’s Eva.
But this is not to say the actors are playing themselves. In fact, I choke on my water in surprise when Connor Norris who plays Jonny, a young typically English man repressed by the social implications of masculinity, has a strong American accent. On top of this, Herron and Pearce describe some teething issues with their portrayal of a gay relationship.
Herron: Definitely, for a couple of rehearsals, we were having a hard time figuring out, er…
Jess Cooper (director): Haha! Yeah, we had to have a wee ‘logistics chat’.
Pearce: One day we did a run and then Jess took us aside and said ‘Guys, let’s talk about physical intimacy’.
Cooper: I’m a queer woman myself and for me it was just a relationship!
Of her naturalistic directing, Cooper says the cast had to ‘work against the desire to “perform” the content, [so as] to make the audience feel like they were prying.’ For a cast of opera singers and musical theatre fanatics alike this apparently proved a challenge. The show involves no jazz hands and no dazzling choreography; rather the character development and the themes explored are at the centre of the piece. This placed some burden on the cast, Norris says: ‘I really wanted to make sure I did the issue justice.’ Yet it is this empathetic and thoughtful handling of contemporary issues which makes ‘Shower Thoughts’ so impactful.
Rabinovitz sums up the sentiment of the piece: ‘if you can express those emotions in the bathroom, why can’t you do so everywhere else – open the door!’ And, Hay tells me, the door is not closed on ‘Shower Thoughts’, with an upcoming run booked on home turf as well as an ambition for a national tour. Having seen the show myself I can confirm it is absolutely worth a watch, and I’m only more convinced of this having had the chance to speak to such a passionate group of creatives.
By Louis Harnett O’Meara
On August 18 Arthur’s Seat underwent a change. Hundreds of people trekked their way to the top of the hill and placed their buttocks squarely on the pebbled floor. A man with the look of Curt Cobain and Richard Branson’s love child stood before the gathering crowd. And so they waited.
“I am Barry Ferns, and it is time to enter the venue!” Curt Branson announced, and gestured to the door that stood beside him. “Please form an orderly line, and mind your heads coming in; it’s low in there.”
Barry entered first, before the crowd milled down the slope to the entrance and passed into the venue one by one behind him. Each man, woman and child took their place and sat expectantly before a speaker and a microphone – and Barry took his place before them.
“We have three acts lined up for you this afternoon everyone. Welcome, to Arthur’s Seat.”
I approached Barry after the show, and he suggested we grab a drink at the Starbucks just down the hill. It was surprisingly quiet – but then I suppose people wouldn’t come all this way just for a cup of coffee. Comedy, on the other hand…
How long have you been doing this?
I started running shows on top of Arthur’s Seat in 2007, 11 years ago now. The first show was called ‘Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Ritchie’. I changed my name to Lionel Ritchie for it – it was my name for seven years.
Like most of my comedy, it just came from a ridiculous idea. I just think Lionel Ritchie is a ridiculous man, and the idea of doing a show on top of Arthur’s Seat is just too ridiculous not to do.
How has the show developed?
The basic idea hasn’t changed much. Originally it was just a very small show; there were only around 20 people there. I’ve never advertised it, but it seems to have spread a lot just by word of mouth. This time there were about 250.
Back in 2012 and 2013 I performed a show every day for the whole run of the Fringe – I’d drag an amplifier, a mic., a door and a bag of comedy gear up every single day.
You managed to drag up three comedians to perform this year. How do you choose them?
They’re just my favourites. Tony Law’s been up a lot. The first time he came up his kids did a stand up set as well. I’ve had Simon Munnery, Josie Long, Rich Fulcher, who was Mighty Boosh at the time.
What if someone else was to decide they wanted to put on a show on Arthur’s Seat?
Well they’d have to talk to me, I’m the venue manager! It’s ridiculous. It’s a difficult one to put on your CV though – “What do you do?” “I manage an extinct volcano.”
How do you think the Fringe has changed?
Back in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s you would find a lot more oddballs at the Fringe. You didn’t know what you were going to get. People have much more of an idea of the Fringe as a career move these days. If you want to become a comedian you go to the Fringe, perform a sell-out run, get booked onto ‘Nine out of Ten Cats’ then you perform your tour.
You still get the Free Fringe, but there’s a lot more of the slick West End style shows now, and they cost a lot of money. The financial cost of it all means audiences and shows are less willing to take risks with what they see or what they put on.
When you started your show on Arthur’s Seat was it in response to the commercialization you saw happening?
It wasn’t in response in a direct sense, but it’s in the same vein as 1980s Fringe. It’s a ridiculous idea put on by a ridiculous person. I just love doing odd things. In 2012 I won the Hardy award for making a load of fake reviews for fake shows. I just printed them out and stuck them all over Edinburgh. I gave myself a six star review in one of them. People would come up the hill like, “excuse me, is this the place for the show with the six star review?” It’s amazing the stuff people believe just because it’s been written down.
Are you going to see anything interesting this evening?
Arthur Smith is hosting an unofficial tour of the Royal Mile at Midnight tonight only. He’s been doing it for years. It’s not your normal tour; someone nearly always ends up getting naked. He got arrested once for nearly starting a riot. When Nelson Mandela was still in prison he convinced everyone to crowd outside Leith police station where he told them Nelson was being held. He had the whole crowd of them chanting “Free Nelson, free Nelson!” Utterly ridiculous.
By Claire Richardson
‘Timpsons: The Musical’. If you just thought of Timpsons: the high street cobbler, you are correct. Energetic, creative, and completely ridiculous, it’s a musical parody of Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Written by Warwick students Sam Cochrane and Chris Baker, and performed by the new company ‘Gigglemug Theatre’, it’s exactly the sort of show the Fringe encourages.
On the Royal Mile each day, I spotted the team with Timpsons flyers, wearing shoe-shaped headdresses and Timpson aprons. Intrigued, I caught up with lead actors Robert Madge and Sabrina Messer, to discover the key to this musical. With just a week left, Sabrina remains convinced that their performance is always their favourite hour of the day – ‘although, half an hour before the show, we look like zombies,’ Rob laughs.
We begin with mutual, ironic grumbles as to a lack of sets of keys in crammed Fringe apartments this summer, before Rob abridges the musical. ‘It’s a bonkers but brilliant exploration of how shoes and keys came together to form the nation’s favourite cobblers – as mad as it sounds!’ The pair play Monty Montashoe and Keeleigh Keypulet, inventors and star-crossed lovers, in this (fictional!) depiction of Timpsons Ltd’s origins, 1865. The musical darts between the set of two wooden wagons; home of the feuding family businesses seeking glory at the ‘Invention Convention’.
I ask how Shakespeare might react. ‘Absolutely not turning in his grave,’ says Rob, with a grin. ‘Definitely – he was up for a laugh!’ Sabrina agrees. And what did Timpsons Ltd have to say? ‘We don’t work for Timpsons,’ Rob insists, ‘but everyone thinks that we do – we’re actors!’. The writers wrote for permission, and received generous funding for half of the show, but Sam and Chris had completed the musical long before. At the end each show, money is raised for the Alex Timpson Trust, established in 2017, to continue Alex Timpson’s work supporting children in care – in her lifetime, she fostered over 300 children.
Rob comments on first receiving their script that ‘you can’t quite believe you’re reading it. It’s so mad – and requires commitment. You can’t do the jokes half-heartedly, or they’d fall flat’. This includes posing a key as a ‘mini saw’ and a door as a ‘human catflap’ at the ‘Invention Convention’, while belting their anthems ‘Hole in my Sole’ and ‘It’s a Tingle’. Despite week-long rehearsals every month for half the year, there have still been alterations in Edinburgh. ‘A whole song at the start was cut,’ Rob tells us, ‘it was snappier to go straight in’.
The writers and lyricists are also performers in the subplot. Bouncing about in black leotards, they play characters in two love stories – that of the family servants, commenting on social class, and the most hilarious physical sketch of the relationship between two fisherman. While the future of ‘Timpsons: The Musical’ is unknown, Sabrina is convinced that the next move from Sam and Chris will undoubtably ‘be a bit wacky – it won’t be straight-laced’.
Certainly, this musical is a slice of quintessential Fringe. Ridiculous on paper, and brilliant when brought to the stage – it just needed the right team, and the high street’s cobbler, to ‘unlock potential’.
By Charlie Norton
I’m approached in the noisy foyer of Buttermarket by a normified David Blair, transformed from alien comedian to down-to-earth nice-guy by the absence of the Planet Caramel costume of a pair of neon orange Mod glasses. When Alex Harwood and Richard Duffy, sporting a shock of mauve hair, sweep in together, the three avidly fill each other in on whatever has happened in the hours spent apart since their last show – I’m reluctant to disrupt the lively flow of chat between them.
Can you tell me about early days of Planet Caramel?
Richard: We were all in the Edinburgh Revue at different times.
David: Then I wanted to form a group with Alex, and Richard was a necessary appendage.
Alex: And now we’re all best friends!
How did you choose the troupe name?
David: ‘Planet Caramel’ was chosen completely at random–
Richard: Then we decided it would be a good idea to have a bribe and managed to get hold of Tunnock’s, who give us 600 caramel wafers a year.
David: You know the worst thing about the wafers is that we’re the only show at the Fringe that gives them out and 10% of people go “Oh, have you not got Tunnock’s teacakes?” For f*ck’s sake guys, we’re not called Planet Teacake.
So, who decided on the fluorescent Mod glasses?
Richard: (to Alex) You’re essentially the aesthetics man.
Alex: Yeah – that was me! I was trying to get us a uniform for ages, and wanted us to be dressed as Cosmic Postmen…
David: Not a lot of Google results.
Alex: The glasses idea came from Devo, an Art Pop electronic band from the 80s, who wear these famous weird hats and look really bizarre. I imagined us doing the equivalent with glasses and it just worked.
Richard: We actually had a sexy photoshoot with the glasses and matching orange tutus.
Speaking of sexy, that word has been thrown about a lot in relation to your show…
David: I don’t know why, I don’t think of us as very sexy at all. Richard is another species.
Richard: Well, my flatmates overheard some Americans after a performance refer to me as ‘a tall glass of water’!
Alex: My boss’s mate fancies Richard too. There are definitely parts of the show where I feel sexy and then parts where I wish I was dead.
David: 1 minute of the former, 58 minutes of the latter. I’m not sexy… unless you like screaming and sweat. I actually sat down on the stage last night and left a puddle just from my own buttock sweat, which isn’t sexy, is it. Is it?
Alex: A puddle is just a spilt tall glass of water!
Have you thought about what Planet Caramel itself would be like if you ruled it?
David: I think it would be populated by nice boys just being friends. Girls would be allowed too.
So, you don’t have an agenda in particular?
David: I want to be nice, a lot of sketch groups aren’t nice, a lot of comedy isn’t nice.
Alex: Exactly. We don’t like doing dark edgy stuff for the sake of looking clever. The sketches are all ideas that have tickled us.
Richard: Comedy needn’t have a point; when it does it’s good. There’s a slight issue at the moment in that the shows we see promoted are often not the funniest but the most poignant or ‘significant’ shows.
David: (teasing) He’s getting defensive of us not getting shortlisted again.
Richard: I just think it’s strange that that’s almost a requirement of comedy now.
An hour with Planet Caramel proves them to be a comedy trio worth supporting: Richard, David and Alex really are ‘nice guys doing a nice thing’, bringing sharp sketches that amuse and amaze for fun’s sake. After a successful run of Rotations in Flavour Space, they are sure to be back to the Fringe next year with another raucous and unmissable light-speed sketch-show.
By Jessica Loram
Struck by the professionalism of HiveMCR’s production of Alistair McDowall’s 2014 psycho-dystopian thriller ‘Pomona’, I reached out to directors Kwame Owusu and Thomas Thacker to find out how such a polished student production came into being. At first, I was surprised to discover that Owusu and Thacker had not seen any previous productions of ‘Pomona’, instead staying “fervently distanced” from anything that might taint their “own digestion of the piece”. On reflection, though, this makes sense. Completely new to ‘Pomona’ myself, I had a hunch that their interpretation had come organically to Manchester University’s HiveMCR.
The team’s fresh engagement with the play manifests in excellent performances delivered by the entire cast. Thacker and Owusu tell me how “building up an extensive knowledge of the characters’ hopes, fears, past, projected future and relationship with others was absolutely paramount”. This considered approach is indeed what distinguishes ‘Pomona’ as a first rate student production. Ensuring that an entire cast sustain convincing character development is admittedly a tall order for a university group and, from my experience as a reviewer at the Fringe, is rarely achieved by amateur groups.
HiveMCR are, however, successful in their endeavour, and the emotional landscape of ‘Pomona’ is thrilling. In spite of the narrative’s surreal backdrop, the real drama of the play lies in an inner human realm, and Thacker and Owusu explain to me how the cast deliberately looked “at the characters at their best and worst to get a perspective of where their emotional range began and ended”. There is no room for lukewarm efforts in HiveMCR’s work
Given the “character-driven” nature, the directors reason that “the drama exudes from the way the broken narrative interacts with its broken characters.” Compelling physical theatre allows the emotional suffering to bleed into the physical realm, too. An unbearable fight scene unravels between the endearing Charlie (Stoops) and Moe (Whitehouse). Finding myself genuinely wincing during the fight, I surprise myself by wanting to find out exactly how they choreographed such a stunning scene. Unsatisfied with their initial physical exercises, Stoops and Whitehouse turned to “how one truly conveys the horror of a bloody fight: the reactions”. A focus on reaction led the actors to “read articles that described the feeling of being stabbed as research and practiced breathing techniques to correctly correlate the characters’ inner panic with their severe pain”. The use of blackout snaps when their blows make contact emphasise “the way the actors vocalise and physicalize their characters’ pain when the lights snapped back on”. Such an attentive and creative approach certainly adds to the thrill of ‘Pomona’.
HiveMCR’s formidable artistic effort extends to the thinking behind the sparse set. Captivated by the cyclical nature of the text, Owusu and Thacker chose to capture this by having “a loop physically appear on stage, ensnaring the characters in a claustrophobic proximity”. A sense of entrapment is cemented further by the plot’s race against time. I learn from the directors that “the chalk circle at the centre of the stage also doubled as a clock, the creature Cthulhu marking the positioning of the scene preceding in the fractured chronology of the play”. Utterly absorbed in the psychological drama, I confess that I missed this detail, but my ignorance did not detract from my understanding of the narrative. If anything, therefore, this detail simply testifies to the diligence at work behind the scenes of HiveMCR’s ‘Pomona’. Moreover, the “purposefully simplistic” set conveys a “sense of loneliness in a city completely entrenched in an underlying moral sparsity.”
Speaking on behalf of the cast, Owusu and Thacker share that “the opportunity to form strong relationships with talented and endlessly kind people was what made the whole process worth it.” It sounds like the challenge of transporting a mattress across Manchester to Edinburgh and a “manic hunt for tofu/Quorn nuggets” only strengthened the group’s rapport. The play’s outstanding success is indicative of their stellar teamwork, and I’m sure would make Alistair McDowall (incidentally an alumnus of Manchester University) proud of what HiveMCR have created.
By Siobhán Stack-Maddox
Kicking off with Katy Dye’s ‘Baby Face’ and ending with Cows and Kisses and Mind Out Theatre’s ‘The Ladies Loo Chronicles’, my week at the Fringe was nicely sandwiched by two very different, but both very powerful, pieces of feminist theatre. The power of these female performances made a lasting impression; both pieces are bold, with a definite shock factor, compelling audiences to reflect. I spoke to the cast and producers of ‘Chronicles’ about the inspiration behind their piece and their experience of performing at the Fringe.
“Daring, blunt, funny and unapologetic”: this is the kind of theatre co-producer Evangeline Osbon wanted to create when she set up Mind Out Theatre and these words perfectly sum up ‘Chronicles’. The comedy, which takes place in a club toilet, questions and breaks taboos whilst valorising female friendship and experience. Sharing Osbon’s desire to create “work with, by and for women”, Flora London, the show’s writer and co-producer who also plays the character of Megan, founded Cows and Kisses Theatre Company this year with the aim of “writing for real women”. London recalls bonding experiences in women’s club toilets on nights out as inspiring her to write a piece which brings women and their stories “out of the toilet and onto the stage”.
Disclaimer: although the play takes place in the eponymous ‘Ladies’ Loo’, ‘Chronicles’ is definitely not exclusively aimed at women. Osbon emphasises how impressed she has been by the show’s mixed audience demographic at the Fringe, both in terms of gender and age, including a large proportion of over-50s. Evangeline Dickson, who plays Lydia, notes how “creatively satisfying” it is to be part of a show which addresses such a broad audience and creates a dialogue surrounding the issues it explores.
As well as the witty writing, comic timing and energetic dance pieces, to which Osbon attributes the show’s broad appeal, ‘Chronicles’ pushes both theatrical and sociopolitical boundaries and raises questions surrounding class differences, the tampon tax and the Windrush generation. London explains that she wanted to explore “real women’s” thoughts and experiences of these issues. This kind of boundary pushing is fundamentally important at an exciting time of “evolving” and experimental theatre, according to Osbon. As roles within productions become “more fluid”, without distinctly separate writers or performers, theatre is developing into “a more creative, collaborative process”. The ‘Chronicles’ team agree that Edinburgh is the perfect place for creating and performing “more exciting theatre” which combines different mediums and challenges convention. Dickson enthuses about the city’s “buzzy, inspiring” atmosphere, which fuels the “need to create and collaborate”.
So, what’s next after the Fringe for the ‘Chronicles’ ladies? “We’d love to get in a toilet!” says London. They are already looking into collaborating with different venues, including clubs and bars. Watch this space: ‘Chronicles’ may be coming soon to a loo near you…
See my review of ‘Baby Face’: http://edfringereview.com/r/W09kF9LcT-y_MEmrXDx6yg
‘Baby Face’ is on until 26th August at Summerhall at 13:30.
The ‘Chronicles’ team is raising money for Tommy’s and Sands stillbirth and neonatal death charities. They would like to thank their partner, organic intimacy company ‘YES’ and Alra drama school, especially the caretaker, Darren.
By Claire Richardson and Kathryn Tann
When we met Emma Dean at the start of the month (shout-out to Greenside for a wonderful show speed-dating event) her rainbow spangled garments and vivacious enthusiasm for music made her shine. We sent some reviewers, they gave five stars, and so we went to see for ourselves what was on the other side of this rainbow. “It’s a show for anyone who’s ever been heartbroken”, Emma tells people when she hands out flyers. It contains everything from beautiful ballads, to cheeky fetishes, to her anthem of the summer – “I’m a f*cking unicorn.”
“Sometimes, when you’re in your darkest moments the littlest thing can speak to you.” Emma found her mantra in a simple blog post, and it has become her buoyancy aid. “I’ve not found anything else quite like it.” And so Emma embraced her past pains, put a ‘magical horn on her head’, and boldly built a show around her heartbreak.
But it dawns on us that not everyone has experienced heartbreak. Emma agrees – she says she’s learnt a lot about her show through flyering – some will scoff, happily married and uninterested in such a show. But the singer goes on to make the point that even so, everyone has felt insecure, has needed a boost of self-worth, has had friendships fail. These are issues everyone faces, and with ‘Broken Romantics’, Emma hopes to give a little light. The show is metaphor which lets the audience make up their mind – you can interpret Emma’s unicorn horn as you please.
So from this mantra, how did Emma then write her songs? She says her writing process is hard to explain; ‘it just happens’. But she does talk about the ‘I Heart Songwriting Club’ back in Brisbane, which helped springboard a number of our favourite ‘Broken Romantic’ songs.
While Emma might, on stage, be a rainbow clad, horn-wearing unicorn, she sits down with us as a friendly, relatable, and even (as she admits herself) slightly shy singer-songwriter. “The Fringe has always been on the bucket list… We raised a portion and I just saved the rest. And here we are.” She tells us that back home she runs a community choir with her brother, and then recounts all sorts of amazing stories about singing at the recent Commonwealth Games, entertaining children by day, even opening big-name drag shows in New York! Having come all the way from Australia, we imagined Emma’s large suitcase might be brimming with rainbow tights and glittery makeup, but she assures us that her dazzling costumes are quite separate from her usual attire. Apart from the hair: that’s always one bright colour or another.
‘Broken Romantics: A Unicorn’s Quest for Love’ is a quintessential fringe piece – brilliant, weird, touching and hilarious, all at once. Unicorns are a familiar symbol in popular culture at the present; emblazoned across t-shirts and decorating stationary. And here are a lot of shows about heartbreak at the Fringe, and most of them manifested in sarcastic stand up. Emma escapes gimmicky unicorns and bitter comedy, and instead creates this glittering, musical masterpiece that we think everyone, not just the heartbroken, should see.
You can catch ‘Broken Romantics: A Unicorn’s Quest for Love’ at Greenside @ Infirmary St until the 25th August (7.35pm).
By Ella Kemp
After their internationally touring Fringe 2017 sell-out Ginger Beer, Limerence Productions have bounded back onto the Fringe scene this year to bring us ‘Marmite’, a tenderly honest exploration of gay polyamory. Between overseeing rehearsals and photographing male models with marmite spread over their torsos, the creators of this play, writers Phoebe and Hal, took some time out to give us a taster of ‘Marmite’.
So, Marmite is led by two protagonists, Dylan and Eddie. Can you give me brief profiles of Dylan and Eddie? What are they like as people, how do their personalities match and differ?
Phoebe: Dylan is twenty-one, outgoing and confident. He’s very successful with guys but has never had a long-term relationship. Eddie is twenty-three, anxious and introverted. He has been in relationships before but always seems to get screwed over by them. I think that’s what makes them work: their personalities are incredibly different but ultimately compliment one another. Even though they are so different, I feel that in many ways they are on very similar journeys. They’re trying to work out how to be in a gay relationship which can be an incredibly confusing thing.
The play explores the difficulties of gay monogamy. Do you personally hold any particularly strong opinions with regards to what you think are some of the most difficult aspect of gay monogamy in today’s climate?
Hal: I think the biggest pressure, really, is the assumption that if you are in a same-sex relationship, you are/should be monogamous. When same-sex marriage was legalised, everybody assumed that all same-sex couples want to model their relationships after heterosexual ones. And that’s just not the case.
On the other hand, there are prominent voices within the gay male community who argue that gay people should deliberately be non-monogamous because ‘why would we want to be like a straight couple?’. I think both sides can be very alienating and make the process of learning how to be in a relationship very hard.
Do you think there is much (or any) homogeneity between different people’s experiences of gay monogamy in the UK? To what extent does Marmite present difficulties that most gay couples will relate to or have experienced themselves?
Phoebe: It’s hard to say because every relationship is different, whether you’re straight, or not. I do think that gay men’s relationships get more positive reactions from people who are trying to be allies. There’s a lot of people saying ‘you guys are so cute together’ and you’re very aware that nobody is saying that about the straight couple at the table.
Do you expect (or hope) audience members to leave with altered perspectives?
Hal: Personally, I don’t want them to come away from Marmite with any particular viewpoint. The show is more about presenting this issue as a topic of discussion and debate, we don’t want to come down on any position.
Now the slick promotion certainly doesn’t tell of the immense effort that goes into bringing a play to the Fringe. What were the most significant challenges that you faced during the marketing and production of this play?
Phoebe: The biggest challenge we’ve found is trying to live up to our success last year. Last year’s show (Ginger Beer) did better than we’d expected and now we feel a lot of pressure to live up to that.
And finally, why “Marmite”? What is the significance of this title?
Hal: It’s taken from the homophobic slur ‘marmite muncher’. We did the same thing with last year’s show, Ginger Beer, which is cockney rhyming slang for ‘queer’. We think it’s a really simple and effective way to reclaim the words used against queer people.
‘Marmite’ is on at 15:00 every day in the Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre. If you heed just one piece of advice at the Fringe this year then let it be this: DON’T MISS THIS PLAY!
By Sally Christmas
Director Dan Squire and producer Megan Morgan talk us through the ins and outs of improvised comedy.
Tell us a little bit about the Oxford Imps and what you do.
D: The Imps are an improvised comedy troop based in Oxford. We do comedy that’s made up on the spot – nothing scripted, nothing prepared in advance – based on random suggestions from the audience.
What does a normal Imps show look like?
M: We start off with some short games, kind of like the ones on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway’, and then we end with something longer.
D: For the longer pieces we do improvised musicals, Shakespeare plays, novels, movie scripts. We tend to take one suggestion at the start and then sort of spiral off the back of that.
…and is it really improvised?
D: I did the maths recently to work out how many different combinations we’d have to rehearse, and with around 25 improvisers available, with 3 or so in each game, doing about 30 games in total, there about 35,000 possible different permutations for who’s on stage, and then you take audience suggestions…
M: Surely it’s infinite, right?
D: There are some suggestions that come up more often, but we never know in advance and we don’t plant anyone in the audience. The wackier the ideas the more fun it ends up being.
What’s the best thing about doing live improv?
M: It’s very freeing in that you can’t know what you’re doing until you’re doing it. I like the group aspect too, you have to rely on each other, you have to listen, and go with the flow. It has to be like everyone’s thinking with one mind.
D: I got into comedy for the adrenaline rush, and when you go on to do an improvised song or a rap or whatever, you have no idea what the next line out of your mouth is going to be, so in the moment it’s really exciting. You have no safety net.
What does it take to make good improv?
M: I think it’s two big things: a willingness to listen to the other people on stage, and also a willingness to play, because you want to be creative and add ideas without worrying about looking stupid. It’s getting used to doing those things that we’re often trained out of - if you watch children play make believe, they’re essentially improvising, and it’s relearning those skills.
What have been the best – or worst – audience suggestions?
D: This is one of the weirdest ones I remember - we play a game where we ask for periods of history, and we often get the same ones, so it’s fun to get something unusual. We had a man call out “Medieval Belgium”, which for me was brilliant, because everyone knows you don’t know anything about Medieval Belgium, and that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from.
M: The least favourite ones are the ones that come up regularly. We get a lot of cheeses, for some reason. We’re a family friendly show, so we can’t take certain suggestions, which is good, because in a lot of comedy it’s easy to resort to shock factor and cheap jokes. Sometimes the most common and benign things make the best joke because starting small allows us to get more creative.
In three words, why should we come and see the Imps perform this summer?
D: All I can think of is ‘Medieval Belgium musical’.
M: ‘It’ll be great?’. Oh no, that’s terrible. Oh, ‘you’re in charge’! Audience suggestions lead our show, so ultimately the show is made by you coming, and you can influence it as much or as little as you’d like, so you’re in charge. And ‘Medieval Belgium musical’, of course.
Catch the Oxford Imps in the Gilded Balloon Teviot’s Billiard Room at 13:15 until August 27th.