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’.