“I did comedy for two years and then I stopped because my sister died and I stopped finding anything funny,” actress and comedian Kate Cook told me.
“But didn’t you have to laugh because it was so awful?” I said. “As catharsis?”
“I tried. But I stopped doing comedy and then it was difficult to get back into it psychologically – dragging myself out there again. But, now I am doing it again, I’m really loving it.”
I met Kate Cook at the Soho Theatre Bar in London.
“You are an actress and a stand-up,” I said: “Kate Copstick recently told me she could never be a stand-up comic, because you have to be yourself. Actors are the opposite.”
“I have to say,” Kate Cook said, “that I do find it very difficult being myself when I’m doing stand-up comedy – to just be myself and to tear down that barrier between me and the audience.”
“I think,” I suggested, “that you can very often tell the difference between someone who is a comedian by nature and an actor who is performing as a comedian.”
“I suppose,” suggested Kate, “that comedians do act the comedy differently. They’re maybe a bit more ramshackle, whereas actors are a bit more prepared and anal and they have to tear down that prepared analness.”
“I think comedians tend to make good actors,”I said, “because it’s all about the timing, but actors sometimes become very cardboard comedians. They spout the lines but there isn’t that genuine madness within them.”
“But there are a few actors on the comedy scene,” said Kate. “So it can work.”
“I’m usually not keen on character comedy,” I said.
“I think in the stand-up comedy scene,” said Kate, “maybe sometimes character doesn’t work so well because the fun of comedy is that it’s so raw and spontaneous and the comedian is connecting with you whereas, with a character, it’s all a bit fourth wally.
“But, if you’re an actress AND do stand-up, they help each other. You get massive confidence from doing stand-up comedy – connecting with the audience.
“I’m going to do a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year called Invisible Woman.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I’m obsessed by women in World War II…”
“A few years ago,” I said, “you…”
“Yes,” said Kate. “I wrote and devised this thing called Doodle and Bug – I was Lady Penelope Bug. I devised it with my friend Harriet Williams, who is an opera singer. She was my housekeeper Mrs Dorothy Doodle. We did a few cabaret venues and festivals and a couple of spoof Ministry of Information films that are on YouTube.”
“Why the big interest in World War II?” I asked.
“I love the innocence of the era and I love the heroics of the women. I love all those stories about the Resistance and spies. I’ve been reading the Mass-Observation archive and there’s one diary in that I really love – This well-to-do woman who lives in Maida Vale and she’s a widow with two children and she loved the War. She really found it thrilling and exciting and was desperate to help but kept getting thwarted. She failed her ambulance-driving test. You would think they’d be so desperate they would take anyone. She had servants and she was always horrible about her servants.”
“Is she in your play?”
“I wanted her to be, but she’s not a very likeable protagonist. So I have turned her into a man and made the whole show about his downtrodden housewife who then becomes a spy for the Resistance.”
“This is set in France?” I asked.
“No. They’re a couple who live in London and he has a wooden leg because he is a World War I veteran. And he’s a bully and they have a 15-year-old daughter who’s a bit of a dreamer. The woman can’t get a job and the husband sends her away to stay with her mother and while she’s there – because she’s half-French – she gets spotted by the War Office and becomes a spy for the Resistance, where she finds love, freedom and adventure. Meanwhile, the one-legged husband is trapping the daughter.”
“You play the wife?” I asked.
“No. I’m going to play everybody except the main character – the Invisible Woman. She never appears. She is brought to life by everyone around her.”
“So the characters you play,” I said, “include the one-legged husband – always good value for money in a comedy. Do you have any previous experience of playing one-legged husbands?”
“No,” laughed Kate, “But it’s always been my dream.”
“To be a one-legged man?” I asked.
“Yeah. And I’m going to have a pipe as well. I’m developing the play with Gerry Flanagan, the Artistic Director of Shifting Sands Theatre.
“I’ve written the story and we’re going to pull it apart and make it come to life for the stage. There are two previews of it at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in London in March and I’m taking it Brighton Fringe for three days in May. Then it’s at Just The Tonic at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”
“Does the audience see the wooden leg?” I asked.
“No. They imagine it. This whole play is about imagining. You’re imagining the main character. You’re imagining the adventure.”
“The invisible woman is never present?” I asked.
“She’s there,” explained Kate. “She’s there throughout, but everyone is reacting to her. The audience will be the invisible woman. At the beginning, her husband is talking to her. Then she goes off and her mother is talking to her and she goes over to France and is interviewed and…”
“So,” I said, “ when her husband is talking to her, he is talking to the audience?”
“Yes. That’s the idea.”
“So she and the audience are the object of monologues?”
“Except,” explained Kate, “that, occasionally, I play two or three characters talking to one and other.”
“So how long have you been in therapy?” I asked.
“Maybe,” laughed Kate, “this is working as therapy.”
“How is the other acting going?” I asked.
“I’m doing a play in March at the Vault Festival in London. It’s a play called Weird Weather, written by Matt Cunningham.”
“Are you playing the title role?” I asked.
“No,” said Kate. “It’s about love, relationships, family and teenage angst, but it’s funny. It’s a funny play. Matt is a good writer.”
“Do you prefer comic acting?” I asked. “I can see you as Lady Macbeth.”
“That would be good,” said Kate. “I would like to be really evil or funny.”
“You have the dark looks of The Wicked Queen in Snow White,” I suggested.
“Spot on,” said Kate. “Sorted.”