“Over at Weirdos’ Towers, we are gearing up for our big Christmas charity show – last year’s raised over £4,000. I haven’t started any publicity for this year’s show yet. Would you like to do something about it in your blog?”
So I met Adam Larter this week, with his co-writer and co-director Matthew Highton.
“It’s a Christmas pantomime…” I started.
“Oh no it’s not,” said Adam. “It’s at Christmas and it’s a play, but it follows none of the traditions of pantomime.”
“Do you dress up as a woman?” I asked.
“No,” said Adam.
“I’ve lost interest already,” I told him.
“There’s very little dressing up as women this year,” he told me. “Only one small scene.”
“Pity,” I said.
“But we do have actual women in our play,” added Matthew.
“You’ve gone one better than Shakespeare, then,” I said, perking up, but then I remembered: “You did a pantomime last year – Hook – which I saw you preview at Pull The Other One and it was… it was… it was… ermmm… interesting.”
“Oooh!” said Matthew with a tinge of despair in his voice, “you saw that one.”
“You saw the drunken rehearsal,” said Adam. “Would like to apologise for that one, Matthew?”
“Why me?” replied Matthew.
“That,” I said. “was what I thought when I saw it. Why me?… So, this year, what’s the subject?”
“The Colonel,” answered Adam. “It’s based on the life of a famous chicken proprietor. Some people have drawn similarities between him and some famous branches of a certain fast food restaurant chain.”
“And are there any line drawings of this Colonel’s face visible in the production?” I asked.
“No,” replied Adam, “ because that would be a logo.”
“But a live representation of this famous Colonel does appear in your show?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied Matthew, “there is a famous Colonel appearing. We’re going to have a big sign at the beginning to say that any likeness is coincidental.”
“Any likeness to whom?” I asked.
“To anyone,” said Adam.
“It’s a war epic,” said Matthew. “A war epic about love and chicken.”
“Lots of chicken,” added Adam.
“Fried chicken,” explained Matthew.
“Lots of it,” emphasised Adam. “And finding out about a certain secret recipe. How it came about and what it is… It’s an underdog story.”
“Any musical numbers?” I asked.
“A few,” admitted Adam.
“Adam has a penchant for adding songs to his shows,” Matthew told me.
“It keeps the pace up,” argued Adam.
“And it fills time,” said Matthew.
“That too,” said Adam.
“This is a scripted and plotted narrative production?” I asked warily.
“Yes,” replied Adam.
“But,” I pointed out to him, “you’re a mad, surreal, kick-over-the-traces, throw-away-the-rulebook kinda comedian.”
“Yeah,” said Adam. “But this is where Matthew and I work well together. I believe in complete and utter madness and Matthew believes in this horrible word called structure. He insists we have plot and characters and development and I insist that, every now and then we have something completely insane.”
“In my defence,” said Matthew, “we do have those rules, but they’re hard to recognise at times.”
“How do you write together?” I asked.
“My whole process when Adam had done a bit of the script,” explained Matthew, “was to go back through and try to piece together what bits were missing. Adam has a real talent for writing a very good bit but not linking it to the bit that came before.”
“It has worked out,” said Adam.
“When is this extravaganza being staged?” I asked.
“It’s at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club,” Adam told me.
“December 16th to the 20th,” said Matthew, “with the 19th off, because we couldn’t get it. “In February, we’re taking it to the Leicester Comedy Festival. We don’t want it to just die after Christmas. It’s not Christmas themed.”
“Just feelgood,” said Adam.
“Why stage it in Bethnal Green?” I asked.
“It’s the nearest venue to my house,” explained Adam. “The main Weirdos nights are based in Stoke Newington, but the room in Bethnal Green has a giant lit-up heart in the background. And there’s more space.”
“Essentially,” said Matthew, “Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club has the space of a theatre though the chairs of a social club. The people we have in the show are extremely talented oddballs – Ben Target, John Kearns, Pat Cahill, Ali Brice.”
“How many people are in it?” I asked.
“About twelve,” said Adam. “Or fifteen. Or something like that.”
“And there are southern American accents in it,” added Matthew.
“A lot of accents,” agreed Adam. “Though not necessarily the ones you expect. By December, they’ll be completely different. I think it’s fun to bring a big group together. You don’t know what going to happen. There’s a couple of drama students between us, but we’re not from that background.”
“Twelve or fifteen sounds a bit vague,” I said. “Any women?” I asked.
“Yes,” they both said simultaneously.
“Name a few?” I asked.
“Beth Vyse, Marny Godden,” said Adam.
“A black person?” I asked.
“Ermmm, no,” said Matthew.
“A crippled person?” I asked.
“We don’t see race or colour,” said Matthew.
“Crippled person?” I asked again.
“We only see Weird or non-Weird,” said Adam.
“Though usually,” admitted Matthew, “someone does get injured during the production process.”
“Last year,” explained Adam, “someone got beaten and pelted with eggs.”
“Audience reaction doesn’t count,” I said.
“Marc Burrows had his hat broken last year,” said Adam.
“His hat?” I asked.
“His hat,” repeated Adam. “There were some quite intense fight scenes. One thing we did not really rehearse last year were the fight scenes.”
“I got whopped over and over with a sword,” said Matthew. “I was raw.”
“There you go,” said Adam triumphantly.
“Any fight scenes this year?” I asked.
“It’s a war epic,” Matthew reminded me.
“It might feel a bit like Saving Private Ryan,” said Adam.
“In Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club,” I said, “with a giant lit-up heart in the background.”
“Yes,” said Adam.
“This is WW2?” I asked.
“We do all the WWs,” replied Matthew.
“We’ve gone for the pair,” said Adam. “Some people said it would be too ambitious to fit two World Wars into one play. But we’re asking the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask.”
“Which are?” I asked.
“Where was chicken in this war?” replied Adam. “Where ARE the chickens?”
“Historical accuracy.” added Matthew, “was the key for us. Months of research.”
“Are you sponsored by any chicken retailer?” I asked.
“Not as such,” said Adam, “but we’re raising money for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.”
“That’s it, then,” I said. “Interview over. Thanks very much.”
“That’s good,” said Adam. “I have props to make: I have to go paint some lemons.”