“I got religious when I was in Brunei,” comedy performer Lindsay Sharman told me a couple of days ago. “I went to a Chinese Baptist church and they were very nice people.”
“How,” I asked, “do the Chinese Baptists differ from the British Baptists?”
“They speak Chinese,” Lindsay replied. “Though they also spoke English, which helped. I got baptised at the same time as a head-hunter in his nineties. Well, he was an ex-head-hunter. He didn’t hunt heads any more, because he was now a Christian and ancient.”
“What turned you on to Christianity?” I asked.
“Jesus seemed like a nice chap and I thought the world lacked a bit of mystery and magic and I was looking for that.”
“Your father worked for the Shell oil company?” I asked.
“Yes. My parents were agnostic, though my mum suddenly got religious about ten years ago. I stopped believing when I was about 14.”
“I was kind of going off it for a while, In fact, as soon as I got baptised, it was kind of like TICK! Done that! – I think I expected some kind of change and nothing happened and then my father died when I was 14 and I think that tested me a bit more as I was getting no comfort from the idea that he had gone to heaven because I found the whole idea faintly ludicrous.”
“What age did you go to Brunei?”
“We went out when I was 8 and returned to England when I was 14. At that time, it was Moslem in the same way England is supposedly Christian. Although not any more, because the Sultan’s now gotten Islamic. He’s turned super-Moslem. Women are getting stoned for adultery out there now. There was none of that in my time. No-one covered up when I was there: it was all shorts and T-shirts and vests. Although, two years into us being there, the country did go ‘dry’ and they banned karaoke. I was very upset because I had been going to have a karaoke birthday party. I was 9; it was a big thing to me.”
“And now,” I said, “you’re writing a play about religion for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. What’s it called?”
“Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies. It’s not really a play. It’s one of those weird Edinburgh things that can only exist in Edinburgh. It’s a play insomuch that it’s not going to be stand-up comedy and it’s going to have a narrative. But don’t ask me details. Everything might change by August.”
“What,” I asked, “was the original, basic idea?”
“The Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, done as a New York Jew: a bit Joan Rivers-esque. I thought I would link the fact they were all Jewish to comedic Jews and the immediate thought for me was Mel Brooks style fast-talking.
“I tried that out and it did go quite well, but then I thought it could be a play-within-a-play. What I don’t like about the Edinburgh Fringe – or what I feel I have to be flexible about in Edinburgh – is that the audience comes into a room which is not actually that suited to performance and you don’t necessarily acknowledge it. I don’t like that. I don’t like watching a show where they haven’t acknowledged they’re in a room in Edinburgh at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
“So I wanted to fit it into something which allowed her not to be at The Jerusalem Head tavern in wherever. I wanted to acknowledge the fact it was a show in Edinburgh. So then I had the idea of a play-within-a-play about Mary Magdalene but everyone’s buggered-off because it’s the most offensive play there has ever been. All the actors have fucked-off, so it is an audition for new actors and all the audience are potential actors and I am going to audition them. This is my current idea. But it might change out of all recognition in the next few months.”
“So it has continuity of time and place…” I said.
“Yes,” Lindsay replied. “But, at the same time it will be dipping in-and-out of this ‘most offensive’ play about religion.”
“And it’s called Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies…?”
“Yes. Though it might bear no relation to… Well, it might do… There’s going to be stuff about circumcision in there.”
“Cutting edge…” I said.
“Because it’s a play-within-a-play,” Lindsay continued, “it’s going to look at all the issues in the world at the moment. So, for once, I’m going to do something topical. Usually I don’t do anything topical.”
“Burning Moslems?” I asked.
“I might tip-toe around that a bit.”
“Is there a serious kernel to it?”
“Maybe. Who knows? Don’t ask me details. Maybe. I don’t know if there is a way of avoiding the seriousness of the topic. Though you can take any serious topic and give it a light treatment. It will still be totally absurd. And the play is partly going to be about social control and how religion forms part of that. If one person has a beard, everyone has to have a beard. Except the women, of course.”
“Why of course?” I asked. “Will it have multiple characters?”
“It will have… Maybe. Who knows?… Don’t ask me too many details at this point, because it could all change. I’ve got other things to think about: I’m trying to write a book at the moment.”
“Yes. I’m almost there. I’ve got about four more chapters and then I’m finished.”
“What’s the pitch?”
“It’s a whodunnit, a murder mystery. It’s really complicated, whereas the first one was just ridiculous, so I could vomit that out in no time. “
“A whodunnit in the traditional drawing room sense?”
“Sort of. Yeah. I guess so.”
“Featuring Madame Magenta?”
“Written in the first person…”
“No. It’s got different perspectives. It switches perspective every couple of chapters.”
“When is this being unleashed on the nation?”
“In about a week and a half.”
“But you haven’t finished it yet!”
“I’ve got about 10,000 words to do. I can do that in a week and a half. I did the first book in about three and a half weeks.”
“What’s the new book called?”
“Magenta 2: The Reckoning.”
“It’s not, is it?” I asked.
“Why not?” I think titles are over-rated.”
“What about My Night of Sex With Tom Cruise and an Armadillo?”
“That’s probably my third book,” said Lindsay.