Monday, 27 June 2016

Laughing Dramaturgy: Rhys Bevan @ Edfringe 2016

Up-and-coming quartet of comedic actors Laughing Stock are EdFringe-bound this August, bringing with them their original humour in a colourful collection of sketches.  

Last year they were considered a ‘Brand New
Sketch Comedy Foursome’. Now they’re back to improve upon their five-star debut. Their appearance comes hot on the heels of the finals of Leicester Square Theatre’s Sketch-Off.

With their trademark witty irreverence and finely-tuned physical comedy, Laughing Stock pushes to absurdity its detailed observations of life.  Last year, characters like MC Mini Cheddah, old school-friend Darren Bobbins, the ladies-who-liquid-lunch and a privately educated battery hen kept their audiences in stitches. Satire is energised using mime, live music like rap and hip-hop, dance and song. 

Laughing Stock will be performing at the Underbelly, EdFringe between  4th - 14th & 16th - 28th Aug at 3.40pm.  
Tickets cost £8 previews, £9.50 mid-week and £10.50 weekends.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration for this year's show and, indeed, our Edinburgh shows generally tend to be experiences we've had ourselves writ large and exaggerated to absurdity. Of course, our priority has to be 'is this idea, situation or circumstance funny?' Then you ask yourselves why, and the answer to that question normally gives you a clue as to how it should be staged and performed.

This random process of 'sketch' gathering is an interesting way to devise a show in that the finished hour should, theoretically, reflect that randomness. However, thanks (I think) a sort of zeitgeist-driven osmosis, and because our sketches always start from a very real place, you can always detect undercurrents of themes and ideas that permeate the whole show. People remarked on our first show (last year) that it contained a lot of the anxieties of choosing an unstable career, moving from home and the contradictions within the arts industry. 

This year, it has become more about mental and physical health and well-being in modern society, inclusivity and not necessarily knowing where to turn for answers. I am, for the record, writing this on a day when Britain voted to leave the EU after a tiring, confusing and 'post-factual' debate that left a lot of people struggling for answers.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The team came together quite organically. When we first formed as a sketch group, we had all just left drama school (we were in the same year) and we were quickly frustrated with the idea of waiting for performance opportunities. Phoebe and Rhys started meeting to brainstorm and write some ideas down and held workshops that Lewis and Bella came along to. We quite quickly realised that the four of us had good balance and chemistry and we went on to do the Camden Fringe in August 2014.

How did you become interested in making performance?
Our time at Oxford School of Drama certainly inspired us and taught us that you can make great work and intricate performances with next to nothing. Our teachers were brilliant and we learnt to be comfortable with improvising and devising. Our 'clown' course ended with a showing to the whole school and, typically, none of us were ready. We had no idea what we were going to do but we went out there, played some games and engaged in the moment of it, and it brought the house down. Which was encouraging. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

Yes and no, in that we have no one single way of going about making the performance. Sometimes a sketch is just written down perfectly and it is learnt, like a play. Sometimes, it's just someone mucking about in rehearsals and that piece of physical comedy is more truthful and funnier than five minutes of dialogue, so it goes in. Most often, it is a mixture. A script will be written, but it will have the fat trimmed off it, bits added and the physical life of it encouraged before it is staged. Our process is to suit the process to the sketch.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I mean, we hope they'll laugh. But we really hope they come out a bit happier and a bit stimulated. There is a lot of comedy that asks no questions for fear of losing laughs, and there is comedy at the expense of others. Hopefully, ours is neither of those things. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We like to make the audience as comfortable in the room as possible. It's their room as much as ours. Audiences, historically, were not always as reverential and polite as they are now. Comedy (and theatre in general actually) is only really great if it's collaborative. So there will be audience interaction, direct address, games etc. None of this will be 'scary', we find it actually brings the audience together and reassures them that we're all there to have fun.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I guess our style of sketch comedy is now considered a little 'old-fashioned'. We are interested in the minutiae of life, and in that sense it's observational. We'd liken it to shows like Smack the Pony, or The Fast Show; as opposed to more absurd things like Boosh or more 'Revue' stuff like Fry & Laurie.

There is a tendency for sketch comedy nowadays to be very meta-theatrical, another technique that brings the audience into the show and gives them an active role by allowing them a behind-the-scenes glimpse. We don't really think we're very interesting in and of ourselves. We're much more interested in representing others. It's just more fun.

This year’s performance will be minus the unexpected hitch of last  – Lewis Doherty damaged an Achilles in rehearsal resulting in him using a wheelchair and crutches on stage.  Having made a full recovery the result is now a more seamless flow for the young team.

The four graduated from Oxford School of Drama and performed their first gig in 2014 – at Brighton Fringe –going on to sell-out performances at Camden Fringe and winning the Audience Choice Award at SketchFest last year.  They’ve also been finalists in Edinburgh’s prestigious So You Think That’s Funny competition for newcomers and were finalists at this year’s Leicester Square Theatre Sketch-off.  In June they are due to launch a fortnightly podcast with original and recurring characters and storylines, regular Radio 4-style features and individual skits. Indeed, one of the gang, Rhys Bevan knows about the world of aural drama as he plays regular character Toby Fairbrother in Radio 4’s The Archers.                                                                                                
Festival Listings information: Venue: Underbelly Cowgate Dates: 4th - 14th & 16th - 28th Aug Time: 3.40pm Running Time: 60 minutes Tickets: £8 previews, £9.50 mid-week and £10.50 

Laughing Stock
Co-Devised and Performed by the company
Music by the company
Produced by Laughing Stock Comedy Ltd in association with ABG Productions

Lewis Doherty - from Nottingham. Part of the North-Wall Theatre residency program and Merely Theatre. Specialises in improvisation and devising. Lewis will soon be appearing on BBC3, playing TJ in 'Hood Documentary'

Arabella Gibbins - from Oxford. Has taught singing and ran her own theatre company in Brighton. Credits include the Arcola, Harrogate Theatre. Specialises in music and song. Wrote, directed and starred in her short film: ‘Swim to Land’ with her brother Toby Sebastian (from Game of Thrones). Her sister is Florence Pugh (Guardian ’Rising Star’ of 2015) – quite the theatrical family. 

Phoebe Higson - from Somerset. Ongoing Misfit of London  in ‘The Gin Chronicles’ by award winning theatre group Interrupt The Routine. Her uncle is Charlie Higson (Fast Show) so she has sketch comedy in the blood. 

Rhys Bevan - from everywhere (army family). Currently in King Lear at the Royal Exchange Manchester and plays Toby Fairbrother on Radio 4’s The Archers. Specialises in classical theatre. 

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