Comedy gets actorly: George Wendt, Andi Osho, Charlie Hanson and more talk about the thesp life
Andrew Mickel5 July 2012
With five plays currently featuring big-name stars of comedy, we look at the world of comedians doing acting turns...
The world of comedy is getting stuck into the world of theatre this summer, both in the West End and at Edinburgh. There's George Wendt – best known as Norm from Cheers – heading to a musical at the Fringe; a remarkable line-up of Thom Tuck, Phill Jupitus, Jo Caulfield and more in political comedy Coalition; Andi Osho in a Blair-era comedy in the West End; Frisky and Mannish's Matthew Jones in dark play Punch; and long-time Ricky Gervais producer Charlie Hanson overseeing an operetta on the new norms of social networking.
Basically, it's a good chance to have some laughs, while being remarkably smug about how cultural you are for going to the theatre and opera.
We've spoken to people from all the shows, which you'll find all of below or individually through these links...
Re-Animator The Musical, starring George Wendt
Re-Animator is the multi-award winning musical about Herbert West, a brilliant young medical student who has created a glowing green serum that can bring the dead back to life, which – spoiler alert! - results in hideous monstrosities and ghastly consequences. (It's an HP Lovecraft story that's been a film, if that sounds familiar.)
It stars George Wendt, although everybody knows his name as Norm from Cheers (sorry). Comedy-wise over the year he's also done stints at Chicago's Second City, Saturday Night Live and Who's Line Is It Anyway?, and is a stage regular in various musical comedies. And yes, as the law for all comic actors of a certain age, he has played Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
Let's have a trailer:
And now lets get some answers to some questions for George Ruddy Wendt.
What attracted you to the revival?
The chance to work with old friends from Chicago theatre days. Mark Nutter and I started working together at Second City in the late seventies. It was about this time that the Organic Theater company, headed by Stuart Gordon, was the hottest new thing in Chicago Theatre. So, naturally, we at the Second City felt compelled to satirize them. We did an adaptation of The Three Little Pigs as done by the Organic Theater, replete with blood, guts, and gratuitous nudity. We asked Stuart to come and guest direct the piece.
Did you know the original?
Yes, I had seen the 1985 movie, though I had/have not read the H P Lovecraft source material. I am way too shallow of a performer to do that much research.
Is this your first Edinburgh Fringe?
This will be my third Edinburgh fringe festival. About ten years ago I sat in with my wife's improv group Off The Wall when one of the fellows got sick. Then two Summers ago I did Celebrity Autobiography.
What are you looking forward to at it?
I actually have no idea what's on yet. I'm sure once I peruse the various guides and reviews I'll be looking up old friends and finding interesting new acts. And, of course, meeting oodles of new folks and seeing their shows after hanging out with them in the bars.
How do you get on with the gore and audience 'splash zone'?
It's funny how people actually embrace getting as bloody as the cast and the set – red badge of courage, and all that.
What's the funniest thing about the musical?
The movie had a wicked comedy edge, and the music and lyrics have upped the comedy quotient exponentially.
Re-Animator The Musical is at the Assembly George Square, 1-27 August at 22.40. You can get tickets at the Ed Fringe site here.
Coalition, featuring Phill Jupitus, Thom Tuck, Jo Caulfield and more
We've banged on quite a lot about how suprising it is that there aren't more comedians tackling politics directly. Well, here are lots acting out a tale about a Lib Dem deputy prime minister in late 2014. The coalition government has only six months left to run, but the Conservative prime minister hasn't spoken to his deputy in months, the economy has flat-lined and his MPs are threatening to defect. The notNick Clegg has to make a series of last desperate gambles to save the party he loves...
The play is written by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, and Robert – himself a Labour councillor in Islington – answered a few of our questions below. First, let's see Thom as a worryingly convincing politician:
What's the best comparison point of political comedy for what the audience should expect? Anything like the Thick Of It or Yes Minister?
Coalition is a political comedy with elements of both satire and farce. Yes, Minister looks at the relationship between ministers and civil servants while The Thick Of It brilliantly explores the more minor players in the political drama - so you wouldn't see the character of the PM or DPM in the flesh, for example. Coalition is about the relationship between a fictional Lib Dem leader and his senior coalition 'colleagues' - although as [director of the Pleasance] Anthony Alderson rightly says, it's about a deputy prime minister, not the Deputy Prime Minister. So runs our defence, anyway.
Are you surprised no-one from comedy has really done something like this on the coalition yet?
A little yes. I think as writers we assumed that we wouldn't be the only ones seeking to explore the conflict between two political parties with deeply opposed ideologies coming together and trying to bury their obvious differences for - as at least they would argue - the greater good. I read recently that Peter Morgan (writer of The Queen and The Deal) had said that no-one would attempt to dramatise the relationships at the top of the Coalition because the personalities were too bland - a point also echoed by David Frost. I hope we can prove them wrong. And if we can't, at least we can blame the bloody Government. Again.
It's a great cast of comedians involved - was it an easy sell to get them on board?
Thanks. We were very pleased to assemble this terrific cast. Many of them cover politics and current affairs in their own acts and other work and so were interested in the subject matter. It was a case of sending them the script and seeing if they would be interested - and we were delighted to get so many of them on board. For the rest, my endless sobbing, begging and bawling eventually wore them down. They are kind people and they don't like to see a forty one year old cry.
Coalition is at the Pleasance Dome, 1-26 August at 2pm. Get tickets at the Ed Fringe site here and visit the play's site here.
A Walk on Part, starring Andi Osho
While we may know her best for her stand-up, acting is nothing new to Andi Osho, having done the highbrow (a range of plays in London and Liverpool), and the lowbrow (from Footballers' Wives: Extra Time to the incredible feat of playing different characters in Casualty and Holby City).
It's back to the stage this time for Andi, though, who plays several roles in A Walk on Part – a political comedy based on the diaries of Labour MP Chris Mullin – from his wife Ngoc, to a Sunderland teenager and a Ukrainian refugee.
She tells us all about the play...
A Walk on Part is a Blair-era play: what do you think makes it relevant now?
There's a lot of content that’s pertinent to what's happening at the moment, i.e. the control of the Murdoch empire, the economy, the formation coalition government. We also touch on 9/11 in the play, the repercussions of which, we're still experiencing now.
What's the funniest aspect of the diaries/play? What drew you in to do it?
Politics can be a very dry subject for art and it takes a lot of skill to lift it from being about a load of fat, middle-aged men in suits to something vibrant and worthy of a theatre audiences time. I think A Walk On Part manages that in bundles. It's fast-paced, witty and warm. I saw it in December because my mate, Hywel Morgan was in it (when it was on at Soho Theatre) and I thought it was great. When the audition offer came in, it was a no brainer for me. It's fascinating to plot Britain's political history over the last ten years and honestly, if you come for nothing else, come and see Hywel's Blair impression. Gives Rory Bremner a run for his money.
Between this and Holby City, do you have plans to do more comedy soon?
Yes! I miss stand up and am looking forward to being allowed to speak to an audience again. I've loved returning to acting and my plan is to do a mixture of the stand up, acting and writing over the next few years. It's gonna be an Osho overload!
A Walk on Part is at the Arts Theatre in London until 14 July. Andi tours with her show All the Single Ladies from Thursday 27th September. Tickets are now on sale, for more information visit See Tickets or call 0871 230 5538.
Punch, featuring Frisky and Mannish's Matthew Jones
Frisky and Mannish's pop act might not be the most Newsnight-serious show of them all, but there's always been a thread of pouting darkness running through everything they've done. It's not a massive jump, therefore, to see Matthew Jones doing a play about a controversial comedian who is quizzed by social services about the state of his baby daughter.
Before we hit up Matthew with some questions, here's a trailer:
Is acting a new venture for you, or are you returning to it?
Acting feels much more like my comfort zone than comedy, to be honest! Frisky and Mannish are essentially two actors who can sing and play piano trying to be funny. So it's definitely not a new venture, though I didn't formally train in acting and most of my career has been in cabaret and comedy. I don't know what I am, really! It's all the same at the end of the day, right? Just a professional attention-seeker.
The term 'social workers' jumps out of the press release. What's the darkest place the jokes go?
The play essentially asks 'How dark is still funny?', and in order to ask that, the jokes go as dark as they can. As a comedian, I believe strongly in the right to make a joke about whatever I find funny, and also in the right of the audience to dislike it. This play, though, puts that belief to the test by questioning why people are laughing and what it means. Something that's funny in abstract is often harrowing in reality, which is why the combination of comedian and social worker is such a brilliant one.
It's a comedy about comedy: are there any harsh lessons for comedians to take from the play?
The comedian in our play is by no means representative of your average stand-up (although I have based some things on people I know from the circuit!) He's a very unusual character with a literally unbelievable past. I don't think anyone comes out of this play unscathed - it's an uncompromising piece! But comedians might find it interesting to see to what extent they side with the main character when he defends his 'comedy'. They might consider him the hero of the piece, whereas a social worker might see him as a villain. If only it were that easy...
Punch will be at the Underbelly Cowgate from 2-26 August at 3.40pm; get tickets at the Ed Fringe site here and visit Punch's site here.
Through The Looking Screen, produced by Charlie Hanson
A one-woman operetta about stalking love on the internet, Through The Looking Screen is very much a tale of our times: twenty-seven year old Londoner Annabel Clark is obsessed with her colleague, but disillusioned by dating mishaps and social awkwardness, she is convinced that the only way for her to be united with the object of her desire is to approach Sebastian online. Empowered and armed with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, will Annabel ever get her man?
The show is produced by Anne Chmelewsky and – cue our comedy ears perking up – Charlie Hanson, the producer of many a Gervais vehicle, including Extras, Life's Too Short and Derek (which he talks about below).
Are we looking at an operatic comedy or a comedy opera?
It is actually an operetta. The whole piece is set to music composed by Anne Chmelewsky who also wrote the libretto and it is beautifully sung by mezzo soprano, Clare Presland, who recently sang with the English National Opera. She also happens to be a very funny actress.
What attracted you to the project?
I had worked with Anne on her opera version of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's The Office, which we developed for Comic Relief a few years ago. When I saw an early preview of this show I was very impressed. I am not an opera buff, in fact I never go to the opera. But I found this to be totally accessible, funny and relevant. It was a unique mix of comedy and opera and I told Anne straight away that I would work with her to develop it further.
It sounds like it could be a big production: what sort of scale is it on?
It is a one-woman comic opera with accompanist Elizabeth Challenger on piano, and a backdrop of projected images. So a small scale production that lends itself to touring. Perfect for Edinburgh in fact, though the number of performances has meant we have needed an alternate singer, Amy J Payne to share performances with Clare. Amy is very funny too.
How many real-life online experiences can we expect brought to the stage?
It covers internet dating, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites using an array of Apple devices. Basically it demonstrates how easy it is to lead a virtual social life without ever venturing out into the real world.
Do you have any social networking nightmares of your own?
I use Facebook and Twitter but am cautious not to expose too much of my personal life. Both take up too much of my time. And I now find complete strangers use both to contact me with the aim of getting me to read their scripts!
Separately, how is work coming on for Derek?
It's all going well. Ricky has written most of the scripts and since we have already made a pilot, most of the regular cast are in place. We are finalising other casting and locations at the moment and pre-production has started. We start filming in London mid August, once the Olympics are over and Edinburgh is in full swing.
Through The Looking Screen is at the Underbelly Cowgate from 2-26 August at 3.35pm; get tickets to the show at the Ed Fringe site here.
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