The Comedians’ Theatre Company is ten years old. Kate Copstick hears its story from key members – in a suitably dramatic form
“There is a necessity for theatre and therefore everyone should be doing it.” P Nichol, 2015
Phil Nichol: An intense and hugely talented actor, comic, musician and now director and theatre producer.
Maggie Inchley: Theatre director who co-created the Comedians’ Theatre Company.
Pat Monahan: A comic, famous for hugging his audiences and a complete inability to keep to a script.
Lynn Ruth MillEr: 82-year-old American comic and award-winning cabaret performer.
Tom Stade: Too cool for school American comic, now back with CTC after nine years.
Lewis Schaffer: Self-loathing American stand-up whose casting has stunned fans of comedy and theatre.
Act One, Scene One. Ten years ago. London.
Phil NicHol (intense, livewire type) and Maggie Inchley (quiet but with hidden strengths) are walking from a theatre show with comedian Alan Francis and talking about what they are doing currently.
Maggie: I’m taking my Masters in Theatre Directing.
Maggie: I’m doing Zoo Story. Will you be in it?
Maggie: You’ll have to audition.
Phil: Well, that’s not going to happen!
Maggie: But the audition process is part of the course.
Phil: OK, so here’s what you do. You tell them that, although part of the course is doing an audition, when you get someone who is perfect for the part you give it to them.
Maggie: Oh alright, I’ll do that.
Act One, Scene Two. Times and places various over the last ten years.
We see a montage of rave reviews, assorted awards and nominations, starting with Zoo Story at the Fringe and continuing through True West, Breaker Morant, Cul-de-Sac and Talk Radio plus a stack of Sold Out stickers for School for Scandal.
We enjoy a procession of many of the comedy world’s best-loved faces – Alan Francis, Marcus Brigstocke, Brendon Burns, Adam Hills, Tom Stade, Sammy J, Rhys Darby, Alistair Barrie, Stephen K Amos – all obviously having the time of their lives on stage.
As the high-profile performers and directors move across the stage we see Phil (intense, happy) watching what could well have been simply a hideous carcrash of comic performers’ egos…
PHIL (intense, but thoughtful): What’s funny about that, is that’s what you would think – and the absolute opposite happened because comedians are so used to working as solo acts – in their own headspaces – that the opportunity to work in an ensemble is glorious for them.
Lionel Blair flounces across the stage pursued by Paul Foot, both in full Restoration frockage. A thought strikes Phil…
PHIL: Sometimes it works really well if they are in competition – when we did School for Scandal, the only ensemble note Cal McCrystal gave was: “You’re not working together, you are working in competition.”
Phil’s face darkens as he remembers that summer and its largely negative press coverage. Paul Foot was told to steal the show, but the fact he went off script annoyed the critics no end. Phil moves forward and stabs a finger at his audience…
PHIL: The place was sold out from beginning to end so you tell me if that was successful! And to say they weren’t a theatre audience … well great! (HE SIGHS) We get blindsided in the press sometimes by theatre critics because comedians aren’t supposed to act … it is such an old idea.
Phil gestures to the posters and enthusiastic critical coverage of Maggie’s brainchild – Itch A Scratch Event – dedicated to the regular creation and development of new work and to the series of four BBC plays that grew out of that work.
PHIL: We are doing all of this without funding. We have a few wonderful investors, and the investment of the venues themselves. All four big Edinburgh Fringe venues have got behind us – we have played all of them. And that includes The Stand. They have all been really supportive – they can see there is a market and that they will get their money back and I think that is what maybe irritates the theatre critics…
ACT TWO, Scene One. Present day. Edinburgh
Phil (livewire, intense) and Maggie (quiet but with hidden strengths) are at the Comedians’ Theatre Company Tenth Birthday Party. Many of the old familiar faces are here, joined this year by some unexpected new ones. We spot Fosters Comedy Awards winner Adam Riches seated in a line with Beast, The Beta Males, Lazy Susan in a sort of experimental Sketch SuperGroup. Comic Jojo Sutherland and Lynn Ruth Miller dance to a full seven-piece Nashville Soul Band, Pat Monahan is hugging Lewis Schaffer and Phil is proposing the birthday toast…
PHIL (intense, happy): I want to be very clear that the apostrophe in the company name is after the s. At first people were putting it before, meaning that it was mine. It is definitely not mine. The whole point of it was always to be as egalitarian as possible in that we would let anyone who wants to be a part of it, and could find something to do for themselves, be a part of it and to try and facilitate as much work as we possibly can.
The assembled comics cheer loudly. Phil and Tom the designer unveil the new logo, CTC10.
PHIL (intense): I thought, ten years … maybe we should have a logo! (He is suddenly a little coy. But still intense). It’s such a theatre thing to do!
The assembled comedians laugh.
Act Two, Scene Two. Another part of the stage.
Lights up on Maggie (quiet but with hidden strengths) as she muses on some of the more exciting prospects for the company’s tenth Fringe …
MAGGIE (gently enthusiastic): Pat Monahan has written a really excellent light comedy … and he’s in it … with Gary Coleman and Lucy Frederick. (She smiles thoughtfully) He has incredible charisma … but … there are bits in it where he keeps on suggesting he wants to do some ad libbing, so part of the rehearsal process is trying to … manage that.
Pat Monahan bounces on. He is a cheery Geordie.
PAT: It’s a real gear change and culture shock to me rehearsing for the play because I’ve always been on stage on me own, and even though I have basic ideas of what I’m going to talk about I can deviate around the ideas.
With the play, it’s teaching me that I have to deliver the lines written, cos if I suddenly go off piste it will mess everyone else’s lines up, which isn’t fair and is pointless, especially as I spent so long writing and editing the play and everyone’s been rehearsing hard. This strict line running is also helping me new stand-up show, believe it or not!
Pat looks across admiringly at Phil, who, we now discover, is directing Pat’s stand-up show.
PAT: Phil Nichol is an amazing performer but an even more inspiring and powerful director. He’s made me really focus on stage and do not just material but personal stuff about me background, like talking about the fact that I’m an immigrant, that I came to the UK in the 80s as an asylum seeker … I’m actually talking for most of the hour. telling the audience about my life instead of me finding out about the life of every audience member in me show each night.
Now spotlit areas appear all over the stage. In them, performers, writers and directors from the six very different productions the company is bringing to this year’s Fringe are talking animatedly…
DOWN STAGE LEFT
Lewis Schaffer and Tom Stade are discussing Giant Leap, the dark comedy they are doing about how the 1969 Moon landing was faked and scripted …
Lewis: I think it was Phil Nichol’s idea to call me. He told me he likes to take an unknown comic and give them actor experience. Said they needed an old failed New York comic with wife issues …
Lewis turns to the audience and gives his trademark shrug.
LEWIS: I am now sticking to the lines, or trying. They told me the part was me but it has taken me two weeks to realise that the play is brilliant as it is and for what it is and that my changes were only messing things up.
Also, acting is very different. It relies on the expected – a line coming when it is supposed to. Comedy relies on the unexpected.
Lynn Ruth MillEr is talking to the 30-strong team of creatives on 10x10x10 about her ten-minute monologue in the show
LYNN My character is nothing like me … if I ever got to that state I think I would just stab a knife through my heart … but then … I am acting …
DOWN STAGE RIGHT
Phil NicHol is talking to award-winning writer Dave Florez who has written a monologue, Angel in the Abbatoir, specifically for him
Phil: Yeah … I am memorising it while I am on the subway between other rehearsals … I think my actual rehearsal time with Hannah will be very slight …
Dave does not look concerned
Act Two, Scene Three.
A delightful choreographed sequence with all seven productions playing to rapturous applause and press plaudits. As they fade away, the ghostly figure of Johnny Vegas appears over the horizon…
Phil: Maggie and I were very explicit in our five-year plan that within five years we would be doing original work … (He gazes around him proudly, nodding) … and a musical.
He produces a 2016 diary and opens it.
We are working on a project which would possibly involve Johnny Vegas … not this year, but he has said he would be up for it next year. (Phil’s eyes shine with intense excitement) People would be crawling over one another to be in it!
The Comedians’ Theatre Company is presenting six shows at the Fringe this year:
Jo Romero: Scenes of a Sensual Nature, Cowgatehead, midday, until 29 August / listings
Angel in the Abattoir, Gilded Balloon, midday, until 31 August / listings
Marriage, Assembly George Square, 2pm, until 30 August / listings
Giant Leap, Pleasance Courtyard, 1:50pm, until 31 August / listings
10x10x10, Pleasance Courtyard, 4:30pm, until 30 August / listings
The Double Life of Malcolm Drinkwater, Laughing Horse@The Counting House, 1:30pm, until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 10 August 2015
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